During my 45 years in public life, I came to know our great state from border to border. Minnesota is blessed with so many spectacular natural areas. The great Mississippi River bluffs in the southeast. The rolling prairies of Buffalo Ridge in the southwest. The rich Red River Valley in the northwest. And the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in the northeast.
The BWCA is a priceless treasure, which attracts visitors from all over our country and around the world. Its vast forests and waterways provide recreation and respite — a place to bask in the beauty of untrammeled nature. Wolves, lynx, moose, loons, eagles, walleyes, northerns and hundreds more species of wild creatures grace its land, air and water. Generations of families have made BWCA trips cornerstones of their times together. Vibrant and sustainable local economies thrive in nearby communities.
We inherited this pristine wilderness from previous generations of Minnesotans, who bequeathed it to us to benefit not only ourselves, but also our children, our grandchildren, and their children and grandchildren. Now it is our responsibility to protect this fragile ecosystem from those who would exploit it for their own selfish purposes.
Right now, it is threatened by Chilean mining company Antofagasta, which has despoiled natural resources in that country and elsewhere. Antofagasta wants to dig an enormous copper-nickel mine, called Twin Metals, right on the edge of the BWCA and excavate millions of tons of ore. Any leakage from the mine's residue of highly toxic sulfide ore into the nearby waters would cause catastrophic and irreparable damage.
When I was governor, I made it clear that I support mining where it can be conducted safely, but not where it threatens fragile, irreplaceable ecosystems. In March 2016, I wrote to Twin Metals and stated my opposition to copper-nickel mining near the BWCA. I directed the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources not to allow any new access to state lands for mineral exploration or mining near the BWCA. I also informed both the Obama and Trump administrations of where I stood and why the BWCA needed their protection.
The Obama administration took the same strong positions against the exploitation of the BWCA. It denied the renewal of leases to adjacent federal lands, which the Twin Metals project required to proceed. It also enacted a moratorium on any further mineral exploration or mining in that BWCA watershed region, while a study was made of its suitability for mining operations.
The Trump administration reversed that opposition and granted the company permanent leases for its mining operations. It also canceled the study and refused to make public its preliminary findings.
Now the Biden administration and Congress must act to protect the BWCA from this imminent exploitation and possible permanent damage. It should immediately reverse actions driven by political maneuvering to benefit a Chilean mining company. The administration must complete a much-needed science-based study to support a 20-year administrative mining ban. Together, Congress and the Biden administration should extend the administrative ban by passing legislation to make the protection permanent. The BWCA is not a 20-year wilderness; the only acceptable goal is permanent protection from copper mining near the Boundary Waters.
As history shows, mining jobs come and more often go, but the wilderness of the Boundary Waters has survived for thousands of years. Depending on the actions we take now, this priceless landscape could be irreparably damaged, or it could thrive for thousands more years.
Mark Dayton was governor of Minnesota, 2011-19.