Biden administration imposes 20-year mining ban on 225,000 acres of northern Minnesota

Chloe Johnson, Star Tribune on

Published in Business News

The Biden administration has withdrawn some 225,000 acres of national forest land in northern Minnesota from mineral leasing, protecting a swath of the watershed that adjoins the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

The decision follows a 16-month review on whether the minerals lying under Superior National Forest should be open to extraction. The Department of Interior concluded the land should be protected for 20 years, the maximum possible without congressional approval.

In a study released in 2022, the U.S. Forest Service concluded that hard-rock mining on the land risked contaminating the Boundary Waters, even with mitigation measures in place.

Superior National Forest is part of the Rainy River watershed, which flows into the Boundary Waters. It is also part of land ceded in an 1854 treaty by Ojibwe tribes in Minnesota, and members of these bands retained rights to hunt, fish and gather on these lands.

"Protecting a place like Boundary Waters is key to supporting the health of the watershed and its surrounding wildlife, upholding our Tribal trust and treaty responsibilities, and boosting the local recreation economy," Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement Thursday.

It's the second big move in federal land protection this week. On Wednesday, the Biden administration said it would not allow roads or logging on some 9 million acres of temperate rainforest in Alaska's nearly 17 million-acre Tongass National Forest.


There are no active mineral leases on the Minnesota land that was withdrawn from mining, but the long-planned Twin Metals mine was slated for the area, near Ely. Twin Metals, a subsidiary of Chilean mining giant Antofagasta, lost its mineral leases when the Biden administration canceled them at the beginning of 2022. The company sued the federal government later in the year to have them restored. The suit is pending in federal court.

Kathy Graul, a spokeswoman for Twin Metals, wrote in an email that the company was "deeply disappointed and stunned" by the new moratorium.

"This region sits on top of one of the world's largest deposits of critical minerals that are vital in meeting our nation's goals to transition to a clean energy future, to create American jobs, to strengthen our national security and to bolster domestic supply chains," Graul wrote. "We believe our project plays a critical role in addressing all of these priorities, and we remain committed to enforcing Twin Metals' rights."

Another company, Encampment Minerals, was also conducting exploratory drilling on the land that's part of the moratorium. A representative for the company declined to comment.


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