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Sportsman's View: Don't trust industry on proposed copper mining

In April, a mining trade group released a report touting the economic benefits of mining, including the potential benefits of proposed sulfide-ore copper mining on what are now public lands in Superior National Forest ("Study says Northland mining industry jobs are worth more than tourism," April 18).

David LienOf course, anybody can pay for a study that will say anything they want about hypothetical future impacts. But facts cannot be disputed.

And the fact is, as explained by Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton in March in a Star Tribune article, "Tourism is a $14.4 billion industry in Minnesota, generating over 17 percent of our sales tax. ... People travel to our state for a variety of reasons, but the number one area of interest is our great outdoors."

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr said in a May 2014 edition of the Grand Rapids Herald-Review, "Hunting and fishing is a $2.4 billion industry here. Visitors to our parks spend about $280 million in this state. And visitors to our trails add $2.6 billion to our local economies."

Unfortunately, this economic prosperity is hindered in some parts of the state, as expressed in March 2013 by Thomas Power, chairman of the University of Montana Economics Department.

"We have hundreds of years of history with mining. It's staring us in the face on the Iron Range or the Upper Peninsula or Butte, Mont.," Power said, according to Minnesota Public Radio. "How is it that despite the high wages and despite the incredible wealth pulled out of the ground, these areas are not prosperous?"

"Eveleth is the size of Ely and has Thunderbird mine within the boundaries of the city," MinnPost columnist Ron Meador wrote in February 2014. "The last year the state of Minnesota reported gross sales revenues, Eveleth was $41 million a year. Ely is $106 million a year. Eveleth relies on mining. Ely hasn't had a mine since 1967. Ely's economy, which is based fundamentally on the wilderness and a healthy national forest, would be displaced and replaced with what Eveleth has. Yes, it would be bad for our economy."

In addition, as reported by Conservation Minnesota in 2012, counties classified as dominated by mining by the U.S. Census Bureau show the highest rates of poverty of any industrial group. Between 1980 and 2000, aggregate earnings in mining-dependent counties grew at only half the rate of other American counties, and per-capita income grew about 25 percent slower.

In the words of the editorial board of the Timberjay in Ely in December 2016, "This isn't an attack on mining, nor on northern Minnesota jobs. Instead, it is a recognition that there are different means of building a healthy economy. ... We recognize and share the frustration that many feel about the seemingly endless struggles of the region's economy. But we need to recognize ... the boom and bust cycles inherent in mining make mining economies particularly unstable and lacking in diversity."

The fact is, as explained by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard in the Los Angeles Times in March, "America's public lands perform best when protected for recreation. In fact, the business of outdoor recreation, which relies heavily on public lands, supports more jobs (6.1 million) than oil, natural gas and mining combined. Americans spend more on outdoor recreation annually ($646 billion) than on electronics, pharmaceuticals or automobiles. ... From 2008 to 2011, during the height of the recession, the outdoor industry grew 5 (percent) every year."

Although it's tempting to buy into the false optimism of the sulfide mining proponents, remember who they're ultimately representing: multinational mining companies with boards of directors thousands of miles away who will say and do anything to pad their already bulging bank accounts.

"Copper-nickel mining ... has proved environmentally harmful, even disastrous, wherever in the world it's been done," Ron Way, a former assistant commissioner for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, said in the Star Tribune in June 2015.

Who you do you believe?

David Lien of Colorado Springs, Colo., and formerly of Grand Rapids, is a former Air Force officer, co-chairman of the Minnesota Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (backcountryhunters.org), and the author of "Hunting for Experience II: Tales of Hunting & Habitat Conservation." He urges readers to read more at SportsmenForTheBoundaryWaters.org.

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