Guest blogger Spencer Shaver

February 12, 2018

Sportsmen and Women Call for More Extensive Study of a Proposed Mine Near the Boundary Waters

When it comes to the untouched habitat and superior water quality of Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area, a cursory review isn’t enough—we need your help to demand more for the fish and wildlife and regional economy of Northeastern Minnesota

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area is made up of 1.1 million acres of the most visited wilderness area in the country—it is, by all measures, a public land success story here in the northeastern corner of Minnesota.

There are world-class fishing opportunities all over the BWCA, in no small part because of the water quality and abundant habitat. In fact, 20 percent of the freshwater in the entire 193-million-acre national forest system is found in the Superior National Forest, which surrounds the Boundary Waters. The two biggest walleye ever caught in Minnesota were landed off the Gunflint Trail on the eastern edge of the BWCA—one of which, a 17-pound, 8-ounce behemoth, has held the state record for over thirty years.

Unfortunately, all of this is threatened by a proposed sulfide-ore copper mine on the southern edge of the Boundary Waters. A Chilean mining company is working to acquire leases a quarter mile from the edge of the wilderness area. These leases would give the company the right to develop a sulfide-ore copper mine, complete with new roads and mining infrastructure, alongside Birch Lake and the South Kawishiwi River. The proposed mine site sits at the headwaters of the Rainy River watershed that flows into the Boundary Waters, Voyageur’s National Park, and most of the Superior National Forest.

This proposed mine is incredibly contentious, and recent changes to complex land management and leasing policies have given hunters and anglers new cause for concern.

Courtesy of Jeffrey Keeton.
What Happened?

In 2016, the Department of the Interior announced that the Bureau of Land Management had the discretion whether or not to renew these leases, but the U.S. Forest Service had to consent first. When asked, the Forest Service withheld consent to renewal, leading the BLM to reject the mining company’s application. The Forest Service also proposed making 234,000 acres of public land at the edge of the Boundary Waters off limits to federal mineral leasing for 20 years, which triggered a two-year segregation on mining while the agency crafted an Environmental Impact Statement.

In late December 2017, the new administration at DOI reversed the 2016 decision, declaring that the mining leases were entitled to automatic renewal and no longer needed the discretion of the Forest Service to determine if these areas were suitable for development.

Then, on January 26, the Forest Service took a step back from their ongoing efforts to craft an Environmental Impact Statement on their own proposal. Instead of a thorough analysis of how this mine will affect nearby habitat, which an EIS would have provided, they will proceed with an Environmental Assessment typically used for simple, non-controversial projects. The EA will take the agency less than a year, beginning with a comment period that we now have less than a month to engage in.

In comparison, the EIS required to withdraw controversial mineral leases outside the Grand Canyon was given careful consideration, and the agency took the two years it needed to complete the two-volume report and provide multiple opportunities for public input before and after the study was completed. While the potential for serious impact was considered to be low, the risk was too high in such an important a place.

Simply put, the Boundary Waters watershed is Minnesota’s Grand Canyon. It is much an icon of the Midwest as Yellowstone is of the West, especially considering it is the largest continuous tract of public land east of the Rockies and north of the Everglades.

Courtesy of Lukas Leaf.
Stop and Study

Leasing this area is anything but simple and non-controversial, and there should be no shortcuts to the assessment or public review process. Hunters and anglers should not only have the right to comment, but also the right to review this controversial proposal after the completion of the environmental assessment. The Boundary Waters, and all Americans who have a stake in their management, deserve the most robust review possible for such a risky mine at the headwaters of some of the best public land to hunt and fish on in Minnesota.

These public lands and waters belong to all of us, and Minnesotans are overwhelmingly in favor of a “stop and study” approach to assessing the effects of sulfide-ore copper mining in the Boundary Waters watershed. A 2017 poll showed that 79 percent of Minnesotans favor the most thorough review possible, and an overwhelming majority agree that the Boundary Waters, as well as the hunting and fishing habitat they encompass, are a unique place that deserves special attention.

We’re making the strongest case we can for our public lands and waters, but we can’t do it alone. The comment period is open RIGHT NOW through the month of February, and you can take action to protect our public lands and waters by taking action on the TRCP site and signing the Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters petition. It’s up to all of us to defend our public lands, waters, and sporting heritage.

 

Spencer Shaver is the conservation policy director for Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters and a Minnesota native. He is lifelong hunter and fisherman, a graduate of the University of Minnesota’s environmental science, policy, and management program, and has guided Boundary Waters trips since 2014.

