Why mine for copper in a beautiful place like this?

February 13, 2017, 8:19 a.m.
Porcupine Mountains state park
Photo: James Ward Ewing/Shutterstock

Canadian copper mining company Highland Copper got the green light from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to start exploratory drilling in Michigan's Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, which lies along the shore of Lake Superior. The exploratory drilling, which affects a small portion of DNR-managed land, will continue into March.

If Highland finds enough minable copper during this phase, the company would bore underground tunnels into the park from adjacent land.

As Michigan's largest state park, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness is a lure for outdoor enthusiasts and recreation seekers. How the mining might affect the park as a destination is unknown, but the activity is concerning to environmental and conservation groups.

"In addition to its nearly 60-year history as a state park, the state of Michigan pursued special natural area protections for the Porcupine Mountains to stem ongoing threats, including those from copper mining, to the area's pristine geological and ecological resources," said Cia Segerlind, spokesperson for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, told MLive. "It is crucial that we maintain such protections."

The mineral rights for the land under part of the park have been owned by a private company since at least 1948. In Michigan, it's legal to separate the surface rights from the mineral rights, which is what this kind of scenario possible.