By Samantha Chadwick
Samantha Chadwick is a preservation advocate with Environment Minnesota, which describes itself as a "statewide, citizen-based environmental advocacy organization."
Since I was a little girl, I've considered myself an outdoorswoman. Nature and wilderness have always been special to me. Over time a childhood interest in animals, tree-climbing and adventure turned into a deeper, emotionally powerful, even spiritual appreciation of creation.
I know it's not enough to simply care about and appreciate the outdoors — the places I love won't be protected automatically. Over a few short seasons of plant survey work during and after college, I realized that scientific knowledge rarely goes on to inform the political decisions that affect land and wildlife.
For several years I've been following the controversy around proposed sulfide mining in the Arrowhead region of Minnesota. So far, these new projects are undergoing scientific and public scrutiny to determine how, or even whether, sulfide mining can be done in Minnesota without polluting our water, irresponsibly damaging the environment and risking public health.
The evaluation of risks from this new type of mining wouldn't be happening if citizens and political leaders hadn't put in place conservation measures and environmental review laws and standards, and if they hadn't purposely protected some places from the most destructive development.
That's why I'm disturbed by what's happening to wilderness protections in political arenas today. Nowhere is the issue of corporate influence in politics more relevant than in the realm of environmental issues. And it really hits home in Minnesota, with the push to roll back laws that protect the Arrowhead from unregulated sulfide mining.
We have a U.S. Congress right now that is no friend to the environment, voting more than 240 times to weaken environmental protections. I've been looking at bills that threaten public lands — measures to abolish, circumvent or otherwise water down laws that govern lands like the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, the Superior National Forest, Voyageurs National Park and other public lands across the country. Bill proponents are actively working to make it easier for logging, mining, and gas drilling companies to access areas now set aside for conservation.
Here are some of the worst proposals I've seen so far:
The Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act and the Wilderness Development Act, which target the most pristine areas of Superior National Forest, including the BWCA. These bills would allow road-building, motorized vehicles, logging, even extraction and energy development in areas that have been set aside and purposely protected from such activities.
The Conservation and Economic Growth Act, which would waive 16 cornerstone environmental and public health laws within 100 miles of the Canadian border, including areas of the BWCA and Voyageurs National Park. The bill also includes sections that allow Department of Homeland Security and the Border Patrol to build roads, fences and towers, and close fishing and hunting areas within the BWCA, without notifying the public.
The Minnesota Education Investment and Employment Act, introduced by Rep. Chip Cravaack of Minnesota, which mandates the transfer of tens of thousands of acres of protected national forest lands into state management for logging, mining and other activities. This would result in the loss of important protections, including the prohibition of strip mining under the Weeks Act and the review and appeal process mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act.
While some of these measures are blatant attacks that abolish wilderness protection, others are quieter attempts to circumvent processes that industry might find bothersome because they give scientists and the public the chance to evaluate projects and weigh in on decisions. Especially for decisions about the use of public lands that belong to all Minnesotans, these protections and processes should remain in place.
Sulfide mining is a serious pollution threat to areas that I, along with many Minnesotans, value deeply. Given the long track record of costly and damaging pollution by the sulfide mining industry, it's more important than ever to keep environmental standards intact.