Local View: Fighting proposed mines spans more than a decade — of winning

From the column: "Watershed-ruining (results) can be expected from any sulfide mine in Minnesota."

Bounday Waters moment
A canoeist on West Pike Lake off the Gunflint Trail in the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness pauses to enjoy the low sunlight. (Photo by Paul Sundberg)

Growing up in northern Minnesota, we spent a lot of time at our grandparents’ house on Mille Lacs Lake, where, as you might expect, fishing was the primary pastime. I was pleased to be able to relive some of those memories while attending the Minnesota Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) North Country Icebreaker on Mille Lacs on Jan. 27-29. As Outdoor News writer Brian Mozey noted Feb. 8, the event included seminars, conversation, and a message about proposed sulfide mines in the watershed containing the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Nearly 150 attended the event, headquartered at McQuoid’s Inn on Lake Mille Lacs.

Among the first issues Minnesota BHA chapter leaders engaged was proposed sulfide-ore copper mines in northern Minnesota. In a June 30, 2010, op-ed in the News Tribune, we laid out our initial position, which hasn’t changed much, regarding proposed watershed-ruining sulfide mining.

“Copper-mining operations, sometimes called ‘hard-rock mining’ or ‘sulfide mining,’ have left toxic scars across the country, with acids and sulfides leaching into streams, contaminating rivers and lakes, killing fish, and leaving dead zones,” I wrote. “While the mining industry claims new technologies can help avert those kinds of problems here, skeptical sportsmen and others have demanded proof and argue that the short-term extraction of mineral wealth poses a long-term threat to the pristine qualities of an area dependent on outdoor recreation and tourism, not mining, for its future.”

As Aaron Hebeisen, BHA chapter coordinator for Minnesota, said in a January press release , “Backcountry Hunters & Anglers has fought for the permanent protection of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and its surrounding watershed since the formation of the Minnesota Chapter. … It was one of our founding principles and continues to be a keystone issue to our members.”

Rightly so, because hardrock mining is one of the most polluting industries in the United States, with, as its calling card, Superfund sites, polluted waterways, and lakes so toxic ducks and geese die when they land on them, as we detailed in a February 2017 op-ed in the News Tribune. The same watershed-ruining result can be expected from any sulfide mine in Minnesota.


Lukas Leaf, executive director of Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters, explained in a Jan. 30 Field & Stream story that sulfide-ore copper mines are known for producing harmful chemical byproducts. “The main culprit of that is called acid mine drainage, which is basically a slurry of sulfuric acid and toxic heavy metals,” he said. Hence, placing a sulfide-ore mine in the same northern Minnesota watershed as the BWCAW is not responsible or rationale.

On Jan. 26, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service announced they had finalized an environmental analysis supporting a 20-year mineral withdrawal of 225,504 acres in the Superior National Forest, upstream of the Boundary Waters. On Jan. 31, Congresswoman Betty McCollum, D-Minnesota, reintroduced her Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution Prevention Act. BHA strongly supports this legislation, which would permanently protect the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore mining.

In a Feb. 9 Trout Unlimited blog post (“Mining moratorium protects native fish — for now”), Corey Fisher explained that in 1969 prominent conservationist Sigurd Olson of Ely wrote this about proposed mineral exploration in the Boundary Waters area: “The world needs metals and men need work, but they also must have wilderness and beauty, and in the years to come will need it even more.”

There shall be no sulfide mine here. Not ever — not on BHA’s watch.

David Lien of Colorado Springs, Colorado, and formerly of Grand Rapids, is a former Air Force missile launch officer and the founder and former chairman of Minnesota Backcountry Hunters & Anglers ( He's the author of "Hunting for Experience II: Tales of Hunting & Habitat Conservation." He wrote this for the News Tribune.

David Lien
David Lien

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