The Biden administration has shown they're ready to take bold action to protect our country's most special places, so we're kicking off 100 Days of Action to Save the Boundary Waters to make sure America’s most visited Wilderness is at the top of the list.
"100 days of Action to Save the Boundary Waters" is a multi-week campaign to demonstrate the overwhelming support to protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from the threat of sulfide-ore copper mining. Each week we will be sharing information around specific themes about the issue of sulfide-ore copper mining on the edge of the Wilderness and asking you to take specific action towards protecting the Wilderness. There will be opportunities to learn more about the issue and to test your existing knowledge.
Nearly 70% of Minnesotans support permanent protection for the Boundary Waters. Are you one of them?
Copper Mining Threatens the Clean Water Legacy of the Wilderness. Sulfide-ore copper mining is considered the riskiest type of mining, with byproducts such as acid drainage, sulfates and sulfides, and heavy metals, all of which degrade water quality.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has deemed metal mining as the United States’ most toxic industry. Hard rock mining, most of which is metal-sulfide mining, contributes to more Superfund sites than any other activity. This is due to polluted mine drainage, a side effect of mining rock with significant metal-sulfide content. (Environmental Protection Agency, April 2020)
Sulfide-ore copper mining is much more toxic than Minnesota’s taconite mining. Mining of this ore body would produce giant waste piles that, when exposed to air and water, leach sulfuric acid, heavy metals, sulfates, and sulfide. These byproducts pollute not just land, air, and soil, but groundwater, wetlands, rivers, and lakes as well. (Minerals Engineering, May 2000)
Pollution from these mines will inevitably flow directly into the heart of the Boundary Waters. Peer-reviewed research shows that pollution from a mine in this watershed, like Twin Metals, even under normal mining operations, would generate contaminants that would flow directly into the Wilderness. This type of mine can generate pollution lasting more than 500 years. (Journal of Hydrology, February 2016) // (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 2013)
Because of the Boundary Waters’ interconnected groundwater, wetlands, and abundant lakes and streams, the area is especially vulnerable. The many streams, wetlands, lakes, and aquifers downstream of the proposed mine sites are massively interconnected. Consequently, contamination would be widespread, and damage from an accident would be uncontrollable. (Earthworks, 2018)
The U.S. Forest Service concluded that a sulfide-ore copper mine, specifically Twin Metals, poses an “unacceptable risk of irreparable harm” to the Boundary Waters. Antofagasta, the company that owns Twin Metals, is proposing to store over a hundred million tons of toxic waste on the shores of Birch Lake, which flows directly into the Wilderness. (United States Forest Service, 2016)
There exists no technology today or envisioned tomorrow that can guarantee protection of downstream waters from sulfide-ore copper mining. A review of state-of-the-art technologies available to modern copper mine construction found that none could eliminate risk to downstream waters. (Center for Science in Public Participation, November 2014)
History shows that sulfide-ore copper mining is especially prone to accidents that release pollution into watersheds.
93% of copper mines in the U.S. have experienced a spill or accidental release. A study of 15 sulfide-ore copper mines in the United States – representing 99% of current U.S. copper production – found that 14 (93%) experienced accidental releases of pollution that resulted in significant water contamination. (Earthworks, May 2019)
In 2014, an accident at the Mount Polley copper and gold mine in British Columbia released 4.5 million cubic meters of toxic slurry into a lake and river system, which was a priceless salmon spawning area and tourism generator. (Earthworks, February 2015)
In 2014, a mine in Mexico spilled 40,000 cubic meters of copper sulfate acid solution into two rivers, wiping out the water supply for a vast rural area that depended on the river water for domestic use and agriculture. (AP, August 2014)
As Goes the Watershed, So Goes the Water
Today Show: Couple spending a year outdoors to protect Boundary Waters from mine pollution
Paddle to D.C. Excerpt
Acid mine drainage risks – A modeling approach to siting mine facilities in Northern Minnesota USA
The Boundary Waters is a world-class Wilderness experience right in our own backyard. An hour and half from Duluth and less than five hours from the Twin Cities, the Boundary Waters is one of the premier Wilderness destinations in the entire world, bringing in over 150,000 visitors per year.
