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Interim President Jeff Ettinger inside Morrill Hall on Sept. 20, 2023. Ettinger gets deep with the Daily: “It’s bittersweet.”
Ettinger reflects on his presidency
Published April 22, 2024

BWCAW needs our protection

With its 1.1 million acres of robust and diverse wildlife, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is an iconic facet to Minnesota’s natural history. The glades and wetlands of the Boundary Waters could be the last place where unaltered, pure water can be found in the country, but that could change soon.

Mining company Twin Metals has proposed a sulfide ore mining project that threatens to denigrate the very foundation of the BWCAW. Twin Metals wants to mine copper, nickel and other such metals from sulfide ores embedded in the land near the South Kawishiwi River.

This mining process creates sulfuric acid as a byproduct — one that will likely pour into the river that flows into the Boundary Waters. The consequences of this would be catastrophic to the ecosystem.

The BWCAW is not the only watershed in Minnesota under threat. PolyMet, another mining corporation, has proposed a mining project in the Lake Superior watershed. If permitted, the project will degrade the Lake Superior watershed, and pollutants from this location will inevitably seep into Boundary Waters, too.

Unfortunately, it’s hard for us to realize the inherent value of environmental locales without contextualizing the human impacts. After analyzing the flow of the water and the pollutants it will carry, experts have identified the potential flow of pollutants to the St. Louis River watershed.

In addition to serving Duluth and Cloquet, Minn., this watershed also provides clean water to the Fond-du-Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa peoples. These communities already experience irreparable harm from taconite mines, the toxicity of which affects the growth of wild rice — a staple food for many Native American nations. The addition of toxic sulfide mining would be an unjust and deadly blow to the biodiversity that allows wild rice and other native species to grow.

Yes, mining jobs will provide crucial job options for many living in Northern Minnesota, where unemployment rates are the highest in the state. But there are plenty of employment opportunities in the protection and preservation of this natural space. Instead of mining jobs, we should focus our efforts on creating jobs that would directly protect the BWCAW’s diverse ecosystem.

Mining the BWCAW would hurt more than the Minnesotans living near the landmark who depend on its water. The Boundary Waters is a nationally recognized tourist destination and a facet of Minnesota natural beauty — we can’t afford to lose our state’s most precious ambassador.

We believe lands like the Boundary Waters should be legislatively protected against mining. The land has been protected passionately by a long lineage of presidents, including Presidents Truman, Carter and both Roosevelts. Now, President Obama, the national congress and the local government must take decisive steps to prevent capital gains from degrading the natural integrity of our state.

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