The Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG) strives to create justice through all spheres of everyday life and MPIRG has been involved in issues around the Boundary Waters for decades. In the 1970s, MPIRG was one of the key organizations that made the BWCA a paddle-only zone. With recent industries showing interest in the BWCA, MPIRG continues our commitment to fight for the pureness of the land and water.
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area is a protected area of land dedicated to preserving the wilderness and it’s ecosystem. With its 1.1 million acres of wilderness, it is the largest wilderness area in the United States east of the Rockies and north of the Everglades. The Boundary Waters attracts over 250,000 visitors annually in order to experience what the remote wilderness has to offer. With it’s several rich ore deposits, mining companies have proposed to actively drill near the Boundary Waters.
The sulfide mining company Twin Metals is seeking to mine copper, nickel, and other metals from an ore deposit near Birch Lake. Twin Metals is a product of the Canadian company “Duluth Metals Limited” and the Chilean-based company “Antofagasta” coming together. This deposit is only 2-3 miles from the Boundary Waters. This project lies in the Rainy River watershed. In this area, the water actually flows north– directly flowing into the Boundary Waters as well as Superior National Forest and Voyageurs National Park.
The environmental risks of sulfide mining versus traditional iron ore mining are much more detrimental. When sulfide is exposed to air or water it turns into sulfuric acid. This creates acid mine drainage which contaminates the surrounding lakes and rivers, as well as the health and wellbeing of the animals and people that reside in the area. This can also result in multi-colored sediments forming in the bottom of the streams, essentially turning the water to rust.
For mining sites to operate, leases must be purchased and frequently renewed. On June 13, 2016, the U.S. Forest Service announced that it is “considering withholding consent for lease renewal” of Twin Metals’ request to renew two 50 –year-old mineral leases on the edge of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. If the Forest Service denies renewal of these expired mineral leases for Twin Metals, it would be a huge step towards efforts in permanently protecting this beloved canoe country from risky sulfide-ore copper mining.
The Save the Boundary Waters campaign is committed to the goal of protecting the Boundary Waters and helping its wilderness edge communities. This campaign was founded by local residents in Ely, and has been working to keep proposed sulfide-ore copper mining from polluting the watershed.
MPIRG State Board of Directors, UMD Representative