Conservationists With Common Sense (CWCS)

Save our Communities

This is about saving our communities, our schools and our hospitals around the Boundary Waters. There have been concerted efforts by extreme preservation groups that are harming our communities, our state and our country.

As President of Conservationists with Common Sense, CWCS has informed our members about the 86,000 acres of School Trust Lands in the Boundary Waters.

School Trust Lands generate revenue for all Minnesota schools with the state managing the land. The state does this with leases for gravel and other mining, leases for hunting and trapping, timber sales, and other means.

In the 1990s there were discussions with state legislators to resolve the issue of these lands that have not been able to generate revenue for the School Trust since 1964.

At that time, the discussion was to exchange School Trust Lands for federal lands outside of the Boundary Waters, or to put the land up for sale at public auction according to state statute. School Trust Land cannot be sold outright.

There was no resolution back then as environmental groups did not want to see private citizens possibly submitting the highest bid for land in the Boundary Waters.

In 2010, the Minnesota Legislature’s Permanent School Trust Fund Advisory Committee appointed a working group to develop a plan to address the School Trust Lands in the Boundary Waters. CWCS was never asked to be a part of this group, but members of the Friends of the Boundary Waters were. This working group came up with a hybrid plan to exchange 30,000 acres and purchase 56,000 acres.

The working group ignored the 1964 Wilderness Act, which states:

SECTION 5. (a) In any case where State-owned or privately owned land is completely surrounded by national forest lands within areas designated by this Act as wilderness, … such State-owned land or privately owned land shall be exchanged for federally owned land in the same State of approximately equal value.

In 2012, Governor Dayton signed a bill to expedite the exchange of School Trust Lands in the Boundary Waters for federally owned lands outside of the wilderness. Environmental groups were behind this legislation that would seek to have the lands condemned so they could then be purchased. Still no resolution.

In March of 2016, Governor Dayton denied Twin Metals access to state lands. The Bureau of Land Management then followed with denying renewal of federal mineral leases. Twin Metals is years away from a mine plan, but the rug was pulled out from Twin Metals to continue their exploration and has led to many lost jobs. The rules have been changed.

Last summer a new plan for the exchange of School Trust Lands in the Boundary Waters was devised by the Conservation Fund. I think this plan caught the DNR totally off guard. The plan was for the Conservation Fund to purchase Potlatch land and trade it for School Trust Lands in the Boundary Waters. Then have the Forest Service purchase the lands in the Boundary Waters from the Conservation Fund. There is no money appropriated from Congress for such a buyout. This plan has been presented to various groups trying to garner support.

The most recent action taken by the Obama Administration, at the request of extreme preservation groups, was the withdrawal of over 400,000 acres of federal, state and county lands in the Superior National Forest from future mining and exploration. Were any of our State Senators or Representatives informed of this action?

Included in the federal land withdrawal are 95,000 acres of School Trust Lands that generate revenue for all Minnesota schools. With over two decades of copper-nickel mining, revenue to the School Trust Fund is projected to be more than $3 billion. School Trust Lands are designated in dark blue on the map.


School Trust Lands in the land withdrawal.


Minnesota used to have more than 8 million acres of School Trust Lands. Today, 2.5 million acres remain; more than 92 percent are in 10 northern Minnesota counties. School Trust Lands in other parts of the state were auctioned or sold according to state laws to support Minnesota schools.

The 1978 BWCA Wilderness Act designated 220,000 acres along the Echo Trail, Fernberg Trail and Gunflint Trail as a Mining Protection Area. As to lands outside of the Boundary Waters, mining is an allowable activity. The Forest Service Plan states: “exploration, development and producing mineral resources are conducted in an environmentally sound manner so that they may contribute to economic growth and national defense.” This Forest Service Plan is being ignored, and extreme preservationists want an amendment to change the Forest Plan.

CWCS has been involved in Boundary Waters issues that greatly affect our communities since 1989. For nearly thirty years we have been fighting to preserve access to the Boundary Waters, to preserve our tourism economy that includes motorboats in the Boundary Waters. CWCS has encouraged economic development and being environmentally and socially responsible. We also acknowledge a healthy environment includes clean air, water and soil. This is essential to present and future generations. But, a healthy community depends on good paying jobs and a stable population that supports our schools and hospitals.

The needs of local communities and all users can and must be balanced with the conservation of our environment. Common Sense is needed in addressing economic development for the betterment of all.

