Moose Logo



Join us in working to protect the forest!


or navigate to our sign up form at




The Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest is dedicated to the protection and preservation of the natural and cultural resources of The Cloquet Valley State Forest and promotes responsible enjoyment of this unique treasure.


In early March of 2016 Governor Dayton's Executive Committee met to discuss the leasing of lands near Duluth and throughout the region of Northeastern Minnesota. The Minnesota State Auditor opposed the leases based on her assessment of the financial risks the leases posed. The Governor, Attorney General and Secretary of State ignored her cautionary words and voted to approve the leases. After the meeting, speaking to our representative, the Governor stated that people have become "hypersensitized" regarding mining and that mining has always been the plan for "your region". We oppose the actions taken by the Executive Committee and view the Governor's protection just days later of the Boundary Waters from mining exploration to be a more supportable path, and question why there is a strong desire on the part of the Governor to protect one area of the state, citing it as a great threat, while minimizing it elsewhere and labeling concerns "hypersentitization". Lake Superior, the St. Louis River and the Cloquet Rivers demand the same level of protection as the Rainy River watershed.

Meanwhile the Governor has showed his support for Polymet via the DNR's approval of the PolyMet Plan and moving toward permitting.

Our letter and documentation to the Executive Council are below and a map of the leasing area near Duluth is to the right.

Governor Mark Dayton and Lt. Governor Tina Smith (
Office of the Governor & Lt Governor
116 Veterans’ Service Building
20 W. 12th Street St. Paul, MN 55155

State Auditor Rebecca Otto (
Office of the State Auditor
525 Park Street, Suite 500 Saint Paul, Minnesota 55103

Attorney General Lori Swanson (
Office of Minnesota Attorney General
1400 Bremer Tower 445 Minnesota Street St. Paul, MN 55101

Secretary of State Steve Simon  (
Office of the Secretary of State of Minnesota
Business Services Office:
Retirement Systems of Minnesota Building 60 Empire Dr., Suite 100 Saint Paul, MN 55103


February 29, 2016
Governor Dayton, Lieutenant Governor Smith, Attorney General Swanson, State Auditor Otto, Secretary of State Simon,
On behalf of the Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest, we are renewing our request that the Minnesota Executive Council decline to approve any new nonferrous metallic mineral leases until you have a clear understanding of what those leases may mean for many of Minnesota’s irreplaceable natural treasures, including the Cloquet Valley State Forest and the Cloquet River and its tributaries.
The Executive Council may believe that in approving leases, it is simply providing that a mining company can begin the process of exploration for minerals, and that the decision as to whether a mine is actually appropriate in a given location will not be made until it is known that marketable minerals actually exist at the site. But there is a very real possibility that as a legal matter, the approval of leases will turn out to be the decision that mining – including the mining of sulfide-bearing ore from enormous open-pit mines that destroy surface resources and leave the land forever scarred – is the preferred use of these public lands. We submit that neither the Executive Council nor the public knows enough about these lands, the resources they contain, and the public values they serve to make that decision at this juncture.

We have previously submitted comments regarding the cumulative effects of mineral exploration (which are unlikely to be addressed in 20-day reviews of single-lease exploration plans), the impacts of leasing on surface estate and neighboring landowners and local communities, and the extensive long-term impacts of sulfide mining.  We hope that you will review these and other public comments before you address the proposed leases before you on March 9. However, our purpose in this letter is to highlight the legal morass that you may be wading into by granting property rights to private mining companies without a full consideration of the resources and values of the property itself.

Perhaps you have been given to understand that because leases “are subject to all applicable state and federal statutes, orders, rules and regulations,” the State will have the ongoing right to say “no” to an eventual mine plan that will destroy important public resources. Certainly the mine would be required to comply with Clean Water AcSt, Clean Air Act, Wetland Conservation Act, and Permit-to-Mine requirements, as would any mine on private property. But these laws may not protect the land itself, nor its ecosystems, and to a great extent they do not protect the needs of the local community. While this is an unsettled area of the law, a court might well view the State as a landowner who, with these leases, has given the leaseholder all the rights of a property holder to destroy the surface of the property in order to access the minerals below.

The Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest do not want to see any part of the Cloquet Valley Forest destroyed, and we do not know for certain that there will be another tribunal in the future with the legal authority to decide that it will not be.

As an example of what is at stake, six of the seven proposed leases within the Cloquet Valley State Forest are within a Minnesota Biological Survey area of high biodiversity. Areas of outstanding or high biodiversity are given priority for conservation in state and local government decisions. For example, a permit to destroy wetlands must be denied if it would permanently alter such areas. But no similar regulation protects uplands, and under the state Wetland Conservation Act a private landowner might have a regulatory takings claim if a wetlands permit is denied for this reason. At this point, we do not know what ecosystems, plants, or wildlife habitat might be unprotected if a marketable mineral resource is discovered, because no environmental review has been done.

The impacts on people who use and love these landscapes would be just as pronounced. Most mines are not small, isolated land uses. In most of the places where leases are offered, a significant “find” could mean the development of a new mining district, and the complete transformation of the local landscape and community. Most of the people who live in the Cloquet Valley do not want to live in a mining district. We have great respect for the communities of the Iron Range and mean nothing against them, but we have a different culture that we also would like to maintain. We understand property rights, and if a private property owner wants to locate a mine on his or her land in our community, we may have no recourse. But this should not be the case in regards to the mining of public property.

Why is it that when new mining development is proposed for the Iron Range, the concerns of the local community are so important, while the local community is ignored when mining development is proposed in other places? To reiterate, we recognize that no mine has yet been proposed in the Cloquet Valley, but we fear that with the granting of these leases, the State will not retain the legal right to consider impacts on the local community if and when that proposal comes.

In the 1970’s, a similar time period in terms of interest in nonferrous mineral extraction in Minnesota, the state undertook an extensive study of potential mining. The “Copper-Nickel Study” looked at a full range of potential impacts from various mining activities, long before any particular mine plan had been developed. But the study was limited to a narrow band of mineralization to the immediate southeast of the Mesabi Iron Range, stretching from Virginia to Ely. At the time of the Copper-Nickel study, there was no suggestion that mining might ultimately be spread over the entire northland, which may now prove to be the case. While we appreciate the fact that the DNR does not know where marketable minerals will be found, prior to leasing may be the State’s last opportunity to consider the possible ramifications of the development of extensive new mining districts.

Issues of state mineral leases and property rights have not yet landed in the Minnesota courts, and so it is informative to look to the federal government to see how it has handled similar issues. To that end, we are submitting a Solicitor’s Memorandum from the U.S. Department of the Interior. The federal minerals leasing system differs from the state system in that the federal government first issues a prospecting permit covering a certain acreage of land. If marketable minerals are found, the permit holder is then entitled to a lease. The primary issue, however, is essentially the same: what legal rights does the government retain to refuse permission to construct a mine after an initial property right has been granted?

Among other things, the Solicitor’s Memorandum addresses the degree of environmental review that is appropriate before a prospecting permit is issued. As with a state lease, the granting of a federal prospecting permit must be followed by approval of an exploration plan before any physical work is done that could alter the property. Nonetheless, the consensus among both courts and federal officials is that to the extent that the permit presents an “irretrievable commitment of resources,” (i.e., because the subsequent grant of a lease is to some extent nondiscretionary), a full review of the impacts of mining must be done before it is granted.

But our primary point in asking you to read this memorandum is that federal officials recognize the property rights implications of issuing a prospecting permit, and the limitations that might place on them in later decisions as to the use of federal property. As reflected in the Solicitor’s Memorandum, this has been a huge conundrum for the federal government, and the State would do well to consider that experience and the thought that has gone into addressing it before plowing ahead with the same mistakes that the federal government has suffered through.

