US conservationists, mining firms vie for Minnesota wilderness | Environment News

Erwin Oropesa

When Steve Piragis and his wife moved to Ely, Minnesota — a town of just over 3,000 people on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness — they were struck by its charm and pristine beauty.

The one-million-acre area straddles the border between the United States and Canada and boasts thousands of lakes, dramatic rock formations, tiny islands and lush forests.

Piragis relocated there in 1975 to work as a biologist with the US Environmental Protection Agency. In 1979, he and his wife started an outfitter company to lead tourists hungry for solitude and natural beauty on camping and canoe trips.

Piragis Northwoods Company has steadily grown ever since, but copper mining interests in the region threaten both the firm’s livelihood and the area’s diverse ecosystem.

Pro-mining advocates say the proposed mines will bring “family-sustaining” jobs and revitalise Minnesota’s Iron Range, which has suffered an economic downturn due

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