The Boundary Waters

Vast, Precious Wilderness at Risk From Mining

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is America's most-visited federally designated wilderness area. This 1.1 million–acre expanse is located in the northern third of the Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota, extending nearly 200 miles along the U.S.–Canada border. Along with Voyageurs National Park and Quetico Provincial Park, the Boundary Waters is part of an international network of conserved land and wilderness of considerably more than 2 million acres. The Boundary Waters wilderness includes nearly 2,000 lakes ranging in size from 10 acres to 10,000 acres and more than 1,200 miles of canoe routes.

Unfortunately the Boundary Waters watershed is currently facing its great threat: proposed sulfide-ore copper mining just south of the wilderness area. 

Thousands of acres within the Boundary Waters watershed have been leased to mining companies for mineral exploration. A large company called Twin Metals is working with Chilean mining company Antofagasta to advance its “Twin Metals mine proposal,” to be sited near the wilderness. With a potential mining area covering more than 25,000 acres, this would be the largest underground mine in Minnesota's history — and in fact one of the largest mines in the world.

The campaign to save the Boundary Waters was first organized in 2013 by residents of northeastern Minnesota; today its proponents have grown into a national coalition of nonprofit organizations and allies, including the Center. The campaign's goal is to keep sulfide-ore copper mining out of the watershed of the Boundary Waters to protect the natural heritage of this national treasure as well as to support the stable, sustainable economy of its wilderness-edge communities.

The Denial of Twin Metals' Mineral-lease Renewals

In 2012 Twin Metals requested that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management renew its two mineral leases located within the Superior National Forest, just south of the Boundary Waters, which date back to the 1960s and had never before been subject to environmental review. In December 2016 the Forest Service found that these mineral leases posed an unacceptable risk to the Boundary Waters watershed, including from acid mine drainage, and chose not to consent to their renewal — and the BLM acted accordingly, rejecting Twin Metals' renewal application.

Halting New Permits to Mine

Also in December 2016, the Forest Service submitted an application to the secretary of the Interior to withdraw key portions of the Boundary Waters watershed from being subject to any new mineral permits or leases. The BLM is reviewing the application and is expected to issue notice making these lands off limits to new mining for up to two years. During this period the Forest Service and BLM will prepare an environmental analysis to determine whether mining should be prohibited on these lands for 20 more years.