Former Forest Service leader calls for continued protection of Boundary Waters

Base Map courtesy USGS
Tom Tidwell
Tom Tidwell

Tom Tidwell, who served as chief of the U.S. Forest Service during the Obama presidency, published an opinion article in the Duluth News Tribune last week calling for mine proposals near the Boundary Waters to be rejected.

Saying the Boundary Waters is “some of the most beautiful country I had ever encountered in my 40-year career with the U.S. Forest Service,” Tidwell recalled flying over it in a Forest Service plane.

That flight also showed him why mining in the wilderness watershed was so worrisome to many people: the region’s abundance of water, all of it interconnected.

Tidwell took several significant steps to ensure mines would not harm the wilderness. In 2014, he directed the Forest Service to study withdrawing the wilderness watershed from mineral exploration for 20 years. In 2016, he denied mineral lease renewals from Twin Metals.

Those protections were overturned by new leadership. Tidwell says doing so was contrary to the purpose of the agency.

“These were bad, anti-science decisions that went against the core mission of the Forest Service, which is to protect our national forest lands,” he wrote. “Sidestepping careful scientific review and enabling sulfide-ore mining imperils the entire Boundary Water region, which has a vigorous and sustainable economy centered on clean water and a healthy natural landscape.”

Tidwell retired in 2017, after staying on for several months during the Trump administration. In May of that year, he told Rep. Betty McCollum in a Congressional hearing that he believed mining could be done safely, but study was needed to ensure it wouldn’t harm the Boundary Waters.

“The study allows us to really pull together the information and the data, and look at the overall balance,” he said.

In the year since he left, the Forest Service renewed the Twin Metals leases, and cut short the study of a mining moratorium.

Read Tidwell’s entire article here.

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (Greg Seitz)
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (Greg Seitz)

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