Wilderness areas need protection

Daily Editorial Board

Last week, Minnesota Democrat Rep. Betty McCollum introduced a bill that would strengthen legal protections for two major wilderness areas in the state. The
 
National Park and Wilderness Waters Protection Act would prohibit any new sulfide-ore mines from operating on federal lands in the Rainy River Basin, which drains into Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northeastern Minnesota. The bill would also place stronger environmental standards on mines
already operating in the basin.
 
More than 65,000 Minnesotans have signed a petition in support of the bill, and several environmental organizations have also advocated for it, noting the importance of water quality in the region.
 
On the other hand, the bill has raised objections from the mining industry and others — including fellow Minnesota Democrat Rep. Rick Nolan — who have argued that the legislation would be an undue burden on mines and would dampen economic growth in the region. 
 
Ensuring the economic viability of the region is important. However, even one of the largest planned mines in the area would produce just 850 jobs.
 
In contrast, the BWCA and Voyageurs National Park boast a tourism industry that supports 18,000 jobs and brings in about $852 million annually. As these are two of the most visited wilderness areas in the United States, Minnesota has a serious vested interest in maintaining the water quality and overall health of the region. 
 
McCollum’s bill does not seek to shut down any mines currently in operation — it only bars the most vulnerable areas from new mining. Consequently, we support the bill; contaminating the BWCA is not a good economic decision.