Sulfide Mining and Voyageurs National Park

Kevin Erickson

Photo by 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 $19 million to the local economy and support 301 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.

Independent scientific studies show that sulfide-ore copper mining on lands adjacent to rivers and lakes that flow into the Boundary Waters and into Voyageurs National Park and Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park would seriously harm the Wilderness and the Parks as well as the lands and waters on which mining activity occurs.  Acid mine drainage is a significant environmental risk at sulfide ore mine sites like the one proposed for these leased lands. 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.

Support Clean Water at Voyageurs National Park

A current environmental review will determine whether sensitive lands in the Rainy River Watershed should be removed from the federal mining program.

In January, the U.S. Forest Service announced a two-year pause on mining activities in approximately 234,000 acres of the Superior National Forest, a vital portion of the Rainy River Watershed, which flows into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageurs National Park. The announcement starts a public comment period on the Forest Service’s application for withdrawal of these lands and minerals from the federal leasing program. This period will help determine the scope for the two-year science-based environmental study of the region’s unique water-based ecosystem. The review period will ultimately help determine whether our watershed is the wrong place for sulfide-ore copper mining. Here’s a quick video explaining the process.

Learn more about the comment period on the Forest Service website.

Take Action

Submit your comment to the Forest Service during this critical watershed environmental review by August 11, 2017 (you can use these comments as a template). Comments may be addressed to Connie Cummins, Forest Supervisor, Superior National Forest, 8901 Grand Avenue Place, Duluth, MN 55808-1122, via e-mail to comments-eastern-superior@fs.fed.us, or via fax to 218-626-4398.

More Info

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

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. VNPA is carefully monitoring this issue and the potential impacts to Voyageurs.

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.

Loons in Voyageurs National Park. Scott Nagel

Loons in Voyageurs National Park. Photo by Scott Nagel

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VNPA is a member organization of the Campaign the Save the Boundary Waters, a coalition dedicated to creating a national movement to protect the clean water, clean air and forest landscape of our watershed from toxic pollution caused by mining copper, nickel and other metals from sulfide-bearing ore.  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.