The federal government’s sudden decision to reopen mineral exploration just outside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was a resounding defeat for wilderness advocates. But for the mining industry, it means back to business as usual.
By 2016, when the U.S. Forest Service adopted the temporary ban on exploratory drilling, mining companies had already poked thousands of holes in the ground in northern Minnesota in a decadeslong hunt for copper, nickel, platinum and other precious metals.
Now, the grinding sound of the drill rigs in 234,000 acres of the Superior National Forest around Ely will resume and, over the next few years, probably increase, say those in the industry. More importantly, the decision to lift the ban makes it more likely that at some point all that exploration will result in a mine.
Mining companies “are not doing this because they are interested in revitalizing the region,” said Jeremy Drucker, communications director for Save the Boundary Waters an advocacy group fighting for the long-term mining ban near the BWCA. “Any exploration is being done for the sake of turning a profit for someone.”
The BWCA, a 1 million-acre federally protected wilderness, has what its advocates say is the misfortune to be next to one of the largest untapped deposits of precious metals in the world. Geologists have known about it for 60 years, and mining companies have been measuring the concentrations and locations of the deposits for almost as long.
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