Sulfide Mining and Voyageurs National Park

Kevin Erickson

Kevin Erickson

Voyageurs National Park encompasses more than 84,000 acres of water. These waters are home to loons, snapping turtles and wood frogs, and 53 species of fish, including lake sturgeon, walleye, and smallmouth bass. These native species rely on clean water to thrive. The nearly 240,000 people who visit Voyageurs each year enjoy kayaking, swimming, boating, and world-class fishing. These visitors contribute more than $16 million to the local economy and support 225 jobs annually.

But the lakes and rivers of Voyageurs National Park are now at risk from proposed sulfide mining projects in its watershed. There are numerous locations where mining corporations are exploring for copper, gold and nickel. The process to extract these metals from sulfide ore deposits produces sulfuric acid and other contaminants, which can leak into the surrounding waters. This pollution would head downstream toward the park. Even small amounts of acid mine contamination leaking into the Rainy River Drainage Basin would impact Voyageurs’ ecosystem for decades and threaten its pristine waters and wildlife, world-class fishing, and the family-owned small businesses that serve park visitors.

The risks associated with copper, nickel and other sulfide mining operations exist during all phases of mine development, implementation, closure and long-term remediation.​ Potential impacts to water resources include changes in water quantity and quality, contamination from acid mine drainage and seepage, and tailings basin failures. To date, not a single sulfide mining project has operated and closed without producing polluted drainage.

Findings from a 2015 study commissioned by Voyageurs National Park Association and the National Parks Conservation Association document risks to Voyageurs National Park:

– Report Summary: A Watershed Moment (PDF) 
– Full Report: Potential Metals Mining and Voyageurs National Park, Tom Myers, PhD (PDF)
– Map: Voyageurs Watershed

Voyageurs_Watershed_Map_FINALsmall

Support Clean Water at Voyageurs National Park

Voyageurs National Park Association is carefully monitoring this issue and the potential impacts to Voyageurs.  VNPA is committed to ensuring that our National Park remains protected for its surrounding communities, park visitors and future generations. The effects of acid mine drainage from sulfide (copper-nickel) mining in our watershed leave the potential for permanent damage to Voyageurs National Park’s waters and wildlife.

You can help
Ask the Forest Service to deny extensions of mineral leases that would allow sulfide mining on federal lands within the watershed of Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters Wilderness. This petition will be submitted to the Forest Service as part of a public input period (June 20-July 20, 2016) on whether to deny or consent to the renewal of Twin Metals Minnesota’s expired federal mineral leases.

Sign Voyageurs National Park Association’s petition to the U.S. Forest Service.

Loons in Voyageurs National Park. Scott Nagel

Loons in Voyageurs National Park. Scott Nagel

June 13, 2016: The U.S. Forest Service announced a 30-day period for public input and a listening session to better understand public views related to two proposed mining lease renewals. The leases, MNES-01352 and MNES-01353, are currently held by Twin Metals Minnesota and are located within the same watershed as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) and Voyageurs National Park.

The public input period will begin June 20, 2016 and run through July 20, 2016. Comments may be mailed to the Superior National Forest, 8901 Grand Ave Place, Duluth, MN 55808; or emailed to TwinMetalsLeaseInput@fs.fed.us. The listening session will be held July 13, 2016 at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center and will be live streamed on the internet.

Additionally, the International Joint Commission recommends a number of studies to scientifically assess the risk from new mining proposals in the watershed. We urge the U.S. Government to fund these recommendations.


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 Voyageurs National Park Association would like to thank the National Parks Conservation Association, the Quetico Superior Foundation, and the Rainy Lake Conservancy for their support of this effort.