The Trump administration lifted a ban on mineral exploration just outside of Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) wilderness on Sept. 6 in a move could reignite mining exploration in the area.
The decision will open up hundreds of thousands of acres of federal forestlands in northern Minnesota to mining companies looking for copper, nickel and other metals — a step fiercely opposed by environmental advocates who had won the two-year stay in 2016.
The ban was put in place in 2016, closing off exploration of one of the largest untapped deposits of precious metals in the world. Geologists have known about it for 60 years, and mining companies have been measuring the concentrations and locations of the deposits for almost as long. Even during the two-year moratorium, exploration has continued outside the 234,000 acres in question on federal lands, as well as on state and private lands inside, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.
But those particular acres that were covered by the stay on exploration, primarily south of the BWCA, hold some of the richest mineral deposits in the state — an estimated $500 billion worth.
Twin Metals Minnesota, could be the first company to benefit from the lifting of the ban as it returns to work on developing its proposed $2.8 billion mine. A subsidiary of the Chilean giant Antofagasta, Twin Metals had its mining leases reinstated by the Trump administration in 2017.
Wilderness advocacy groups led a successful effort in 2016 to persuade the U.S. Forest Service under President Barack Obama to adopt a two-year ban on exploration while it conducted an in-depth environmental, economic and cultural analysis to determine if such mining was too much of an environmental risk so close to the wilderness. If so, the ban would have been extended to 20 years.
In 2016, the Forest Service expressed serious concerns about the potential ramifications of hard rock mines. Mining companies countered, saying their projects can be built with minimal environmental risks.
Another win for mining companies came when U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who oversees the Forest Service, abruptly suspended the environmental review, saying the agency had not uncovered any new information.
Instead, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service will resume granting permits for prospecting on federal lands, he said.
“We must put our national forests to work for the taxpayers to support local economies and create jobs,” Perdue said in a news release. “We can do these two things at once: protect the integrity of the watershed and contribute to economic growth and stronger communities.”