Some of what makes the Boundary Waters unique:
The Boundary Waters holds unmatched opportunity for year-round wilderness recreation. It offers 1200 miles of canoe routes, 237 miles of overnight hiking trails, 2,000 campsites, and unlimited opportunities for high-quality backcountry fishing, wildlife watching, and year-round recreational activities. (Save the Boundary Waters)
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is the largest National Wilderness Area east of the Rockies and north of the Everglades, covering more than 1.1 million acres within the 3-million-acre Superior National Forest, which contains 20 percent of all the fresh water in the entire National Forest System. (Save the Boundary Waters) // (US Forest Service)
The Boundary Waters watershed forms the heart of a trans-national protected area referred to as the Quetico-Superior ecosystem. It includes the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs National Park in the U.S. and Quetico Provincial Park in Canadian. It totals nearly 2.5 million acres, making it the largest canoe-country wilderness in North America.
In addition to the U.S. and Canada, other nations include the Grand Portage, Bois Forte, and Fond du Lac Bands of Lake Superior Chippewa, which retain treaty rights to hunt, fish, gather, and conduct cultural practices on the lands of the 1854 Treaty Ceded Territory in the U.S., and the Lac La Croix and Couchiching First Nations, whose traditional lands and waters are downstream from the Boundary Waters
The pristine waters and unspoiled forests of the Boundary Waters and Superior National Forest provide critical habitat for wildlife, including three federally threatened species (Canada lynx, gray wolf, northern long-eared bat), and is a refuge for moose, a species of special concern to the State of Minnesota. (Save the Boundary Waters)
The Boundary Waters and Superior National Forest are a designated Important Bird Area, with more than 316 bird species detected, including 171 breeding species, and the highest diversity on earth of breeding warbler species. (Fitzpatrick, 2017)
Conservation Alliance: Priority Campaign Spotlight: The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
International Dark-Sky Association: Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Named the Largest Dark Sky Sanctuary
National Geographic: A pristine American backcountry faces down an environmental crisis
KEEN Story Camp Boundary Waters
Youth and adult camps surround the Boundary Waters and are directly in the Twin Metals path of pollution. Proposed sulfide-ore copper mining will ruin these longstanding educational centers. Generations of Minnesota families have sent their kids and grandkids to life-defining experiences in and near the Boundary Waters. The Twin Cities YMCA operates three youth camps and two family camps in the Wilderness area including Camp Kooch-i-ching, operating on Rainy Lake since the 1920’s, is also on the path of pollution.
The Boundary Waters sustains the livelihoods of thousands of Minnesotans and studies show that protecting the Wilderness is the better economic choice for the sustainability of the region.
Destructive sulfide-ore copper mining in the region would undermine asset value, and cost an estimated $509 million in lost property value. Local property tax revenues, which support local government services in the region, would suffer as a result. (Boundary Waters Business Coalition)
Introducing sulfide-ore copper mining on the edge of the Boundary Waters will have an overall negative effect on the regional economy over a 20-year time period. Though such mining might lead to temporary growth in employment and income, over time, the economic benefits of mining would be outweighed by the negative impact of mining on the recreational industry and in-migration, leading to a boom-and-bust cycle. (Harvard University Department of Economics)
Boundary Waters Business Coalition
The Timberjay editorial (2017)
Harvard University Department of Economics (2018)
Summary: Key-Log Economic Report (2018)
Factsheet: Jobs and Economy (2020)
MinnPost Opinion Piece (2021)
Wilderness-edge Business Owners Video
Sulfide-ore copper mining will cause irreversible environmental damage to the Boundary Waters. Dozens of scientific analyses have shown that hardrock mining on the Boundary Waters’ doorstep will cause irreparable harm to this irreplaceable Wilderness. A few of the most important scientific findings include:
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has deemed metal mining as the United States’ most toxic industry.
Pollution from these mines will inevitably flow directly into the heart of the Boundary Waters.
Because of the Boundary Waters’ interconnected groundwater, wetlands, and abundant lakes and streams, the area is especially vulnerable.
Acid mine drainage could wipe out local fish species. Heavy metals and associated pollutants from sulfide-ore copper mines harm microorganisms, aquatic plants, and fish.
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is threatened by proposed sulfide-ore copper mining. Chilean mining conglomerate Antofagasta's Twin Metals project was terminated in 2016 by the US Forest Service because it posed a threat of irreparable harm to an irreplaceable Wilderness. It was resurrected by the Trump administration and was being fast-tracked through inadequate reviews and negative changes to bedrock environmental laws.
2021 is our best chance to permanently protect the Boundary Waters. We continue to work on several fronts focused on permanently prohibiting sulfide-ore mining in the Boundary Waters watershed. Our path to permanent protection includes re-initiating a federal mineral withdrawal, passing a permanent protection bill in Congress and the MN legislature, ongoing litigation to terminate the unlawful leases, using science to push back against the proposed mine plan and revising the state's rules regulating mining.