The Boundary Waters Canoe Area is a one million acre wilderness area in northeast Minnesota that is protected by the state. It has hundreds of lakes connected by rivers and streams. Recently a bill has been proposed to ban copper-nickel mining in a huge area of federal land bordering the BWCA.
Mining is a big part of the economy in northeast Minnesota. There have been iron ore mines open in the area for over a century and people there are getting frustrated. They believe the proposed bill will interfere with their way of life. According to Steve Giorgi, the director of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools says the area needs more high-paying mining jobs rather than the outdoor tourism jobs that have been increasing. He also claims that the vast deposits of copper and nickel could bring another economic heyday to the region.
The proposed bill would permanently ban copper-nickel mining in 365 square mile of land surrounding the BWCA. This is being proposed because the mining threatens the delicate ecosystem and will pollute hundreds of surrounding lakes with highly sulfuric chemicals. There has never been a copper-nickel mine that hasn’t polluted surrounding waterways but the mining companies have proposed a way to treat the water so it won’t permanently harm the ecosystem. The problem with this plan is that it is very expensive and would take 500 years after the mine closes to treat all the water.
The BWCA is not only valued by Minnesotans; people from all around the world come to see the pristine waters and the beautiful wildlife. Jason Zabokrtsky, the owner of Ely Outfitting Company said he saw people from 48 states and 13 countries going into the BWCA.
In 2016 Obama launched a study on the environmental effects of copper-nickel mining but in 2018 Trump shut it down four months before it was finished and renewed the mining companies’ leases which gives them the right to explore and eventually mine in the area.
Copper-nickel mining has pros and cons. It can bring jobs and money to northeastern Minnesota but it also has the potential to wreck a fragile and valuable ecosystem.
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