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Underground with . . .

Marty Vadis DNR Division of Lands and Minerals director

DNR Division of Lands and Minerals oversees 12 million acres of mineral rights and provides real estate services?including land surveys, sales, leasing, easements, and exchanges.

Q What is the latest news with mineral exploration on state-owned and tax-forfeited lands in Minnesota?

Right now mineral exploration activity on state-owned and private lands is at a high level. It is principally for copper and nickel. The amount of drilling is several times what it has been in recent years, which is tied to global metal demand and high metal prices. So we?re seeing a lot of exploration.

Q What is DNR Lands and Minerals role in ensuring the environmental safety in newly proposed projects?

The DNR has responsibility for conducting a mandatory environmental review for mining projects. Our job is to look at alternatives and what the environmental impacts might be. We look at ways to mitigate, reduce, or eliminate those impacts. After the environmental review is conducted, if the review is deemed adequate, there is permitting. The division issues a permit to mine, which is the major reclamation permit. The goal of the permit is to protect natural resources and to leave the land in a usable and stable condition for future use. The permitting process also requires financial assurance from mining operators. So there is money available to close the mine and complete the necessary reclamation.

Q How might this activity benefit Minnesotans?

The DNR is responsible for the issuance of mineral leases on state-owned land and collects rentals and royalties from the use of the leased land. Rentals and royalties go to the school trust fund, to the university trust fund, and to local government. Mineral leases generate about $30 million annually; most of which is used to fund public education from grade schools to universities.

Q What are some of the innovative ways of reclaiming mine lands?

The requirement to reclaim mines has been in effect in Minnesota since 1980. Stockpiles and pits are now sloped, shaped, and vegetated so the land is now left in a much better condition. We are looking at reclamation much differently, taking into account the broader landscape rather than individual stockpiles. This will include aquatic habitat as well. Instead of leaving a 300-foot-deep pit lake, we?re looking at shaping it so it can support aquatic life in the future.

Q Lands and Minerals has another educational role, the annual Minnesota Minerals Education Workshop for teachers. When did this begin, and what purpose does it serve?

The workshop has been going for about 15 years. It is a collaboration between DNR and the university, several other organizations, and businesses. It?s really aimed at helping provide science teachers with information about geology, mining, and reclamation. It?s been well attended by teachers since we initiated it.

Q What?s the best-kept secret of Lands and Minerals?

One thing that people may not realize is that Minnesota historically supplied and continues to supply about 75 percent of all the iron ore that is mined in the United States. I find many people don?t realize that there still is iron mining in Minnesota. There is at least another 100 years of iron resource in the state for mining into the future.

Q The division keeps a rock library. Why, and what?s in it?

At the library in Hibbing, there are about 2.3 million feet of bedrock drill core, extracted from sites throughout the state. It is the only direct evidence of what?s in the bedrock, and that?s enormously useful for understanding the geology of the state. Universities studying geology and mineral exploration companies looking for minerals in the state use it extensively.

Q What is your favorite mineral?

There are a couple of very unique minerals that were named here in Minnesota. One of them is Hibbingite. It is an orange crystalline mineral composed of iron, hydrogen, chlorine, and oxygen. It was discovered in a drill core sample by one of our employees, Dr. Henk Dahlberg, who is now deceased. It is recognized by the Commission on New Minerals and Mineral Names of the International Mineralogical Association.

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