In particular, we draw your attention to a situation described on pages 13 and 14 of the attached Solicitor’s Memorandum:  

One protracted dispute involving the Forest Service's consent to the issuance of a preference right lease sounds a cautionary note. In the 1960s, BLM issued prospecting permits under the MLAAL for phosphate exploration on acquired federal lands in Florida. These prospecting permits pre-dated the development of the joint Forest Service/BLM stipulation now in use, but did contain other stipulations required by the Forest Service to protect surface resources in the event leases were issued. The permittees then applied for preference right leases. Following preparation of an environmental impact statement under NEPA, the Forest Service submitted stipulations to be included in the leases. One of these required the lessee to reclaim the area to the conditions that existed prior to mining. An interagency task force was formed to determine whether reclamation to this standard was technologically feasible. When the task force reported that there was no reasonable likelihood the area could be reclaimed to this standard, the Secretary of the Interior rejected the preference right lease applications.
The permittee sued, and the federal district court upheld the Secretary. Ken-McGee, 630 F. Supp. 621. The Court of Appeals vacated the decision and dismissed the case as moot, because Congress had, in the meantime, designated the permit area as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System, effectively prohibiting mining. The Court noted that the permittees could bring a takings action in the U.S. Claims Court, intimating no view on the merits of such a claim. 840 F.2d 68 (D.C. Cir. 1988). Kerr-McGee subsequently sued in the Claims Court, and when the trial judge expressed doubts about jurisdiction, the lessees obtained a congressional reference. (Congress enacted a bill asking the Court of Claims for an advisory opinion.) The Court of Claims then decided to address whether the Forest Service and Interior had given the company an adequate opportunity to determine whether reclamation was possible. Kerr-McGee Corn. v. United States, 36 Fed. C1. 776 (1996). Eventually the case was settled when the U.S. agreed to give the permittees several million dollars in return for dismissing the claims. While this dispute ultimately did nothing to clarify the law regarding the scope of the Forest Service's consent and its authority to incorporate protective terms and conditions in a prospecting permit, it illustrates possible limits on federal agency authority over mineral development once a prospecting permit is issued.

Substitute “mineral lease” for “prospecting permit” and this is exactly the type of situation the State of Minnesota is likely to face ten, twenty or thirty years from now.

In the context of the interpretation of deeds that grant or reserve mineral rights, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court noted:

[I]n view of the surface violence, destruction and disfiguration which inevitably attend strip or open mining, no land owner would lightly or casually grant strip mining rights, nor would any purchaser of land treat lightly any reservation of mining rights which would permit the grantor or his assignee to come upon his land and turn it into a battle-ground with strip mining.

We fear that “casually granting strip mining rights” is precisely what the DNR and the Executive Council may turn out to be doing in entering into these leases. While Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest would be the first to argue that the state leases grant no such rights if a case were to go to court, realistically we have to say that this is an open question that counsels every caution in your leasing decisions.

We urge you to take a trip to the Iron Range and visit one of the mines. Look around at the piles of waste rock that dominate the landscape in the Range Cities, even outside of current mining areas. And then drive through the Cloquet Valley State Forest and some of the other areas that are currently up for lease, and imagine a similar transformation. And if you are not absolutely certain that such a transformation would be in the best interests of the people of Minnesota, including and especially the people who live, vacation, and/or recreate in the area, do not approve these leases at this time.

The aforementioned Solicitor’s Memorandum includes options for protecting the federal government’s right to refuse to allow a mine on federal property once prospecting permits are issued. We would like to suggest that the State of Minnesota consider similar options for state leases, and amend the regulatory lease language before any new leases are granted. The DNR and the Executive Council apparently believe that the time to consider the implications of mining is after marketable minerals have been discovered and a plan is on the table. Please, let’s make sure that the State does not lease away the right to consider and act on those implications before we even know what they are.

Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest


Minn. R. 8429.0515(3); Minn. Board of Soil & Water Resources and Minn. Dept. of Natural Resources Technical Guidance, “Wetland Conservation Act: Rare Natural Communities,” Jan. 31, 2011 (linked here).

