Federal Decision Reopens Path for Twin Metals, Threatening BWCAW and Voyageurs

The Administration’s September 6th announcement reopens the path for Chilean-based Twin Metals, and other interested parties, the option to lease public lands in the Rainy River watershed for sulfide-ore copper mining.

Federal Administration officials have announced the cancellation of an application for mineral withdrawal that would have protected the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageurs National Park from the threat of sulfide-ore copper mining. 

The decision cancels a proposed 20-year ban on mining activity on 234,000 acres of Superior National Forest lands in the Rainy River watershed that drain toward the BWCAW and Voyageurs. It also cuts short a two-year environmental study, removing a widely-supported review process using science and public input to determine whether this watershed is the wrong place for this toxic industry.

Photo by Don Breneman

Photo by Don Breneman

There is no indication the required environmental assessment was ever completed nor was it ever put out for public comment, which would be normal practice. The seemingly closed-door decision comes after public promises from Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to finish this crucial study and make no decisions until after it was concluded. The study would have analyzed the threats and costs to regional communities posed by sulfide-ore copper mining.

Earlier this year, the Trump Administration unlawfully reinstated mineral leases to Twin Metals which had previously been denied, allowing them to circumvent environmental review. That decision is being challenged in court by partners like the Campaign the Save the Boundary Waters and Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness.

Voyageurs National Park encompasses more than 84,000 acres of water. The park is home to loons, snapping turtles and wood frogs, and 53 species of fish, including lake sturgeon, walleye, and northern pike. These native species rely on clean water to thrive. And, nearly 250,000 people visit Voyageurs each year to enjoy kayaking, canoeing, boating, camping, and world-class fishing in the pristine waters of Rainy, Kabetogama, Sand Point, and Namakan Lakes.

recent hydrology study commissioned by Voyageurs National Park Association and the National Parks Conservation Association found that acid pollution from sulfide mines as far away as 100 miles will flow into the waters at Voyageurs National Park.

“Voyageurs is at the downstream end of its watershed, so everything entering the watershed passes through it before reaching Canada. Mercury contamination, leaching of arsenic, or other acid mine drainage will pass through the park.” — Tom Myers, PhD, Hydrologist

Read more on how sulfide mine development in the Rainy River Watershed as far away as 100 miles will flow into Voyageurs impacting its waters and wildlife.