Wildlife Advocates Rally to Halt Minnesota Mine

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) – Environmentalists accuse the federal government of ignoring the effects of proposed mining operations on the Superior National Forest’s designated habitats for the threatened Canada lynx, northern long-eared bat and gray wolf.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Earthworks and Save Our Sky Blue Waters filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, or FWS, in Minnesota federal court on Tuesday, claiming the agency violated the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Forest Service and its chief, Thomas Tidwell, as well as U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke are also named defendants.

In 2000, FWS named the Canada lynx a threatened species under the ESA, according to the complaint. Most of the lynxes living in Minnesota are located in the Superior National Forest, in the northeast part of the state.

FWS created a recovery outline for the Canada lynx in 2005 to address any threats to the animal with the eventual goal that its protection under the ESA will no longer be required.

The agency designated critical habitat for the Canada lynx in portions of Cook, Koochiching, Lake and St. Louis Counties, which covers most of the Superior National Forest.

The area is considered essential because it is the only area in the Great Lakes region showing evidence of recent lynx reproduction, according to the complaint.

Last year, FWS completed a biological opinion for the NorthMet Mine, a proposed open-pit, copper-nickel mine in the Superior National Forest. PolyMet Mining Inc. wants to run the mine there for 20 years, but its development hinges on a disputed land exchange.

According to the environmental groups, the NorthMet Mine would threaten the habitats of the Canada lynx, northern long-eared bat and gray wolf, which are also listed as threatened. They say minerals management and mine development can reduce habitat quality for denning and foraging.

“The NorthMet Mine would directly disturb at least 3,918 acres, including at least 1,719 acres at the Mine Site and 2,189 acres at the Plant Site. The direct disturbance at the Mine Site includes 528 acres of open mine pits, up to 794 acres of overburden and waste rock stockpiles, and 397 acres of infrastructure,” the groups claim.

According to the complaint, the potential destruction of habitat at the mine site includes more than 1,300 acres of lynx denning, wolf cover and northern long-eared bat roosting habitat.

“The loss of lynx, wolf, and bat habitat will be permanent, except where the reclamation of forested habitat can occur, which will take at least several decades,” the lawsuit states.

Even though FWS determined in its biological opinion that the NorthMet Mine will negatively impact the northern long-eared bat, gray wolf and Canada lynx, it still concluded that the mine is unlikely to jeopardize these animals or destroy their habitat, according to the lawsuit.

The environmentalists says the FWS biological opinion violates the ESA because it fails to analyze the effect of the NorthMet Mine on the recovery of the Canada lynx and doesn’t provide anestimation of how many lynxes, wolves and northern long-eared bats will be lost.

The groups seek a court ordering enjoying any implementation of the NorthMet Mine until the biological opinion is revised to be legally adequate. They are represented by Marc Fink with the Center for Biological Diversity in Duluth, Minn.

An FWS spokesperson said the agency cannot comment on litigation.

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