HomeOutdoorsDepartment of the Interior Cancels Mining Leases Near Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Wilderness

Department of the Interior Cancels Mining Leases Near Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Wilderness

by Matthew Memrick
(Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

Two hard rock mining leases canceled by the federal government last week will preserve Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Wilderness area.

Twin Metals Minnesota’s mining claims were not in the wilderness area but in an area near the same watershed.

The Boundary Waters Wilderness area included more than a million acres of Superior National Forest, and it straddles the U.S.-Canadian border. Most importantly, the area brings in the most people of any wilderness area in the United States.

According to Field and Stream, any leaks from the proposed copper-nickel mining project could have entered the wilderness area through waterways.

On the other hand, scientists say about four billion tons of copper and nickel ore are in the region.

Friends Of Wilderness Area Concerned For Years About Project

Conservationists, campers, anglers, and fans of the area rejoiced at the decision.

“We join a thunderous applause in thanking the administration for rescinding the leases that never should have been issued in the first place,” Land Tawney, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers CEO, said in a press release.

Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters executive director Lukas Leaf maintained it was necessary to “preserve places like Boundary Waters.” Leaf called the wilderness area’s experience “immeasurable.”

Area mining has become a hot topic for several years because of the mineral deposits. Twin Metals renewed its leases in 2019, but this week’s decision came for two reasons.

First, the Bureau of Land Management’s terms with Twin Metals stray “from standard terms for other claims in ways that are not permitted under current regulations.”

Secondly, those terms conflicted with Minnesota’s current federal leasing regulations for solid minerals.

Of course, the company did not seem pleased by the decision. The company stated it had held leases on the land for more than 50 years.

They called the reversal “disappointing” and said it would “challenge this attempt to stop our project and defend our valid existing mineral rights.”

Millions of gallons of wastewater polluted a Colorado river in 2015. Evidently, the waste came from the abandoned Gold King Mine when EPA workers accidentally sent the toxic water into a creek. Correspondingly, that creek flowed into the Animas River. 

The BBC reported that three million gallons came into the river, but wildlife was not in significant danger because the sludge traveled quickly downstream. 

Another key point involves abandoned mines nationally. There are roughly 500,000 abandoned mines, per a 2019 Denver Post report. At that time, at least 33,000 have degraded the environment, according to the Government Accountability Office. Federal officials find thousands more every year.

Boundary Waters A Prized Natural Landmark

Many flock to this border area annually. Officials said the area hit a 10-year-high of 165,000 visitors.

“The Boundary Waters are a natural treasure that is simply too important to risk,” National Wildlife Federation president/CEO Collin O’Mara said.

Above all, this area extends 150 miles along the U.S.-Canada border. There are over 1,100 pristine lakes and 1,500 miles of backcountry canoe routes for visitors to experience.