 

Top photo courtesy of Brian O’Keefe.

13 Responses to “Sportsmen and Women Call for More Extensive Study of a Proposed Mine Near the Boundary Waters”

  1. Brian Ross

    You guys are over the top on this issue. The EA will look at exploration for mining in general; any proposed mine would require an EIS by State Law. Your comment that any mining will wreck the entire wilderness area is fear mongering at is worst and a huge exaggeration because that will not happen. I thought TRCP was a balanced voice for conservation and now I see that is not true.

  2. Allen W Branch

    Seem much like the proposal to mine up near the Illiama (sp) river in Alaska. People are always assured that there will be no problems, r-I-g-h-t. And sulfide ore!, the potential for acid spills and damage are high

  3. Earl Dodds

    The future of the Boundary Waters cannot be sacrificed for any other interest. This is a classic case of Short Term Gain (mining jobs, and boost to the local economy) versus Long Term Loss (The Boundary Waters one of Minnesota’ crown jewels and a national treasure). If this project is permitted, 20 years or so in the future, the ore will be mined out, the mine closed, mining jobs gone as well as the pristine nature of much ofthe Boundary Waters. Please no mine! Its a bad idea!

  4. Fred Burton

    I have seen the results of mining. Long after the company leaves, residents and visitors are faced with devastated land and contaminated water. I have never seen the promises regarding safeguards or restoration actually kept.

  5. When I first started goimg to the Boundary Waters, our guide said the water was clean enough to drink right out oof the lake. I’m sure that once the mining starts this will be a option that will be gone forever along with the rest of the beauty of this wonderous place. Where do all of Trump’s friends go for vacation? Opps I forgot that they all have their private boats that hold about 12 guests, costs $250,000 for a fill up of gas. (how much do you have in your 401 after all your years of working?} and cost well over 12 million + to buy. Who needs the Boundary Waters, most people, not the 1%

  6. with all of my childhood trips to the BWCA – this place is indeed Minnesota’s Grand Canyon ( and also every American citizens Grand Canyon of the North – so please people of America -revolt by writing letters to EVERYONE that you know is a politician or otherwise involved with this endeavor who are trying to take our voice to be heard and continue to line the pockets of corporate – can anyone spell two words – STUPIDITY and GREED ! ! ! ! ok 3 words

  7. Edgar t Allen

    First, I am a 75 year old person who has grown to appreciate the need and value of preservation of some of the pristine areas left in the US. I have, for many years, heard of the Boundary Waters, but have never visited it. I am an avid canoer and sincerly hope to make that trip to the Boundary Waters. Whether I do or don’t, I want this “American Jewel” to be there, with its fresh water and wild, minimally disturbed nature, for my nine month old grandson seventy five years from now. and beyond. Ask yourself, when weighing in on this issue, “are the short term risks worth jeopardizing the uniqueness of this area? Look at the historical examples of this type of activity for cases that support “Clean Water”. Please don’t argue for the value of the short term boost to the local economy over the long term risk of this precious natural resource.

  8. I spent 20-years with the U.S. EPA, was a member of the National Mining Team, and visited / inspected dozens of mines. Mines are among the most destructive things that can be done to an environment. The mineral extraction process pollutes the air and water, both surface and groundwater. The mine waste piles all leach into groundwater. The mining companies are organized such that they can walk away from their liabilities leaving the costs of reclamation for the taxpayer. The income lost because of the releases have killed fish, wildlife and tourism can not be recovered. The bonds or other financial assurances called for are totally inadequate. If you want some idea of how much it can cost to reclaim a copper mine complex look at the Butte / Clark Fork site in Montana or the Iron Mountain site in CA. The mine impacts, including the releases of mining wastes and leachate on living resources will continue for centuries. The old line about about you can tell someone is lying because their lips are moving is certainly true for any miner that says that the will protect the community and the environment.

  9. David Dailey

    My wife & I made our way from Mid Michigan to Boundary Waters 8 years ago.. We now return yearly. This experience literally changed our lives. The opportunity to slip off a lake shore, canoe, camp & fish in an area that has remained unmolested since it creation fostered a prospective we now embrace & champion. Wilderness is the very womb of life, the web of life must always have a core, the sample of our heritage in these waters is unmatched and must never be placed in danger.
    Keep it public and pure
    This is no place to threaten with a mine

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Kristyn Brady

February 9, 2018

New Secretarial Order Kickstarts Effort to Conserve Big Game Migration Corridors

Secretary Zinke announces first steps to assess, map, and conserve seasonal habitat that are critical to the survival of big game populations

Today, Secretary Ryan Zinke signed an order directing agencies within the Department of Interior to work toward better conservation of critical big game habitat, including migration corridors, stopover habitat, and seasonal ranges.

