American Rivers applauds the Obama Administration’s Department of Interior and Department of Agriculture for denying two hardrock mining leases that could have had a major impact on the health of the rivers, fish and wildlife of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. In 2013, American Rivers included the Boundary Waters on our list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers® due to the threat that this sulfide-ore mining project posed to not only this wild place and its inhabitants but also the nearly $45 million recreation economy on which this region depends.
American Rivers and our partners are grateful to the thousands of you who signed letters and petitions over the past three years to help us achieve this victory! Through the steadfast persistence of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters and all of their partner groups, the Boundary Waters and its pristine rivers, abundant fish and wildlife and world-class recreation opportunities are one step closer to being protected for future generations.
“There’s a reason that the Boundary Waters is one of the most visited wilderness areas in America: it’s an incredible place,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “Today’s best available science is helping us understand the value of the land and water and potential impacts of development in places like the Boundary Waters. This is the right action to take to avoid irrevocably damaging this watershed and its recreation-based economy, while also taking the time and space to review whether to further protect the area from all new mining.”
In citing their reasons for the permit denial, the Department of Interior states, “It is well established that acid mine drainage is a significant environmental risk at sulfide ore mine sites like the one proposed for these leased lands and in a water-based ecosystem like the Boundary Waters because contaminated water could have dramatic impacts to aquatic life, sport fisheries, and recreation-based uses and communities.”
In addition to denying the mining leases, the U.S. Forest Service has submitted an application to the Secretary of the Interior to withdraw from mining key portions of the watershed that flow into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Essentially, this process would allow for two years of study and public outreach and comment on the potential 20 year withdrawal from mining. This 20 year withdrawal is the maximum allowed by the Department of Interior. A permanent withdrawal from mining would have to be passed by Congress.
There will be a public comment period to start off this mining segregation study, so expect to hear more about this from us in the future. In the meantime, we celebrate this victory!