Minnesota’s Superior National Forest was set aside during the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt, in 1909. Every fall I have the great privilege of hunting, hiking, camping and canoeing in its Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW).
Although the Superior National Forest and Boundary Waters have received a lot of attention lately due to proposed sulfide-ore copper mining operations threatening both the BWCAW (Twin Metals) and Lake Superior (PolyMet) watersheds, they’re only the tip of the iceberg of the Trump administration’s nationwide assault on public lands.
“There’s no doubt there’s an assault on public lands right now,” said Tom Landwehr, former commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “And while it may seem like what’s happening at the Boundary Waters is a local issue, it really is part of this larger pattern across the country of attacks on Grand Canyon and Yellowstone and everything else.”
During July 2019, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt signed an order naming William Perry Pendley—a lawyer with a long history of opposition to public lands—acting director of the Bureau of Land Management. This order puts him at the top of the agency, but without a Senate confirmation process.
Pendley is the former president and founder of the pro-development law firm Mountain States Legal Foundation. He has ties to notorious anti-public land groups, including the American Lands Council. Pendley argued in a 2016 National Review article that the “Founding Fathers intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold.”
“William Perry Pendley is fooling no one … Earlier generations warned us to be on the lookout. They saw robber barons ruin our rivers and poison our politics,” said Ryan Busse, chair of the North American Board of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “The Trump administration’s decision to install Mr. Pendley, an unabashed advocate for the sale of our public lands, as the leader of our largest public land management agency is a grave threat that deserves our attention.”
According to a study in the journal Science, the Trump administration is responsible for the largest reduction of protected public lands in history. Here in Minnesota, Trump administration officials are fast-tracking the Twin Metals sulfide mining project by concocting dubious legal schemes, cancelling critical studies on the impact of this watershed-ruining type of mining on the Boundary Waters Wilderness and nearby communities, and twisting the regulatory process.
“My jaw dropped when I first learned of the Twin Metals project because of its proximity to the Boundary Waters,” Tom Landwehr said. “We wouldn’t dig a huge mine next to Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, and we shouldn’t dig one next to the Boundary Waters.” In fact, no sulfide-ore copper mine has ever operated and closed without polluting nearby waters, according to the National Wildlife Federation. That’s a 100% failure rate.
The process involved in separating sulfide from copper in mining releases sulfuric acid (basically battery acid), a toxin that pollutes the air, land and water it comes in contact with for thousands of years. “It is now more clear than ever that the Trump Administration is steamrolling the American people and allowing a foreign mining company to write the rules when it comes to America’s most popular wilderness,” Landwehr added.
“Not all development makes sense, especially where fish and wildlife actually provide a greater value to citizens who love to hunt and fish, but also to our economy,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This was the exact reason that President Theodore Roosevelt initially set aside the Superior National Forest in 1909 as a place to be protected for future generations.”
David Lien is a Grand Rapids (Minn.) native, former Air Force officer and founder/former chairman of the Minnesota Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (www.backcountryhunters.org). He’s the author of “Hunting for Experience II: Tales of Hunting & Habitat Conservation” and during 2014 was recognized by Field & Stream as a Hero of Conservation.