Land Exchange in Superior National Forest Jeopardizes Our Forests, Water and Wildlife

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 12, 2012

Today the House passed H.R. 5544, legislation that would require the U.S. Forest Service to offer a yet-to-be-determined amount of Superior National Forest land to the state of Minnesota, in exchange for more than 86,000 acres of School Trust Land within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW).

Lands that are part of the Superior National Forest receive a variety of critical protections, which preserve recreation, clean water, wildlife habitat and include the headwaters of Lake Superior. These include protections from strip mining, safeguards for endangered and threatened species, and requirements for public involvement and transparency. The specific lands to be exchanged have not been disclosed.

“Any exchange of National Forest lands forfeits important safeguards, such as requirements for public involvement and review,” said Margaret Levin, Sierra Club State Director. “The bill opens the door to proposals for toxic sulfide mining, with far fewer rules and loss of public oversight – for an industry with a terrible track record. “

Sulfide mining is a highly polluting industry. Mining sulfide rock releases acid and toxic metals that pollute rivers and groundwater for hundreds of years, long after the profits are spent and companies have declared bankruptcy.

In addition, H.R. 5544 would bypass the normal review process and public involvement requirements for a federal land exchange. More than 40 local and regional organizations have stated their opposition to the circumvention of Federal environmental laws to facilitate any land exchange involving the BWCAW and Superior National Forest.

The purchase of lands within the BWCAW, through funding sources such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund, has not been seriously considered by Congress. A purchase would accomplish the goal of putting revenue into the school trust, but without removing safeguards from federal lands.

“This bill is rash, unnecessary and a blow to Minnesota’s natural legacy,” said Levin.

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