Big news for the Boundary Waters

Oct 20, 2021
Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters
Big news for the Boundary Waters

The Biden administration just announced an important step to protect the Boundary Waters and its watershed from the threat posed by sulfide-ore copper mining. On Wednesday, October 20th, the Departments of Interior and Agriculture announced that the Biden administration is halting all new mining leases, prospecting permits, and other mining-related approvals on 225,378 acres of federal land within the Boundary Waters watershed for two years while it conducts an environmental review of a proposed 20-year mining ban on this same acreage in the Superior National Forest. Help us thank the Biden Administration and our Boundary Waters Champions for taking this important step by clicking here

The next day, the U.S. Forest Service initiated a 90-day public comment period on its proposal to protect the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs National Park.  Sulfide-ore copper mining poses a threat to this unique ecosystem, the water, cultural resources, and recreation resources it holds, and the people and economy that depend upon it.  The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will then complete an Environmental Assessment (EA) on the Forest Service proposal, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The BLM, which manages federal minerals beneath the Superior National Forest, published an official notice in the Federal Register about the U.S. Forest Service’s application for the mineral withdrawal and start of the comment period. The BLM’s Federal Register notice also announced a freeze for up to two years on issuance of any new mineral leases or prospecting permits, to allow time for the completion of the EA and a decision from the Secretary of Interior on whether to grant the 20-year mineral withdrawal. 

In short, today’s announcement from the Biden administration is very good news for the intact and unique Boundary Waters ecosystem and all who love it. You and all Americans will soon have an opportunity to comment in support of this proposal to fully protect this crown jewel of America’s public lands.


Having deja vu?

This process has been initiated before -- in January of 2017, the U.S. Forest Service filed an application to withdraw 234,000 acres of Superior National Forest lands from mineral leasing, and the BLM  initiated a 2-year freeze (the legal term is a segregation) on new mining leases, prospecting permits, and other mining-related approvals. 

In 2017-2018, the U.S. Forest Service held two comment periods and several public meetings that attracted more than 2,700 attendees and 181,000 public comments were received. Shortly before the 2017-2018 NEPA process was to have been completed, however, the Trump Administration abruptly canceled it.


What’s next?

Initiating a mineral withdrawal process is a great start to achieving permanent protection for the Boundary Waters and its watershed upstream and just outside of the Wilderness. You and your friends and neighbors have an important role to play in supporting the proposed mineral withdrawal by participating in the 90-day federal comment period.


What you can do to help

With the Biden administration announcement today, Minnesotans and Americans can now participate in fully protecting the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs. 


  1. RIGHT NOW: Thank the Biden Administration and Boundary Waters Champions U.S. Representatives Betty McCollum, Dean Phillips, Angie Craig, and Ilhan Omar, and U.S. Senator Tina Smith for taking this big step for the Boundary Waters! You can show your appreciation here.


  2. RIGHT NOW: Participate in the federal comment period. On October 21, the US Forest Service initiated a 90-day comment period on the mineral withdrawal. Urge the federal government to ban sulfide-ore copper mining in the watershed of the Boundary Waters here.

  1. STARTING NOVEMBER 9: Urge Minnesota to put state lands in the Boundary Waters watershed off-limits to sulfide-ore copper mining, too, during the upcoming state comment period. On Monday, October 4th, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) initiated the state process that could result in rulemaking to prohibit the siting of sulfide-ore copper-nickel mining in the Boundary Waters watershed. A 30-day public comment period will commence on November 9th and continue through December 8th, 2021. Your voice is critical in this process.