Minnesota Bill Would Remove Protections from Boundary Waters

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Back in January 2023, the Department of the Interior (DOI) announced a 20-year moratorium on all mining in a swath of U.S. National Forest land in northeast Minnesota known as the Rainy River Watershed. The watershed includes a portion of Superior National Forest and the famous Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Hunters and anglers across the country cheered the DOI’s decision to protect the Boundary Waters—and to stop the proposed development of a sulfide-ore copper mine that would have polluted the area’s pristine fish and wildlife habitat. Now, a bill is moving through the U.S. House of Representatives that would reverse those protections and allow the stalled mine proposal to resume progress.

Fishing Conservation photo
SFBW.

“HR3195 is up for a House floor vote early next week,” Lukas Leaf, the Executive Director of Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters (SFBW), tells Field & Stream. “The bill was introduced in May 2023, but this will be the first time that it’s received any floor time.”

Leaf and SFBW spearheaded a years-long fight against the proposed Twin Metals mine, and their efforts ultimately led to the DOI’s 2023 decision to withdraw mineral leasing from the watershed. “This bill effectively reverses all of the hard work and conservation wins that we’ve had thus far with partners across the board for preventing proposed copper-nickel mining within the Rainy River Watershed,” Leaf says.

The text of the curiously named Superior National Forest Restoration Act, or HR3195, is short and straightforward. In its opening line, it proposes to “rescind Public Land Order 7917 (the DOI’s name for its 20-year mineral withdrawal) and to “reinstate mineral leases and permits in the Superior National Forest.” It stops short of mentioning the proposed Twin Metals project specifically, but Leafs says its primary sponsor, Rep. Pete Stauber of Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District, is a long-time advocate of the proposed mining project. “He represents all three counties that encompass the Boundary Waters and Superior National Forest,” Leaf says.

In a handout provided to Field & Stream, which SFBW plans to take to Washington D.C. next week, the conservation group said the bill would extend prospecting permits and additional leases, approve mine plans on an accelerated timeline, and forbid judicial review of leases and prospecting permits. “These actions would have severe and irreversible consequences for the Boundary Waters and surrounding region,” the congressional handout states.

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“Achieving monumental federal protections from copper-nickel mining in the Rainy River Watershed in 2023 was the most significant step taken in decades to protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for future generations,” says Leaf. “HR 3195 would unravel those protections, directly threatening our cherished outdoor traditions in Northeast Minnesota, again making the Quetico-Superior region vulnerable to toxic mining practices. This legislation flies in the face of those who love clean water, wildlife, and the world-class fishing and hunting opportunities the Boundary Waters provides. We urge our supporters to help stop this bill in its tracks.”



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