During November I had the great privilege of hunting whitetails in northern Minnesota’s Superior National Forest, which was set aside by President Theodore Roosevelt (in 1909) “for the greatest good of the greatest number for the longest time,” as stated by his Forest Service Chief, Gifford Pinchot, the first USFS director. During recent years the issue of proposed sulfide mines—by foreign-owned companies Twin Metals and PolyMet—in the Superior National Forest has come to the fore.
Being a Grand Rapids (Minn.) native, a town with a long history of locals with jobs in iron ore/taconite mining—which is comparatively benign compared to the toxic Superfund sites that sulfide mining has a long history of leaving behind across the country—I’ve been exposed to many pro and con sulfide mining arguments from many friends and acquaintances, one of whom recently posed this question.
“As long as we have need for pennies, electronics, copper wire in buildings and homes and everything else that uses copper … there will be a need for the metal and the mines that produce the ore. It will come from somewhere. If not in MN then where? I want to protect our land as much as the next guy. So, what are the alternatives? All I hear/see is protest and objection but no evidence of an alternative solution.”
As explained by the Ely Timberjay editorial board (8/23/17): “According to the pro-industry Copper Development Association, known copper reserves globally total nearly 5.8 trillion pounds and throughout all of human history we have mined just 12 percent of that total. Whether the low-grade sulfide ore found in northeastern Minnesota is mined or not will have no detectable effect on the availability of copper in the global market, which is where any copper mined in Minnesota would be headed. In either case, mining these days merely fills the gap between the metals we use and the amount we recycle. Nearly 50 percent of copper is already recycled in the U.S. and there’s room to do even more.”
U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) once said: “If they found oil in the Grand Canyon, I don’t think I’d drill in the Grand Canyon.”Senator McCain understands that, as is the case with all of our finite natural resources, there are no easy solutions once the “low hanging fruit” has been picked. Saying we should mine (or drill), just because we can, does nothing to address the fact that eventually these resource will be gone and we need to find alternatives. And as both Sen. McCain and Teddy Roosevelt recognized, some places are just too precious to drill (or mine).
“Minnesota sportsmen understand the need to develop some natural resources,” said Erik Jensen, co-chair of the Minnesota Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “But this is not the place for sulfide mining. The most valuable resource in the Boundary Waters and Superior National Forest region is the hunting, fishing and recreational values.” It’s also worth noting that, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, mining is less than one percent of Minnesota’s economy. In addition, it accounts for just 0.5 percent of total U.S. employment.
Theodore Roosevelt spoke out vigorously against industries that, in his words, were out to “skin” the American landscape, and he was called every name in the book by industry lobbyists, as explained by Outdoor Life columnist Ben Lamb (4/27/17). They called his policy of creating national forest reserves (and protecting other public lands) a “federal land grab.” History has defined it as protecting hunting and fishing access and (economic and recreational) opportunity for generations to come. That’s why Americans carved TR’s face on Mount Rushmore. For additional information see Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters.
David Lien, a Grand Rapids (Minn.) native, is a former Air Force officer and co-chair of the Minnesota Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. 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.”