Conservation Concept: Artificial Boundaries

Borders are everywhere. Not only natural but also artificial borders. The two don't always play nice...

Conservation Concept: Artificial Boundaries
In our conservation concepts series, we cover core ideas that every conservation-minded angler should know.

February 2023

During a recent episode (Feb 2022) of the Orvis Fly Fishing podcast, Wisconsin's Menominee River, a renowned smallmouth bass river which borders Michigan's Upper Peninsula, was highlighted not only for its amazing fishery, but also for the impending risk of environmental degradation surrounding this hidden gem. This river is facing threats from a proposed, stream-adjacent, open pit sulfide mine that would drain heavy metals directly into the Menominee and further downstream into Lake Michigan. Sulfide mines produce gold and zinc, and though undoubtedly important for human development, are particularly tough on the health of rivers. Minerals leached from mine tailings, commonly referred to as acid mine drainage, negatively impact macroinvertebrates and the entire aquatic ecosystem when those contaminants make it into stream systems.

Proposed Back Forty Mine
Relation between river and proposed mine

This issue, from an environmental perspective, is considered so dangerous to the river that the Menominee was ranked as the 6th most endangered river on the 2020 list of America's Most Endangered Rivers, citing these reasons: "mining and the habitat destruction and pollution that comes with it."

It's one thing to oppose the mine, and advocates in Wisconsin are gathering support to fend-off mine development and the potential for future mine development from the sale of mineral rights. But it's a whole different issue when the proposed mine isn't even being constructed in your state. This story has a twist...