Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Destroying wilderness for the children

Of all of the anti-environmental provisions being floated by this year's Legislature, the most cynical might be the proposal to create "Children's State Forest."

What's that you say? How could creating a State Forest for children be against the environment?

Let me explain.

Going back to the time when Minnesota was surveyed and platted, sections in each township were designated as school sections (usually sections 16 and 36 in Minnesota.) The intent was to provide land and money to establish schools as European settlement expanded across the West. Since the area that is now the Boundary Waters Wilderness and the Superior National Forest was never completely homesteaded and subdivided, state school trust land remains in the wilderness boundaries. Since this land is wilderness, it cannot be developed.

Politicians have long desired to either sell or exchange these in-holdings for other federal land. In Minnesota, the negotiations have been tedious and contentious. Now, a group of pro-mining politicians, including Iron Range DFL'ers and Republican Congressman Chip Cravaack, seek to force a trade of state land in the BWCA for land that sulfide mining companies covet in the Superior National Forest.

This battle is being fought on two fronts. First, Rep. Cravaack announced in December 2011 that he would introduce federal legislation that would require the Forest Service to exchange all 86,000 acres of state land in the Boundary Waters with land outside of the Boundary Waters. This would shrink the Superior National Forest and place that land under state control.

Second, the Minnesota legislature's omnibus environment bill designates the creation of "Children's State Forest." The emphasis here is acquiring land coveted by multinational mining corporations:
Subd. 3. Priority. An exchange of state land under this section shall give priority to exchanges that provide the most opportunity for revenue generation for the permanent school fund, and priority shall be given to lands within the Superior National Forest in the Mesabi Purchase Unit in St. Louis County and in the following townships in St. Louis County:
(1) Township 59 North, Range 14 West;
(2) Township 59 North, Range 13 West;
(3) Township 60 North, Range 13 West; and
(4) Township 60 North, Range 12 West.
These townships are adjacent to two proposed sulfide mining operations - PolyMet's NorthMet project and Teck Cominco's Mesaba project. You've probably heard of the first one, but maybe you haven't heard of the second mine proposal. Here are some maps to orient you:

First, this is the area of "Children's State Forest":

Second, a map of federal parcels that being considered for an exchange:

Third, a map of proposed sulfide mining projects in the area:

There have seemingly been two major players (PolyMet and Twin Metals) at the Capitol working on thwarting environmental protections and preventing legislation that would force sulfide mining companies to put a damage deposit down sufficient for mine clean up. But Teck, a huge multinational mining company, quietly spent $100,000 lobbying the Minnesota Legislature in 2011. In 2002, Teck pushed for a $20 million state loan to develop the Mesaba project. But they scrapped their plans when PolyMet scooped up the old LTV Steel facility that Teck wanted for their processing facility. The spike in Teck's lobbying signals a new interest in developing Mesaba, and the land exchange would be for land right next door.

"Children's State Forest" would be a strange place, a moonscape designated for destruction, exchanged for pristine wilderness land. It would give mining-friendly state agencies and politicians control over the surface and mineral rights for the Mesaba project. It would help develop a mining industry that threaten the environment and water quality of one the greatest wilderness areas in the world. As DFL Rep. David Dill stated:
“That land in the wilderness should belong to the federal government," Dill said. "We should do it in accordance with the constitution, and then we should mine, log, and lease the hell out of that land that we get in the change."
If you had any doubts about the what the plan is for "Children's State Forest," it's right there.

Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz 

(Images: Top: screen capture from, Middle: section of US Forest Service map of proposed land exchanges, full map available at, Lower: screen capture from Duluth Metals

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