A Dec. 3 column suggested that sulfide-ore copper mining on priceless and vulnerable public lands near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness had been blessed by the U.S. Forest Service (Local View: "Already determined: Mineral exploration won't harm BWCAW").
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
The column erroneously conflated the federal mineral/mining lease process with the prospecting permit process. The environmental review the column claimed blessed mining was a limited review that allowed nothing more than the issuing of prospecting permits to allow the drilling of core samples. In fact, the study cited explicitly states: "The effects of mining are not addressed in this (environmental impact statement)."
While such prospecting clearly has a detrimental impact, the impact is minuscule compared to the development of mines and mining infrastructure across thousands of acres of U.S. Forest Service land. To say that environmental review of a mining lease is not necessary because of a review for prospecting permits is nonsense.
In fact, in 2016, after three years of study and the analysis of myriad scientific reports, the Forest Service concluded that copper mining in the watershed of the Boundary Waters poses an unacceptable risk of irreparable damage to the wilderness and to surrounding Superior National Forest lands and waters. Accordingly, the Forest Service denied its consent to the renewal of two old, undeveloped federal mineral leases.
In Minnesota, the Forest Service has a right to say no to mining; that right, based on statute, protects the unique canoe-country ecosystem, which is unlike any other place in America, with its abundant clean water.
Citizens must demand that decisions affecting America's most popular wilderness be based on facts and science and the values we hold as a people.
The administration of President Donald Trump recently reversed the Forest Service's denial of consent to the mining leases and canceled a promised study of a proposed 20-year ban on copper mining in the Boundary Waters watershed. The study was canceled because it is clear that banning copper mining would be best for the Arrowhead region economically, socially, and environmentally. The study became inconvenient for a regime determined to favor foreign mining companies over the welfare of local communities.
Becky Rom of Ely is the national chairwoman of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters (savetheboundarywaters.org).