By Rep. Dale Lueck, R-Aitkin, chairman of the Legislative Permanent School Fund Commission
Our nation was founded on the principle that our government is of the people, by the people, for the people. In that light, it is time for the people to have their say on the proposed withdrawal of mineral leases on more than one-quarter of a million acres of federal lands in the Rainy River Watershed.
The United States Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management soon will hold a public meeting in Virginia to gather public input on this crucial issue. The hope is local citizens deliver a clear, understandable message: Stop strangling Northeast Minnesota’s economic lifeblood with bureaucratic tape and allow our rich mining heritage to continue evolving on the Iron Range.
The stall tactics and fear-mongering amount to a direct attack on mining in Minnesota and the good people of the Iron Range. The federal government’s proposed withdrawal of leases for mineral exploration and development not only would have a chilling effect on northeastern Minnesota’s economy, but could destroy our local communities to the point of forcing families who have lived and worked here generations to leave – resulting in a barren region of ghost towns.
Equally disturbing is the federal government’s action will severely devalue an education funding program that has been in place since the mid-1800s to support our children’s education. More than 150 years ago, the federal government set aside land in states – or in Minnesota’s case, when it was still a territory – for the specific purpose of providing revenue for our K-12 public education system. In Minnesota, minerals management in Northeast Minnesota has historically generated the largest portion of funds that go annually into the state’s school trust fund, with iron ore and taconite mineral leases and mining the largest contributors.
Minnesota has very valuable school trust lands within the Rainy River Watershed, including some in close proximity to the federal Twin Metals mineral leases the federal government already has refused to renew without providing good cause for their action. Withdrawal by the federal government of mineral leases on federal lands within the Rainy River Watershed seriously devalues the school trust lands in the watershed, and in some cases renders them almost worthless for the generation of future state school trust fund revenues.
The U.S. Forest Service continues to operate on a destructive path directed by the last administration in Washington, D.C., with Gov. Mark Dayton’s concurrence. It is clear the federal government’s action in this case has no respect or empathy for the generations of people that live and work in Northeast Minnesota and provide the important mineral resources that our nation depends on. This action represents a threat to all future mineral exploration and mining operations within Minnesota.
It is baffling why the U.S. Forest Service believes it should defy the long-standing, multi-use management approach on federal lands that includes, mineral development, forestry and recreational opportunities. This off-limits approach for over one-quarter of a million acres of land in Northeast Minnesota is a direct threat to the long-term economic health of an entire region of Minnesota.
Minnesota has a long history of managing mining, forestry and outdoor recreational opportunities alongside each other in an environmentally responsible way.
The U.S. Forest Service is accepting public comments on its withdrawal proposal at a public hearing from 5 to 7:30 p.m. July 25 at the Virginia High School Auditorium. If you are unable to attend, comments also may be emailed to email@example.com.