Land Stewardship Through Mineland Reclamation

Performance Area: Natural Lands

Acres of mineland reclaimed

Why Is This Important?

Iron ore and taconite have been mined in Minnesota since 1884. Most lands disturbed by mining are on the Mesabi Iron Range in northeastern Minnesota. All of the currently operating iron ore mines and pelletizing facilities have been operating for decades on the Mesabi Iron Range and have resources that can last for decades more. While mining is a long-term activity, the footprint of active mining and stockpiling changes over time, expanding into new areas and receding from areas where all the ore has been mined or a stockpile is full of material.

The legislature established the DNR's iron ore and taconite mine permitting program in 1980. Since 1980, mining has altered about 85,000 acres of land on the Mesabi Iron Range. This includes about 26,000 acres of mine pits, 21,000 acres of stockpiles (which includes in pit stockpiles), 40,000 acres of tailings basins, and 2,500 acres of other auxiliary lands that are currently included in Permits to Mine.

Reclamation of lands altered by mining is at the core of land stewardship along the Mesabi Iron Range. The goal of reclamation is to insure that post mining lands provide for future uses such as recreation, light industry, and tourism and allow communities to grow.

Mineland Reclamation Law (M.S. 93.44 - 93.51) requires mine operators to submit long-range mining and reclamation plans. Working with the companies on sound long-range plans can alleviate future land-use conflicts.Early engagement with citizens and working with local planning and zoning authorities can transform mine pits and stockpiles into lakes and hills embraced by local communities.

What Is DNR Doing?

The DNR promotes progressive mineland reclamation, which is a process that begins with the initial mine plan and occurs throughout the life of a mine. In the last 20 years, iron and taconite mining companies have permanently reclaimed about 9,000 acres of disturbed land where mining is complete and tailings basins are at capacity.

While the majority of the DNR's reclamation duties are to ensure pit walls and stockpiles are properly sloped and top soil coverage is adequate and re-vegetated, the DNR is also encouraging innovative options for reclaimed lands. The DNR is supporting partnerships among mining companies, state agencies, communities, counties, and area consultants on innovative reclamation projects. An example is the use of native shrubs and trees on stockpile slopes to enhance wildlife habitat as well as the aesthetics for areas near towns and public roadways. The DNR also completed a guidebook of reclamation plantings on basins and stockpiles. The guidebook incorporates suggestions for seed and fertilizer mixes that meet reclamation's vegetation goals while increasing awareness of and help reduce the spread of non-native invasive species.

Target: Maintain the current rates of progressive mineland reclamation.

About 450 acres of land are permanently reclaimed each year on the Mesabi Iron Range, while about 3,750 acres of tailings are temporarily stabilized for dust control. About 60 acres of wetlands are impacted and replaced each year. To reach this target, the DNR will continue to monitor reclamation work and compliance with approved plans. Close monitoring ensures that long-range reclamation goals are met. The DNR will also continue to support cooperative projects with other units of government and industry to expand knowledge about wetland restoration, use of biosolids, and other ways of enhancing the usefulness of reclaimed minelands.