Why the Katahdin region is no place for a mine

Have you ever paddled on a remote pond in the early morning mist listening to the eerie calls of the loon? Perhaps you’ve stood ankle deep in water in a bog between two ponds, and reveled in the dawn chorus filled with the songs of Common Yellowthroats, Palm Warblers, Lincoln’s Sparrows, and Olive-sided Flycatchers—a mix of buzzes, trills, and crisp notes that bring the wetland alive. Maybe you’ve stared up into the night sky while camping next to a cascading stream after a day of trout fishing, with no lights, no cars, no voices to distract you except the hooting of the Barred Owl.

These are the places that make Maine special. And the voices we need to listen to. They are calling to us to speak for them.

Unfortunately, all of this and more could be at risk if the Land Use Planning Commission (LUPC) agrees to rezone more than 300 acres near Pickett Mountain in northern Maine so Wolfden, a Canadian mining company, can extract zinc ore near the mountain.

But Wolfden has never operated a mine before, has limited financial capacity, and does not have a detailed plan for how it would ensure that mining waste does not pollute nearby ground and surface water. Mining pollution contains acid and a toxic soup of heavy metals that can kill fish and the aquatic insects and other invertebrates that form the base of the food chain.

Wolfden is proposing to mine in a watershed that includes three State Heritage Fish Waters, Inland Wading Bird and Waterfowl Significant Wildlife Habitat, and the West Branch of the Mattawamkeag River, which is sacred to the Penobscot Nation and Critical Habitat for endangered Atlantic Salmon.

The mine would be built inside the largest undeveloped temperate forestland in the U.S. It is the last stronghold for the Eastern Brook Trout and Atlantic Salmon, and a globally important “baby bird factory” for at least 90 species of breeding songbirds. The small quantity of zinc in the deposit and the inexperience of the mining company makes the many risks hardly seem worth it.

That’s why Maine Audubon has teamed up with environmental partners and Wabanaki leaders in the region to oppose the proposed rezoning of these forestlands for mine development. In its review of the application for rezoning, the LUPC can only approve the rezoning if the proposed development does not undermine the core values of LUPC’s jurisdiction, which includes avoiding projects that will have undue adverse impacts on the area and its resources.

Here are some key reasons why Maine Audubon opposes this project:

  1. Wolfden is an inexperienced company that has failed to demonstrate the financial and technical capability to develop a mine safely. Wolfden withdrew its initial request to rezone two years ago because the proposal was incomplete and riddled with errors. The new application still lacks necessary assurances for an industry like mining, where small errors can lead to big disasters.
  2. Rezoning will likely have undue adverse impacts on wildlife and habitat. A mine in the remote lands and waters of the Katahdin region is a big risk to water quality, fisheries, wildlife, outdoor economies, and Tribal Nations.
  3. A mine would threaten many of the activities that sustain the regional economy, such as forestry, guiding, fishing, hunting, and hiking. The remoteness and general lack of development provide a landscape for various forms of forestry and recreation. Rezoning this area for industrial mining will negatively impact the region’s natural character.
  4. The project directly conflicts with the Land Use Planning Commission’s vision for its jurisdiction. Detailed in the Comprehensive Land Use Plan, this vision values natural character; diverse, abundant, and unique high-value natural resources and features; and diverse and abundant recreational opportunities; amongst others.

It is clear to us that Pickett Mountain is no place for a metal mine, but it’s important to share that we don’t oppose mining in general. Climate change is a leading threat to Maine’s wildlife and habitat, the conservation of which is central to Maine Audubon’s mission. To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, Maine must replace fossil fuel use with electricity generated from renewable energy to reduce emissions. Metallic minerals are critical components of the technologies, like batteries, necessary for electrification. Therefore, under the right circumstances, we would support thoughtfully sited, operated, and monitored metallic mineral mining, but not everywhere and only by a trusted and experienced company.

Thankfully, Maine has some of the strongest laws in the country to protect our communities, lands, waters, and wildlife from the negative impacts of mining. Several years ago, Maine Audubon played an important role in shaping our state’s famously strict Metallic Mineral Mining Act. Thus, we strive to strike a balance between needs for metals in our lives with the protection of Maine’s vital natural resources with particular expertise and attention.

Unfortunately, after exploring the area myself, consulting with our conservation partners and Wabanaki leaders in the region, reading hundreds of pages of proposals, testimonies, studies, and more, I have concluded: this mine in this place is a bad idea.

How can you help us right now?

The Land Use Planning Commission (LUPC) has scheduled an October 23 public hearing in Bangor for the zinc mining proposal at Pickett Mountain. This is an opportunity to make your voice heard. We hope you will join us and testify in person to share why you oppose this mining proposal.

DATE/TIME: Monday, Oct. 23 at 6:30 pm
LOCATION: Cross Insurance Center, 515 Main Street, Bangor

This dangerous mining proposal is important to Mainers far outside the immediate region where the mine would be located—and we need to show that to the LUPC. Email us at advocacy@maineaudubon.org if you have any questions or would like help preparing your in-person testimony!

If you would prefer to submit a written comment, you can do so by emailing your message to Wolfdenrezoning.LUPC@maine.gov. Comments are due by November 2. Thank you in advance for your advocacy!

Above: Photo from Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument Loop Road by John Putrino