Big News! But What Does It Mean for the BWCA?
By Matt Norton
Several amazing announcements at the end of last year and the beginning of this year mean big news for the Boundary Waters – specifically, Twin Metals’ request to renew its mineral leases was denied, and a watershed-wide environmental review was initiated. We’re proud of our efforts and the great strides we’ve taken to protect the Boundary Waters Wilderness, and we know we couldn’t have done it without you or our Sporting partners. You need to know, however, that even though one mining company lost its leases, the fight to protect the Boundary Waters is not over.
More work is ahead for us and for you. There will be critical moments when we will need you to comment on behalf of the Boundary Waters. It is very important that you take action at each opportunity. Right now is one of those times —comment here!
First, let’s back up and break down what happened in December 2016 and the beginning of this year.
What Just Happened?
- On December 14, 2016, the U.S. Forest Service explained it would not agree to the renewal of Twin Metals’ two expired federal mineral leases.
- On December 15, 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which manages federal minerals on the Superior National Forest, informed Twin Metals that the company’s request for renewal of the mineral leases was denied.
- Also on December 15, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Interior (parent agencies to the Forest Service and BLM) announced they would bar any new mineral leases or mineral exploration on key lands around the Boundary Waters for two years, to study the Boundary Waters watershed and determine whether it is the wrong place for sulfide-ore copper mining.
- On January 13, 2017, the Forest Service announced the beginning of a 90-day comment period to determine the scope (i.e., what issues should be reviewed) of the environmental review. <- This is an IMPORTANT time for you to chime in and submit a comment. We have one written that you can send as is or edit if you want.
- Also on January 13, the Forest Service announced there will be a public meeting on Thursday evening, March 16, 2017, in Duluth, MN at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center. This will be a chance for everyone to raise their voices and help determine the future of the Boundary Waters. We will be asking you all to consider attending. Save the date!
What Does It Mean?
In a nutshell, it means that Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters has met our short-term goal and is on track to, but has not yet, achieved our medium-term and long-term goals for protecting the Boundary Waters. Let’s review our short, medium, and long-term goals for protection for the Boundary Waters and its watershed from sulfide-ore copper mining.
- Short Term: Our short-term goal required that Chilean copper mining giant, Antofagasta, and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Twin Metals, be denied the renewal they requested of their expired mineral leases, which are the only federal minerals leases in the watershed of the Boundary Waters. The announcements in December mean that we have accomplished this short-term goal, though the mining companies are challenging the federal agencies’ denial of the lease renewal request. The case is in federal court, and will play out over the next year or two.
- Medium Term: Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters’s medium-term goal is a 20-year administrative “withdrawal,” during which no new leases or exploration of federal minerals would occur within the Boundary Waters watershed. The process to create a 20-year withdrawal starts with a two-year pause on new federal mineral activity in the area proposed to be withdrawn, so that federal agencies can do an environmental review of the effects the proposed withdrawal would have on the environment, people, and economy. The announcements from earlier this month have triggered a two-year pause and environmental review, and started the process that should lead to our medium-term goal of a 20-year withdrawal of federal minerals in the watershed of the Boundary Waters.
- Long Term: After the environmental review is done, it will be up to the new Secretary of the Interior Department to decide whether to announce a 20-year withdrawal for the Boundary Waters watershed. If that happens, then we’ll use those years to build support for the Sportsmen’s ultimate goal: passage by Congress of an act granting permanent withdrawal of federal minerals within the watershed of the Boundary Waters.
To get the best environmental review possible, your comments on this environmental review are needed now! Your engagement in the environmental review process, and your continued support for the coalition, are critical. The environmental review process has started with a 90-day public comment period. As someone who loves the Boundary Waters, your comment should be sent in as soon as possible, and definitely before August 19. You should also consider attending and speaking up at an agency-hosted public meeting.
So yes, we’ve seen some great forward steps taken in the last several weeks, but we’re not there yet. Luckily, we have a plan for how to get from here to our long-term goal: permanent protection for the Boundary Waters and its watershed … And luckily, we have you. Our citizen members, volunteers, and partner organizations are essential. We have only gotten to this stage, and we will only achieve the greater victory of permanent protection, with your continued involvement and support. So please sign and share the petition to keep this momentum moving forward. Thank you!
Policy Director Matt Norton previously worked as campaign director with Minnesota Environmental Partnership, and as forestry and wildlife advocate and staff attorney for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.