In a recent lawsuit filed Tuesday, conservation groups sued the US Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS), the Forest Service, and the Army Corps of Engineers, claiming that their approval of the PolyMet open-pit copper mine and land exchange violates the Endangered Species Act.
The suit challenges four separate issues all stemming from the FWS 2016 Biological Opinion for the NorthMet Mine Project and Land Exchange. The agency found that the destruction of thousands of acres of land would not have an impact on species’ critical habitat. The at-risk species for this project include the gray wolf, the Canadian lynx, and the northern long-eared bat, the latter two being listed as ‘threatened’ under the ESA. The proposed open-pit mine would be 528 acres, with the land exchange spanning a greater acreage.
Marc Fink, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity stated that federal agencies “can’t just ignore threats to animals headed for extinction…This massive mine would wipe out more than a thousand acres of forest critical to the survival of the Canada lynx, whose paw prints have been found at the mine site.” In the past, mining has decimated protected wildlife habitats, as evidenced by a case filed last January regarding the delisting of the gray wolf from the endangered species list. This new mine would add even more obstacles to the conservation efforts and to the wolf’s habitat in general.
Open-pit copper mining is not allowed in Minnesota’s Superior National Forest due to its devastating and irreplaceable effects natural resources. This has been a lasting battle for conservationists. In 2017 the Forest Service relied on the 2016 Biological Opinion to approve and trade the publicly held land to the PolyMet company so the mine could proceed as planned. The construction of the mine would destroy almost 4,000 acres of existing habitat for lynx and bat species, including nearly 1,700 acres at the site itself.
According to the complaint, the proposed mine would also have lasting effects on the surrounding forest areas, wetlands, and the migratory species entering into the Minnesota forest. In addition to this current lawsuit, conservationists are also challenging the Clean Water Act permit issued based off of the same 2016 opinion.