The fight over the truck portages led the Friends of the Boundary Waters to reveal their real intentions, and that is to remove every last motor out of the Boundary Waters even though legislation allows limited motor use in this wilderness. Such an action would further decline our tourism in communities around the Boundary Waters.

Back in the 1990s, Cliff Wold was an outfitter who fought with CWCS in keeping the Boundary Waters accessible for all. He had thousands of brochures printed with a Minnesota map to inform people of the intentions of extreme preservation groups:


A Minnesota map to inform people of the intentions of extreme preservation groups.


People thought Cliff was crazy. With extreme preservationists embedded in many of our government agencies and with the thought of a 20-year moratorium against future mining that land withdrawal’s southern border could very well become the southern border of the Boundary Waters, to include over 400,000 acres.

The propaganda against copper/nickel mining put out by these preservation groups is nothing more than fear-mongering. All their false information is turning people away from the Boundary Waters who think the waters are already poisoned. Visitors to the Boundary Waters has been on a steady decline over the past ten years, with a low of less than 98,000 visitors in 2014.

This anti-mining agenda is more than a Minnesota issue. Over the last year of the Obama Administration, similar proposals of land withdrawals have been made with the same 20-year moratorium against mining and exploration… In Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada. Over 10 million acres have been withdrawn out West from future mining.

CWCS and Up North Jobs have been working with Jobs for Minnesotans and Mining Minnesota. The groups We Support Minnesota Mining keeps people informed by posting articles about mining on Facebook, and Minnesota Miners has reached out to supporters of mining in the states out West. We have been sharing information and the need to send in comments to the Forest Service opposing the land withdrawals.

What is happening here in Northern Minnesota and all across the West is a matter of National Security. Along with the need for copper/nickel for our everyday devices, our Defense Department needs these minerals and metals for our national security. Currently China hold 95% of this minerals and the United States imports many of them.

We talk about thinking globally and acting locally. Where better to mine for copper/nickel than right here in Minnesota where we have strict pollution regulations and MSHA safety regulations? This certainly doesn’t hold true in countries such as Russia, China, South Africa and others, where there are no pollution regulations and their labor force is often children.

Tourism has always been a big part of our economy, but even that has decreased drastically over the past several years. People visiting the Boundary Waters are getting older, and younger people aren’t showing a great interest in canoeing, camping, fishing, etc.

Northern Minnesota needs good paying jobs, and mining jobs are some of the few in the area that provide a livable wage to raise families. We need more people moving into our communities with children for our schools. How much longer can Ely schools remain an Independent School District with fewer and fewer students?

Lastly, I’d like to tell you about this fish:


Picture of a Brook Trout from a higher sulfide pit near the Dunka Pit.


This picture is of a Brook Trout from a higher sulfide pit near the Dunka Pit. This was from one of the last pits Reserve Mining Company blasted. When Reserve closed in 1986 the pit began to fill with water. In 1990 my husband was working for Cyprus Mining Company at the former Reserve property. One of the first jobs he had was to pump the water out of the pit. This took months to do.

Once the water level reached the bottom of the pit, it was discovered to be filled with Brook Trout. Workers netted barrels of these fish and transferred them to a lake on the property.

This picture was given to CWCS by a geologist. He wrote: In past years miners carried canaries with them into underground coal mines to monitor air quality. The small birds were quite sensitive and if the bird lived the air was safe. However, if it died, it was time to leave quickly.

Native brook trout can serve the same purpose, to judge the quality of surface waters in and from mine pits. They can be thought of as the “Canaries” for surface mine waters.

This 2# native male brook trout in full spawning colors was netted, from a flooded northeastern Minnesota mine pit adjacent to an abandoned waste rock blast containing heavy sulfide mineralization. The trout had apparently migrated into the flooded pit from a nearby river, or maybe dropped in the pit by a bird flying overhead. It thrived for several years to grow quite large despite the sulfides and metals leaching into the water from the waste rock blast.

The "Canary" lived. So does the trout.

The propaganda being put out by preservation groups in regard to copper/nickel mining here in Minnesota is just that… propaganda against any economic development. Scare tactics to delay mining projects.

Without mining, what is going to generate revenue for the School Trust Fund for Minnesota schools?

Please send your comments opposing the land withdrawal to the Forest Service and BLM. Our communities, schools and hospitals depend on good paying jobs and access to these lands which include School Trust Lands. Thank you.

Nancy McReady