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Administration Takes Action to Conserve Boundary Waters Wilderness Watershed, Sportsmen and Women Commend Decision
Departments of Agriculture and Interior commit to study impacts of mining near wilderness boundary, pause new mineral leasing, review science, gather public input
WASHINGTON – Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters and Backcountry Hunters & Anglers today commended a decision by the Biden administration to protect the Boundary Waters Wilderness watershed from industrial mining. The action this morning by the Departments of Agriculture and Interior includes an application for a 20-year ban on sulfide-ore copper mining on federal public lands in the wilderness watershed. Called a mineral withdrawal, the process kicks off a comprehensive study of the potential effects of sulfide-ore copper mining in the Boundary Waters watershed.
The 24-month segregation of lands initiated by today’s announcement in the Federal Register prohibits the issuance of new prospecting permits or leases for mining-related activities but does not affect valid existing rights or activities on private lands.
SFBW Executive Director Lukas Leaf called Wednesday’s announcement a huge step forward in the ongoing fight to protect the Boundary Waters Wilderness.
“We applaud the administration’s commitment to completing the study of potential effects of sulfide-ore copper mining near our critical wilderness, and for considering a 20-year withdrawal of forest lands around the BWCA,” Leaf said. “Now is the time for hunters and anglers to engage in this process for the preservation of the BWCA. Public lands and waters belong to all Americans, and we must protect those lands and waters to ensure that our future generations can experience them as we have. Our priceless backcountry spaces, like the Boundary Waters, are no exception.”
Leaf called on hunters and anglers from around the country to make their voices heard and support the action. “Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters has long supported the reinstatement and completion of the mineral withdrawal process upstream of the Boundary Waters,” said Leaf. “A scientific study, with complete transparency, opportunities for public comment, and thorough interagency review is the best path forward toward conserving America’s most visited wilderness.”
In 2016, the Obama administration took steps to withdraw portions of the watershed from new mineral permits and leases. In 2018, the Trump administration canceled the Forest Service’s withdrawal application and the associated environmental review after three public meetings had already been conducted, more than 90,000 public comments collected, and environmental analyses undertaken. Today’s action will result in a fully completed study and a decision on a 20-year ban on sulfide-ore copper mining in the wilderness watershed. The announcement initiates a 90-day public review period via the Federal Register for the proposed withdrawal.
BHA President and CEO Land Tawney thanked the administration, noting that the Boundary Waters wilderness offers outdoor experiences that are utterly unique.
“The Boundary Waters encompasses lands, waters and areas of critical habitat that are simply irreplaceable,” said Tawney. “For generations, families have visited the Boundary Waters to camp, hunt, fish and explore, and local businesses rely on it economically. The administration understands the importance of the Boundary Waters to our heritage, communities and traditions. We thank them for taking foresighted action to conserve the region.
“I’ve had the honor of visiting the Boundary Waters several times to hunt and fish,” Tawney continued. “This summer, I took my family there for the first time. Our time in the Boundary Waters was nothing short of magical. Otters, loons, pike, smallies, frogs, snakes, hummingbirds, freshwater mussels and shooting stars – our experiences there bonded us together and left us memories we will cherish forever. Following today’s decision by the administration, we now have some confidence that the places that feed these memories will endure, as well.”
Founded in 2015, Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters is a hunting and angling voice for protecting the BWCA from proposed sulfide-ore copper mining in its watershed. Since its inception, SFBW has worked along with BHA to protect the land, water and wildlife that makes the BWCA an iconic place to hunt, fish, camp and explore.
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