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On January 26th, 2023, the Department of the Interior announced the withdrawal of 225,504 public acres in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (Wilderness) from federal mineral leasing for the next 20 years. The decision ensures continued public opportunity to hunt, fish, and camp in America’s most visited wilderness area.
Within the Wilderness, the Rainy River Watershed specifically was withdrawn from mineral leasing following a June 2022 proposal to do so by the US Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management.The proposal was justified by a USFS environmental assessment, which identified major risk to habitat from copper-nickel mining in the Wilderness.“Hard rock mining” allowed by the USFS mining leases produces heavy metals and other toxins that result in acid mine drainage, which could acidify and pollute surface and groundwater.
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The connectedness of waters within the Wilderness makes the area highly vulnerable to pollutants.“This [environmental assessment] validates what is obvious to any person devoted to this incredible water wilderness where we hunt and fish: The risk of copper-nickel mining to the purest waters remaining in the Lower 48 is flatly unacceptable,” said Lukas Leaf, ExecutiveDirector of Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters.
The Wilderness was established in 1964 and is comprised of over one million acres of remote boreal forest in the Superior National Forest, Northeastern Minnesota. It is the only large temperate lake-land wilderness in the National Wilderness Preservation System and is renowned for its water-based recreational opportunities and authentic backcountry experience. Smallmouth bass and northern pike fishing across 1,100 lakes and 1,500 miles of canoe routes ranks the Wilderness high as a fishing destination.
“The Department of the Interior takes seriously our obligations to steward public lands and waters on behalf of all Americans. Protecting a place like the Boundary Waters is key to supporting the health of the watershed and its surrounding wildlife, upholding our Tribal trust and treaty responsibilities, and boosting the local recreation economy,”said Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland.
Conservation organizations such as the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and the National Wildlife Federation, stand alongside the American public in support of this prodigious moment for what some refer to as “the crown jewel” of the Great Lakes Region.