Environmental groups plan to sue feds over PolyMet mine's impacts on wolves, lynx

One day after the federal government approved a land exchange for the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine in far northeastern Minnesota, the Center for Biological Diversity and Earthworks have filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service.

The groups argue the open-pit mine would destroy nearly 4,000 acres of habitat for wolves and lynx. In a biological opinion released last February, the Fish and Wildlife Service said that included about 1,500 acres of "critical habitat" for the Canada lynx.

"But then they turn around and make the conclusion that somehow that would not adversely modify the critical habitat for those species, which we think was illegal and arbitrary under the Endangered Species Act," said Marc Fink, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity in Duluth.

The government has listed about 8,000 square miles in northeast Minnesota as one of five areas of critical habitat for Canada lynx in the country.

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Both the gray wolf and Canada lynx are listed as threatened with extinction under the law. The lynx population in Minnesota is estimated to be between 190 and 250 animals. There are an estimated 2,200 wolves in the state.

"A century of iron ore mining has already fragmented habitat for wolves and lynx in this region, so these imperiled species can't tolerate a new wave of open-pit copper mining," Fink said.

Under the Endangered Species Act, groups must give a 60-day notice of their intent to sue. The groups will file their lawsuit in federal court after 60 days, unless the government has addressed their concerns, Fink said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service withheld comment, saying it has not had a chance to review the notice of intent to sue.

In a statement, PolyMet Mining said the Fish and Wildlife Service's opinion fully addressed the potential impacts and mitigation to threatened and endangered species.

"That opinion is based on extensive and thorough study and analysis performed independently by state and federal regulators and their contractors during a 10-year environmental review process that both the state of Minnesota and the U.S. Forest Service have validated," said spokesman Bruce Richardson.