Minnesota prides itself on being “the Land of 10,000 Lakes.” At least 1,100 lie in the far northeastern part of the state, along the border with Canada, where more than a million acres of pristine waters and unspoiled woodlands are interspersed with canyons, steep cliffs and huge rock formations shaped by glaciers during the last ice age.
Today this region, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, looks almost exactly as it appeared 10,000 years ago when Paleo-Indians lived there. Sigurd Olson, the naturalist and writer who guided there for three decades, called it “the most beautiful lake country on the continent.” Few who see it would disagree. Today it is the most visited wilderness area in the United States.
But now this special place is at great risk.
Late last year the Interior Department concluded that the two expired leases held by a Chilean-owned company, Twin Metals Minnesota, should be reinstated for copper and nickel mining near the border of the Boundary Waters. This reversed a decision made at the end of the Obama administration, which rejected the leases after the Forest Service concluded that a mine there “posed an inherent potential risk” that threatened “serious and irreplaceable harm” to the wilderness.
Then, in January, the Trump administration scaled back a review of the impact of prohibiting mining on thousands of acres of Forest Service land near the wilderness. That was followed, this month, by the Interior Department reinstating those two expired Twin Metals leases. Now, the Trump administration says those leases must be renewed once terms and conditions are worked out.
These actions are another chapter in President Trump’s continuing assault on the nation’s most precious natural and cultural lands. They are of a piece with the shrinking of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah by 85 percent to carve out areas believed to contain oil and gas reserves and large uranium deposits. By giving the extractive industries virtually everything they want in Utah, Alaska, Minnesota and elsewhere, this administration has sent an unambiguous message: There is no place on our public lands — or waters — that is inviolable if there are resources to be exploited.
This is not the first threat to the Boundary Waters. In the early 1960s, there were battles over logging, timber roads and the use of motorboats and snowmobiles. Though the area was included in the 1964 Wilderness Act, some logging and motor use were allowed to continue. Finally