This is the first step in giving greater attention in land management and planning to areas where mule deer, elk, pronghorn antelope, and other species migrate, rest, or spend only a portion of the year. The order was signed by Zinke at the Mule Deer Foundation’s annual western hunting and conservation expo in Salt Lake City.

“Sportsmen and women have long advocated for recognition and conservation of wildlife migration corridors in the land-use planning process, because habitat conditions along these migratory routes can affect whether big game animals arrive healthy enough to survive the season,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We’re grateful to Secretary Zinke and this administration for taking the first step toward conserving these areas which have been overlooked or only recently identified. Bringing our conservation policies up to date with what we’ve learned from the latest research and GPS tracking technology will allow America’s hunting traditions to continue to thrive and support our country’s $887-billion outdoor recreation economy.”

The landscape of the western U.S. supports the ability of large animals to move and find food as the seasons change, and this makes America’s flourishing big game herds the envy of the world. But migration is tough on animals, and many barriers can threaten their ability to move freely. Fences, highways, housing developments, and oil and gas development can change movement patterns or close off migration corridors altogether.

“Big game animals need big landscapes and that’s why conserving all of the habitats they use—including their migration corridors—is critical for populations to thrive,” says Ed Arnett, TRCP’s chief scientist. “It doesn’t matter how much work we put into maintaining or restoring mule deer summer or winter range if wildlife can’t reach those areas, are prevented from stopping along the way to rest and recover, or don’t arrive in good health.”

Mule Deer BLM land
Photo courtesy of BLM

 

The order specifically directs DOI agencies to identify a department coordinator that will work with states, other federal agencies, and conservation organizations to identify and map migration corridors and winter range. Within 60 days, the coordinator will develop an action plan defining next steps for implementation. The order also directs the department to assess migration corridors early in the landuse planning process and develop site-specific management activities to conserve and restore these habitats. Within 180 days, all responsible bureaus within DOI will update existing regulations, manuals, policies and other documents to comply with the order.

“We’ve known for decades that these animals migrate, but recent research and technology has helped to define the exact locations of critical corridors and stopover areas,” says Arnett. “What has been missing is the policy and specific guidance to land management agencies regarding the conservation of these habitats. We now have that direction from the Secretary and look forward to working with DOI agencies, state wildlife professionals, and our partners to ensure that these wildlife migration conservation measures are effectively integrated into agency policies and implemented on the ground.”

Top photo by Sara Domek

Kristyn Brady

February 2, 2018

Changes to BLM Energy Leasing Are a Step Backward for Sportsmen and Habitat

The elimination of Master Leasing Plans alters the up-front planning process meant to help balance the needs of wildlife with energy development

This week, the Bureau of Land Management made changes to its energy leasing process, altering up-front planning for development and limiting public input for land management decisions affecting fish, wildlife, and sportsmen’s access.

The agency specifically chose to eliminate the Master Leasing Plan policy, a tool designed to proactively balance energy development with other uses of public lands.

“Hunters and anglers have been working for more than a decade to help strike a more appropriate balance between wildlife habitat and energy production on our public lands,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Unfortunately, yesterday’s decision by the BLM alters the up-front planning and engagement process and reduces the American public’s ability to have a say in how their public lands are managed. This could easily lead to increased and unnecessary conflict between energy development and fish and wildlife habitat.”

The Master Lease Planning concept was a look-before-you-lease approach to identifying and resolving areas of conflict early in the process of development. Ideally, once leasing and development did occur, the BLM and stakeholders would have already taken care to avoid impacts to fish and wildlife habitat. This process played out successfully on public lands in Moab, Utah, and Northwest Colorado in recent years.

The memorandum released this week makes public participation optional at best in the review of public land parcels identified for potential leasing. It also shortens the protest period for contestable leases from 30 days to 10 days.

“Rolling back the MLP policy is a step backward for an administration that says it wants to deregulate and bring decision-making on public lands closer to home, because diligent and transparent up-front planning prevents the need for red tape and costly mitigation later,” says Fosburgh. “We encourage the BLM to gather public feedback early in the process, use the best available science, and listen to constituents from every economic sector reliant on public lands—including the hunters, anglers, guides, outfitters, and retailers who drive the $887-billion outdoor recreation economy.”