A map of the study area from the Executive Summary is attached. Map


Recently approved leases near Duluth Near Duluth



Click here for large detailed MAP



Proposed leasing in the Arrowhead?

A large swath of lands including a significant portion of the Cloquet Valley State Forest is being offered by the DNR for mineral lease.   You can view all of the lands here

Much of the land is in the watershed of the Cloquet River and the St. Louis River, these watersheds have been studied recently.   A recent economic ecosystem report has been done, that can be found here : Earth Economics, St. Louis River Project When commenting on the proposed leasing it is wise to give full consideration to the economic value to humans provided by the intact and functioning, lands, wetlands and watershed. While most people recognize that the lands and waters have value beyond economic value to humans, the hard data provided in this study balance similar data put forward by corporate interests in support of mining proposals.

Click here to see the Full size map of the proposed leasing area in the CVSF


Public input will be accepted from June 22, 2015 through August 21, 2015.
By US Mail: Minnesota DNR
Division of Lands and Minerals
Attention: Metallic Minerals Lease Sale
500 Lafayette Road
St. Paul, MN 55155-4045
By Email:
Subject: Metallic Minerals Lease Sale
Please copy your comments to the Governor and the other members of the Executive Committee comprised the Governor, Lt. Governor, Secretary of State and State Auditor and Attorney General, the leasing decision is in their hands . 

Office of the Governor & Lt Governor
116 Veterans Service Building
20 W 12th Street
St. Paul, MN 55155
Contact Form :
Office of Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson 1400 Bremer Tower 445 Minnesota Street St. Paul, MN 55101
Rebecca Otto Office of the State Auditor
525 Park Street - Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103
Office of the Secretary of State Administration
180 State Office Building
100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Saint Paul, MN 55155-1299

Valuation research has recently been completed inclusive of this area that can be found here : FDL Earth Economics, St. Louis River Project

Protect what you love.  Speak out for the entire Arrowhead Region.
State mineral leasing would give mining companies the power to condemn surface lands owned by private landowners, whether or not they want to sell to mining companies.  After leasing the state has made in effect a promise to support mineral exploration on the lands, and it is the legal duty of the EPA and DNR to facilitate corporations meeting the legal requirements to obtain permits to mine.   The surface owner’s rights are in most regards subservient to the mineral rights.   Leasing is the point at which the balance strongly shifts from surface to mineral estate.  Property values are degraded by large heavy industry nearby.   There is less of a market for a home or cabin that may have to move or that may be next to loud, dirty industry.   Where leasing is proposed elsewhere significant concern has been raised. Mining companies are paying attention to where it will be “easy” to get a foothold. Landowners fight leasing While other areas are raising millions and seeking help from Congress to protect their treasured portions of the Arrowhead, its important to let mining companies know that the people here care about the region also.

Exploratory drilling for copper, nickel, palladium, titanium and other minerals creates noise and both air and water pollution.  The Duluth Complex lands are sulfide bearing lands, mining here is even riskier than that done on “the range” where mines leak toxins right now.  The sulfide, when exposed to air and water turns into sulfuric acid (acid mine drainage) and such drainage can impact surface and ground water.  There is debate about the amount of sulfide, about the amount and duration of impact of exploration and of mining on surrounding waters, but without a doubt, this type of mining is the most polluting industry in the United States. MIT Reference    

This mineral leasing would open up huge areas of the watersheds of the Cloquet River and St. Louis River, Lake Superior, Rainy River inclusive of the Boundary Waters and Mississippi River to potential sulfide mining, mining in our sulfide bearing lands.   Much of the land in the CVSF is state owned, county managed land, with significant portions “School Trust” lands, which are far less protected than lands in the National Forest or Boundary Waters.  In recent years protections have been removed from our state lands by legislators.  There are already plans being put forth by mining companies indicating they will transport waste south of the Laurentian Divide to appease those who see some areas and waters as more valuable. 

