REGIONAL— The U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management have taken the first steps toward enacting a 20-year prohibition on mineral leasing on 234,348 acres of the Superior National …
REGIONAL— The U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management have taken the first steps toward enacting a 20-year prohibition on mineral leasing on 234,348 acres of the Superior National Forest along the southwest perimeter of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
The two federal agencies, last Friday, announced that they will prepare an environmental impact statement on the proposed withdrawal of the lands from the federal mineral leasing program.
The lands in question sit within the upper reaches of the Rainy River watershed, which includes a large portion of the 1.1 million acre wilderness.
The decision comes less than a month after the BLM announced that the agency would not renew two federal mineral leases sought by Twin Metals for a proposed copper-nickel mine near Ely, and it drew immediate fire from Eighth District Congressman Rick Nolan and others who back Twin Metals’ proposal. “Make no mistake, this is an anti-mining tactic and waste of taxpayer dollars,” Nolan said. “Without being able to assess an actual project, the Forest Service’s plan is harmful to the environmental review process.” Nolan called on the Trump administration’s next agriculture secretary to overrule the decision.
But in the Forest Service’s notice of intent, published in the Federal Register last Friday, the agency cited the mine’s “potential to generate and release water with elevated levels of acidity, metals, and other potential contaminants.” While the mine would likely include water treatment, the Forest Service noted that such treatment would need to be in place in perpetuity, and noted “it is not at all certain that such maintenance and treatment can be assured over many decades.”
Such concerns led to the creation of a Mining Protection Area for the Boundary Waters wilderness back in 1978, which was designed by Congress “in order to protect existing natural values and high standards of environmental quality from the adverse impacts associated with mineral development.” The Mining Protection Area, which served as a buffer zone along much of the wilderness perimeter, encompassed about 225,000 acres in addition to the 1.1 million acres designated as wilderness in 1978. The MPA did not include the lands within the proposed withdrawal area, in part because the two recently-cancelled mineral leases were still in effect.
The Forest Service will serve as the lead agency for the EIS review and last week’s notice of intent initiated a 90-day scoping period to gather public input on the proposed withdrawal. A copy of the notice of intent, a map of the proposed withdrawal, and guidance for commenting are posted on the Superior National Forest website at www.fs.usda.gov/superior.
In addition to offering an opportunity to submit scoping comments via email or mail, the Forest Service and BLM will hold a public meeting on March 16, from 5 to 7:30 p.m. at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center, located on Harbor Drive in Duluth. The BLM and the USFS will also hold additional public meetings on the proposal in various regions of the state during the 90-day period, in order to gather input on the withdrawal proposal. Dates and locations for these meetings will be posted on the Superior National Forest website as they are finalized.
Rep. Nolan is already urging the Forest Service to host a comment meeting in Ely.
Forest Service officials say they expect to issue a draft EIS in June 2018, with a final EIS slated for completion in January 2019.