 

Top photo by BLM Wyoming via flickr

Alex Maggos

January 30, 2018

This Is the Number One Question Midwestern Sportsmen Asked Us About the Farm Bill

Right now, Congress is drafting the 2018 Farm Bill and sportsmen want to be a part of the conversation

There is no greater opportunity for conservation in America than the prospect of a new Farm Bill, especially considering that it accounts for nearly $5 billion in nationwide spending on soil health, water quality improvements, and on-the-ground habitat for the wildlife we love to pursue. But in agriculture-dominant states, the stakes are particularly high for landowners, sportsmen, and surrounding communities.

This is why the TRCP recently joined forces with the Illinois Conservation Foundation to speak with hunters and anglers in three local forums about the Farm Bill conservation programs that help create better habitat and access on private lands in the Prairie State. For me, it also meant that—not long after joining the TRCP as the new director of agriculture and private lands in D.C.—I was going home.

Why Illinois?
Photo courtesy of Kevin Chang.

Illinois is 95 percent private land, and—as in many Corn Belt states—access for hunting and fishing is increasingly limited. It’s in places like my home state that the Farm Bill can be a game changer for the college kid who can’t afford a deer lease or parents who are looking for a place to take their kid hunting or fishing for the very first time. Through federal funding made available by the Farm Bill’s Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, the Illinois Recreational Access Program has opened up 17,600 acres of private land to the public for hunting and fishing. That’s a big win for sportsmen, but also the small businesses we rely on to keep us fueled, fed, and geared up for our adventures.

Illinois also boasts 87,110 miles of rivers and streams within the state and another 880 miles of river along its borders. This means that Illinois has a tremendous opportunity to utilize the conservation tools within the Farm Bill to improve water quality across the rest of the Mississippi River Basin. As farmers are incentivized to convert less productive croplands to habitat, the great side effect of creating better conditions for deer, ducks, and pheasants is capturing sediment, fertilizer, and pesticide run-off before it enters local waters.

As I can personally attest, Illinois is a very special place to grow up hunting and fishing. Like most, I started with a 4-10 shotgun and squirrels. When I wasn’t exploring the woods looking for greys and reds, it was blue gill with a cane pole. With coaching from my father and brother, I graduated to taking white tail with a bow and largemouth bass with a bait caster- all without ever leaving Southern Illinois.

Hunting and fishing is a critical component of the economy in Illinois. In total, the outdoor recreation economy accounts for $24.8 billion in consumer spending and directly supports 200,000 jobs. Sportsmen in Illinois also have the unique advantage of having three Representatives and one Senator on the House and Senate Agriculture committees that will craft the next Farm Bill.

We’re Glad You Asked

After walking through the complex alphabet soup of Farm Bill programs and their benefits with nearly 100 sportsmen from Alton to Peoria, we expected (and encouraged) questions. But I was surprised by the most common thing we heard: How can we make our elected officials understand how important this is? Sportsmen and women were sold, and they wanted to carry the message to the people who needed to hear it.

At TRCP, we’re working to make it as easy as possible. For one thing, we share everything we know about the Farm Bill and how it can impact your hunting and fishing on our blog­—click HERE to get the latest right in your inbox. We also give you as many chances as possible to contact your lawmakers directly on the issues that matter. Start now by sharing your story about the value of access and enhancing sportsmen’s opportunities to hunt and fish in the next Farm Bill. 

If you’d like to learn more about the 2018 Farm Bill or talk about additional ways to get involved, contact me directly at amaggos@trcp.org.

 

Ed Arnett

January 22, 2018

This Beer Metaphor Helps Explain Why We Need Habitat Mitigation

When it comes to balancing development with stewardship of fish and wildlife habitat, mitigation is a critical conservation tool that more sportsmen and decision makers should understand

The simplest definition of mitigation is “the action of reducing the severity, seriousness, or painfulness of something.” A colleague of mine once shared a great metaphor that helps to explain the concept: Let’s say you and I are sitting at a bar enjoying our favorite beverage and you’ve finished half of yours when I suddenly knock it over, spilling what’s left.

Would you feel the effects of my actions were mitigated if I bought you half a drink? How about if I grabbed a napkin, soaked up the remains of your drink, and squeezed it back into your glass? Even if you were to accept this and drink the remaining soaked up beverage, it would be a loss to you.

Truly mitigating the impact I had on your evening would, at the very least, mean buying you a new drink. I should probably consider buying the next round, too, if I want to get invited again!

Now, what if the precious resource lost was not your favorite IPA, but fish and wildlife habitat?