Mining in our region would impact people separated from financial benefit by both time and distance.   Mines in sulfide bearing lands leach toxic waste for hundreds of years, the waste accumulates in fish and other animals, wild rice growth is impeded.

The value of the watershed is being explored.

More to follow!

What does the EPA have to say about the Polymet Final EIS? That it has a LOT of work to do. Read their letter HERE




Letter to Governor Mark Dayton from Minnesota Environmental Parnership

August 5th, 2015
Governor Mark Dayton
116 Veterans Service Building
20 W 12th Street
St. Paul, MN 55155
Governor Dayton:
One year ago on August 4, 2014, a tailings dam burst at the Mount Polley copper-gold sulfide mine in British Columbia, releasing over six billion gallons of mine waste and polluted water into pristine lakes and rivers in the headwaters of the Fraser River system. This has been called the “worst mine disaster in Canadian history.”
It is time now for Minnesota, under your leadership, to ensure the proposed PolyMet sulfide mine doesn’t result in a similar disaster in Minnesota.
In the aftermath of the Mount Polley disaster, the British Columbia government created an independent expert review panel to investigate the causes of the dam collapse and make recommendations to prevent future dam failures. The Mount Polley Independent Review Panel report concluded the dam failure resulted from the tailings facility design. The panel recommended the use of best available technology for new mines, namely “filtered, unsaturated, compacted tailings and reduction in the use of water covers.” The panel concluded there were no overriding technical barriers to end the practice of storing mine waste mixed with huge quantities of water.
The Mount Polley Independent Review Panel’s recommendations should have been a wake-up call for Minnesota. Instead, it seems that Minnesota hit the snooze button. The preliminary version of the PolyMet final environmental impact statement (PFEIS) doesn’t even consider the alternative of best available dry storage technology or of disposing tailings in another location, rather than on top of the old LTV tailings heap, with its unstable footing of streams, wetlands and mining slimes.
Minnesota waste spills and near misses at taconite mines demonstrate the risk of a tailings dam failure in Minnesota is very real. Between April 2013 and May 2014, 850,000 gallons of mine waste spilled at ArcelorMittal’s Minorca mine in three separate incidents. In June 2015, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) fined ArcelorMittal for inadequate inspection of the tailings basin and failure to timely report two of the incidents.
In February 2012, a thousand foot long crack developed suddenly in the Hibbing Taconite tailings dam, requiring emergency action to shore up the dam. While no mine waste was released in this incident, it demonstrates that a failure can be sudden and unexpected. In 2000, Northshore Mining Company was fined more than $250,000 for pollution resulting from an unreported tailings pipeline break, in addition to $240,000 in costs to remediate the spill.
Many people in Northern Minnesota remember the sudden liquification and collapse of the LTV coal ash heap at Taconite Harbor in 1993. In order to reduce polluted runoff affecting Lake Superior, LTV opted to construct a containment and recirculation system, capturing polluted discharge and pumping it back into the ash heap. When this heap became saturated, it liquefied and a mixture of ash and water flowed downhill. A court held that recirculation of water through an unstable waste heap was sufficient evidence to find that LTV had been “willfully reckless.”
When a tailings waste dam fails, it can spread pollution miles downstream. An April 2013 simulation of a PolyMet tailings dam breach showed over 25 structures downstream could be inundated within hours of a dam failure.
Our organizations and thousands of Minnesota citizens have asked you and the
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) to implement the Mount Polley Independent Review Panel’s recommendations to protect Minnesota from a similar disaster. To date, we have seen no action to implement them.
Now, on the anniversary of the Mount Polley tailings dam failure, we ask you again to take the following simple steps to protect Minnesota waters:
• Direct the MDNR to conduct a thorough and independent analysis of the alternative of applying best available dry storage technology to store tailings for the proposed PolyMet mine; and
• Direct the MDNR to conduct a thorough and independent analysis of an alternative location or locations for storage of tailings for the proposed PolyMet mine that does not place sulfide mine wastes on top of the unstable footing of the LTV tailings piles.
Thank you for taking these important steps to protect Minnesota and to prevent a catastrophe like the Mount Polley tailings failure from contaminating our precious clean water.
Steve Morse, Executive Director
Minnesota Environmental Partnership
Conservation Minnesota
Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness
Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest
Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
Protect Our Manoomin*
Save Lake Superior Association
Sierra Club North Star Chapter
Save Our Sky Blue Waters
 Not a member of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership
cc: Commissioner Tom Landwehr, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Commissioner John Linc Stine, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
Jaime Tincher, Chief of Staff, Governor Mark Dayton
Joanna Dornfeld, Assistant Chief of Staff, Governor Mark Dayton
Molly Schultz Pederson, Senior Policy Advisor, Governor Mark Dayton




