Boundary Waters Land Swap –The Great Give-Away

Superior National Forest - Lori Andresen

Superior National Forest – Lori Andresen

By Lori Andresen and Elanne Palcich

Stop the give-away of the Superior National Forest being proposed in the name of our children! Submit your comment today.

The Purpose is to Remove Federal Protections on Superior National Forest Lands.
Lands that lie within a designated National Forest and are owned by the Federal government have a variety of critical protections.

According to Rep. David Dill, D-Crane Lake, found HERE on MPR: “…we should mine, log, and lease the hell out of that land that we get in the change.”

The U.S. Forest Service and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are once again proposing a Boundary Waters land exchange. The land exchange proposal would trade approximately 30,000 acres of Superior National Forest from outside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) for state school trust lands that are within the Wilderness Boundaries. Since revenue from Boundary Waters permits has not been shared with the school trust, the lands are not producing money for the schools.

The Sierra Club North Star Chapter continues to oppose a land exchange, but has supported a buy-out of the state lands. In the meantime, the state lands remain protected within the Wilderness boundaries.

Removing lands from Superior National Forest is not just a land exchange; it is also a law exchange.  Under the Weeks Act, federal legislation enacted in 1911, open pit strip mining is prohibited on lands purchased for watershed and headwaters protection.  Weeks Act protections would be removed if the federal land was exchanged for state ownership.

Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) Summitville Mine, Colorado - Superfund - EPA

Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) Summitville Mine, Colorado – Superfund – EPA

Under the current land exchange proposal, one of the trade parcels selected by the state DNR would facilitate a future open pit mining operation at Teck-Cominco’s Mesaba Deposit, located between the proposed PolyMet and Twin Metals projects.  The permitting of such mining would result in a massive open pit sulfide mine zone that would change the landscape and impact the water quality of both the Boundary Waters and the Lake Superior watershed–forever.

Whether or not these proposed mine operations would contribute money to the school trust fund would depend upon fluctuating market conditions, whether they are located on trust lands, and whether the mineral rights are owned by the state or by private interests.  Private mineral interests do not contribute to the school trust. PolyMet’s proposed project, which involves a separate land exchange, would not contribute to the trust.

Other portions of the proposed Boundary Waters exchange could include leasing for mineral exploration or land that  could be available for disposal of waste rock or tailings from existing taconite operations.  Additional portions could open new areas to more intense logging, for new bio-mass proposals, or other types of development.  These are areas that currently offer camping, hiking, canoeing and hunting opportunities, or border recreational lakes or private real-estate (cabins/homes).

The proposed exchange could also have an impact on wildlife habitat and corridors, and may affect species such as the endangered Canada lynx, and the threatened northern long-eared bat, moose, and wolf populations, along with other iconic wildlife, bird, plant, and fish species.  All in all, the proposed land exchange would facilitate mining and logging operations at the expense of the Arrowhead’s legacy for forests and wildlife, clean water and air.

Acid Mine Drainage (AMD)  image - MPCA

Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) image – MPCA

Currently, interest money from the Permanent School fund supplies about $28 per Minnesota public school student per year, while state/local/federal funding provides approximately $10,000 per student.  Trust fund money will obviously never underwrite our state’s educational system. More intense resource exploitation of school trust lands will only serve to destroy the natural heritage of our state’s school children.  In addition, perpetual mining pollution clean-up costs that fall upon the public will far exceed any contribution to the school trust fund.

The land exchange is contrary to the best interests of the citizens of Minnesota and the Nation, and to the school children of this state and area.  The proposed exchange would destroy a natural public heritage in order to facilitate mine proposals that would pollute the water and air with sulfates, mercury, particulate matter, and toxic heavy metals.  Not only do these pollutants contaminate fish and destroy wild rice–ancestral foods that are part of treaty rights made with our Tribal predecessors–they also impact the brains and health of developing children growing up in the Arrowhead Region.

Make your voice heard on this issue and oppose the Boundary Waters Land Exchange! The Forest Service is accepting public comments until May 15, 2015. Submit your comment today.


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