Development projects, like this oil and gas well pad, that have impacts on wildlife that could not be avoided or minimized should mitigate those impacts in other ways, like habitat restoration or permanent protection in adjacent habitat or other suitable areas.
First, Do No Harm

There is a foundational hierarchy to mitigation, and it starts with doing no harm: The very best way to mitigate impacts of development on habitat is to avoid those impacts in the first place. After all, some places are just too important to develop, or it might not be possible to replace that habitat elsewhere.

Think about the very best wintering area for a mule deer herd. Some may argue those deer “will just go somewhere else” if a project goes in that would have impacts. But will they? Even if they do alter their course, we have no way of knowing if they are just as likely to survive a harsh winter on different terrain. Wouldn’t it be better to avoid the area in the first place?

The next step in this hierarchy is to minimize impacts. A project developer should employ a wide range of actions to avoid as much disturbance as possible to animals in the area. For example, a proposed transmission line could be located along an existing road system to minimize fragmenting otherwise undisturbed habitat. Or, loud noises could be minimized in a variety of ways to lessen disturbance to animals.

If unavoidable or unforeseen impacts occur, the next step in the mitigation hierarchy is to compensate for the loss by creating habitat somewhere else. This might involve securing a conservation easement on private land or restoring adjacent habitat with treatments designed to improve conditions for the affected species overall. Compensatory mitigation for a new road system or oil and gas field in sagebrush habitat could involve, for example, payments by the developer to cut invasive juniper trees that have pushed out sage species’ preferred cover.

Mitigation funding from development projects could be used to restore sagebrush habitat quality by removing invasive conifer species not favored by many species like sage grouse. Photo credit: Jeremy R. Roberts, Conservation Media
Beyond the Footprint

A very important consideration when determining how much compensatory mitigation is needed is understanding how animals respond to the project. Sometimes it’s not enough to replace the habitat removed in the area of a well pad, road, or wind turbine—often referred to as the “footprint” of the project.  At times, the affected wildlife might also avoid using what looks like perfectly good habitat around the project footprint because they just don’t like being near the infrastructure, noise, or humans. In this case, to truly mitigate the actual impact, we have to figure out the footprint plus the area the animals avoid near it and replace that habitat elsewhere to achieve what is called “no net loss.”

Mitigation that only accounts for the footprint of the project is almost always a loss—think about that half a beer I spilled. Buying my buddy half a pint doesn’t really set the situation right, even though I’m technically replacing what he lost. There’s no other way to go from less habitat to no net loss of habitat unless mitigation accounts for the entire area affected by the presence of a project.

Easements on private property are a commonly used tool for mitigation, where project developers agree to an amount of compensation for their impacts and often a third party such as a land trust or non-profit organization, secures land for the transaction and long-term protection and management of quality habitat for fish and wildlife.
A New Era of Energy Development

So why does all this matter for sportsmen and women? Without mitigation as a tool for conservation, development equates to a loss of fish and wildlife habitat—plain and simple. Lost habitat equals fewer animals, less opportunity for hunters and anglers, and a hit to the local outdoor recreation economy.

A pattern has emerged and the Trump Administration has made it clear that anything burdening development on public lands will be reviewed and either revised or thrown out entirely, including mitigation policies. Secretary Zinke has said publically that mitigation is extortion and un-American. Recently, DOI rescinded three existing Bureau of Land Management mitigation policies, and the policy used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently under review and likely to be changed. Drastic changes or elimination of these policies could yield major losses of habitat that could take decades to regain—or could be lost forever.

The Secretary is correct in noting that there are some examples of regulatory or land management agencies requiring developers to pay for compensatory mitigation that far exceeds the actual impacts, or may have nothing to do with the project impacts at all. This is not acceptable, but these extreme examples are not the norm, nor should they guide our policymaking.

The TRCP is working with our partners and a wide range of conservation and sportsmen’s groups to speak up for habitat mitigation, especially at a time when there’s an appetite for more development on public lands. We have expressed our concerns and presented solutions to consider as the Administration and Department of Interior continue to review and revise mitigation policies.

But sportsmen and women must stay informed and engaged, even on public land management issues as complex as mitigation, so we don’t wind up settling for half a beer.

Visit sportsmenscountry.org to take action on many of the public land management issues that matter to sportsmen and women—it’s time to do more than keep it public.

 

HOW YOU CAN HELP

WHAT WILL FEWER HUNTERS MEAN FOR CONSERVATION?

The precipitous drop in hunter participation should be a call to action for all sportsmen and women, because it will have a significant ripple effect on key conservation funding models.

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