August 6, 2015 ANOTHER SPILL!

"A spill that sent 1 million gallons of wastewater from an abandoned mine into the Animas River, turning the river orange, set off warnings Thursday that contaminants threaten water quality for those downstream."

The abandoned mine was under repair, the mine owners had abandoned it and left it as our nation's responsibility. Even our best workers at the EPA couldn't control the hazardous waste. Some things cannot be done safely.






The lands, lakes rivers and streams of Northern Minnesota which lay north of Duluth in the Clouqet Valley Sate Forest and in the Arrowhead are home to many people, plants and animals and serve the world in many ways. Exploring, protecting and learning about the Cloquet Valley State Forest and the Arrowhead is a wonderful pursuit. We hope you enjoy it.


MN Eco library

FriendsCVSF Video Links

Enter the old site here : Enter Site HERE

Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest



"That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics.”Aldo Leopold



The St. Louis River

A forum regarding the St. Louis River was held last fall. Video of that forum is here:

Video : Citizen's Forum on Mercury in the St. Louis River

David Bowman has done amazing photographic work on the St. Louis River and the threat it facess

Check out his work here :

His St. Louis River Project is here : St Louis River and the Freshwater Sea

The Cloquet River flows into the St. Louis River, and its headwaters are part of the headwaters of the St. Louis River. The St. Louis River

Wild Ricing

Wild Rice :

The essence of what's proposed is that the MPCA has decided each body of wild rice water needs to be assessed separately. They assert "Some variables, especially iron and organic carbon in the sediment, affect the amount of sulfide produced from sulfate. So while sulfate may negatively affect wild rice, no single level of sulfate can be protective of wild rice in all water bodies. Sulfate is converted to sulfide in each water body differently depending on the concentrations of iron and organic carbon."

They've come up with an equation to figure out how much sulfide should be allowed in each water body. "An equation that accounts for the iron and organic carbon variability in sediment among water bodies can calculate a protective sulfate concentration for a water body that allows wild rice growth and self-perpetuation. The equation to calculate the proper sulfate concentration:
Sulfate = 0.0000136 x Organic Carbon-1.410 x Iron1.956"

They assert that " Wild rice waters: The standard will apply in lakes, streams, and wetlands that are wild rice waters. MPCA has compiled a draft list of wild rice waters, along with a process to add waters to the list over time. The agency proposes that a sulfate standard is not needed to protect commercial rice paddies."

Problems that have been pointed out are that there is scant or no peer reviewed research that backs up the assertions, that the time till planned implementation leaves the waters unprotected and mines not held accountable, that water flows and as such what impacts one area in one way will impact another area differently.

There seems to be little doubt that there is inordinate pressure on the agency to make it possible for the mining companies to do what they want to. The regulations seem as if they will be very difficult to enforce.


Governor Dayton on the Proposal

Aaron Brown on the MPCA Proposal

Wild Rice Draft Plan Summary

Wild Rice Draft Plan (detailed) from MPCA Released

Duluth Reader Iron not a Panacea

Great Lakes Mining Pollution cost to society

MPCA Press Release

Excel List of Wild Rice Waters


© 2014 Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest