Native Issues in the Halls of Government


Hunting wolves

I wrote in my May column that the Minnesota Legislature’s bill to establish a wolf hunting and trapping season was awaiting a decision by Gov. Mark Dayton. The governor signed the bill in early May, and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has set an early wolf season to begin Nov. 3, the opening day of the firearms deer season, wherever rifles can be used to kill deer. If the quota of 400 wolves is not reached, a later wolf season (allowing hunting, along with trapping and snaring) would begin on Nov. 24.

The DNR states that Minnesota has the largest population of wolves in the lower 48 states – 3,000 wolves, a number that has remained stable over the past decade. Further, the DNR has set a winter population of 1,600 wolves as the minimum goal; if the state wolf population should fall below this number, the DNR would take immediate steps to restore wolves to the minimum level. As I mentioned last month, wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan were removed from federal protection, in January 2012. So, each state has taken responsibility for wolf management.

I don’t understand the mentality that favors killing wolves. They are not a threat to humans, and farmers can legally shoot wolves that are threatening their livestock. And, as I wrote in May, the Red Lake Band of Chippewa – which manages their reservation land as a wolf sanctuary – has complained to the DNR commissioner about not being consulted prior to the state setting up a wolf season.

Mining Truth

Over the past two years, I have been writing about copper-nickel mining development in northeastern Minnesota, which poses a major threat both to the environment and to the tourist economy. Some of the mining exploration is taking place in the 1854 Treaty Ceded Territory, in which Ojibwe bands retain their rights to hunt, fish and gather. The Indian bands have been closely monitoring the mining schemes.

There were some new mining-related developments in May. First, three environmental groups launched a project called Mining Truth, an effort to educate Minnesotans about what is at stake with sulfide mining. The Mining Truth Coalition is comprised of Conservation Minnesota, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness (FBWW) and the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA).

The Mining Truth website (at notes: "This is not our grandparents’ iron mining – sulfide mining has never been done in Minnesota. While iron mines have significant environmental challenges of their own, the sulfuric acid that is produced with sulfide mining makes it particularly difficult to avoid polluting nearby lakes, streams and ground water."

The Mining Truth website goes on to describe the deleterious effects from acid mine drainage, which occurs when sulfuric acid dissolves rock and leaches out heavy metal pollutants. Acid mine drainage, according to the Mining Truth Coalition, "has devastated water bodies in many states where this type of mining has occurred. It kills fish, wildlife and plants, leaving lakes, rivers and streams devoid of most living creatures."

I talked in late May to Betsy Daub, policy director of FBWW, who explained that the Mining Truth Coalition was formed so that Minnesotans can get "good information… about sulfide mining in the state."

Daub pointed out that visitors to the Mining Truth website are encouraged to sign a pledge to spend two minutes telling two friends about sulfide mining. In addition to a primer about the environmental impact from sulfide mining, the Mining Truth website also offers an in-depth report with links to sources, which provides a more extensive explanation of the issues.

I also asked Daub about the second major mining development in May, the approval of 29 new exploration permits by the U.S. Forest Service. She explained that these copper-nickel mining proposals have been in the pipeline for a year or two, and there have been a couple rounds of public comments. The exploration permits are "in pretty much the same area that is being heavily explored now… the region between the Boundary Waters and Birch Lake, southeast of Ely." Twin Metals Minnesota LLC, a Canadian-Chilean partnership, has targeted this area for what would be the biggest mining project in Minnesota history.

Daub said that the new exploration permits mean that both local residents and visitors seeking a "wilderness-like" experience are seeing "drill rigs, small road spurs cut here and there throughout the forest," trucks siphoning water from local lakes and rivers for the drill rigs. "They are hearing the noise of the drill."

You can probably still hear the distinctive call of the loon in the North Woods; but you will have to listen more carefully.