Campaign Updates

Save the Boundary Waters 2024 Preview

Feb 27, 2024
Sam Chadwick, Associate Director
Save the Boundary Waters 2024 Preview


Save the Boundary Waters (and our parent organization Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness) is based in Ely, Minnesota. We’re a locally based national wilderness and public lands advocacy group that unites people to protect the Boundary Waters and greater Quetico-Superior ecosystem.

We cultivate and lead a powerful and far-reaching movement to defend the Boundary Waters. Our partners and allies include 400+ businesses, conservation, hunting & fishing organizations and millions of adventurers, advocates, conservation experts, outdoor brands, indigenous people (including those that hold treaty rights in this region), camps and access programs, creatives, elected officials, and more.

We take a multi-pronged strategic approach to protecting the Wilderness, including expert science and litigation, policy advocacy at all levels of government, broad awareness, outreach, and education.

We seek permanent protection for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Voyageurs National Park, and Canada’s Quetico Park from sulfide-ore copper mining proposed in the headwaters of these great wild landscapes.



2023 was a year of success. On January 26, 2023, U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland issued a mining ban, more formally known as a Public Land Order, withdrawing 225,504 acres of Superior National Forest lands in the Boundary Waters watershed from the federal leasing program for 20 years, which is the maximum period allowed under current law. This federal mining ban was the most significant conservation measure for the Boundary Waters in 45 years. The Public Land Order followed additional victories in 2022: cancellations of the only federal mineral leases in the Superior National Forest and both state and federal rejection of a proposed Twin Metals mine plan.

Unfortunately and alarmingly, the mining threat lingers in many ways, including new exploratory drilling approved by MN on state lands in the same vicinity as the now-protected federal lands.

Our urgent work continues because we must achieve complete and permanent protection for the Boundary Waters.



We are the voice of the Boundary Waters in our nation’s capital and across the country, and will continue to be. We are defending the protective decisions by the Biden Administration in a lawsuit brought by Twin Metals Minnesota in August of 2022. This lawsuit challenged the cancellation of the federal mineral leases and rejection of applications for new federal mineral leases, applications for new federal prospecting permits, and a Twin Metals mine plan of operation. On September 6, 2023, US District Judge Cooper granted motions to dismiss the lawsuit. Twin Metals appealed the dismissal to the US Court of Appeals. We are awaiting a briefing schedule.

In the U.S. Congress, we seek to advance legislation introduced in the House of Representatives in 2023 that would convert the 20-year mining ban to a permanent ban on mining in the headwaters of the Boundary Waters. Congressman Stauber, on the other hand, has three measures in the US House that would nullify the 20-year ban and reinstate canceled mining leases. We testified in a Congressional hearing against the Rep. Stauber measures in May of 2023.

This year we are monitoring these three measures and we are most concerned about a “rider” attached to the House Interior Appropriations bill. Our champions in the Senate are guarding against adoption of this kind of anti-Boundary Waters amendment. All of this requires a continuing presence in Washington, DC, by our staff, volunteer leadership, supporters, and partners.

Contact your U.S. lawmakers

Advocating for Permanent Boundary Waters Protections at the Minnesota state capitol in St. Paul In Minnesota.

Advocating for Permanent Boundary Waters Protections at the Minnesota state capitol in St. Paul In Minnesota.

We continue to advocate for state land protection in the Boundary Waters watershed. We challenged the adequacy of Minnesota’s copper-nickel mining rules, and a trial before an administrative law judge has been scheduled for November 4th. We anticipate six to eight expert witnesses to testify on our behalf during the two-week trial.

  • Our claim is that sulfide-ore copper mining immediately upstream of the water-rich canoe country will degrade water quality. Under the Clean Water Act, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is classified as ‘outstanding resource value waters’ where no water quality degradation is allowed. We are optimistic that we will prevail.
  • We support two pro-Boundary Waters bills in the Minnesota Legislature: The first bans mining on state lands in the watershed of the Boundary Waters. The second bill bans four mining practices – tailings storage, waste rock storage, heap leaching, and smelters – from the watershed. These are four risky mining practices that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recommended the Legislature address in the Boundary Waters headwaters.

We are working to secure more support for these bills.


youth leadership

Youth Leadership
Kids for the Boundary Waters will be back in Washington, DC, this year as well as at the Minnesota State Capitol. Youth in this program will carry on the advocacy necessary to protect the Quetico-Superior ecosystem. Nearly 300 young people have traveled to Washington, DC over the past several years to lobby for their beloved canoe country. Our support and mentorship are critical to training future generations.

Science and Research
More than three years ago, we launched a water quality monitoring program for the lakes and rivers in the headwaters of the Boundary Waters, where sulfide-ore copper mining is proposed. Our fieldwork monitoring water quality in the Boundary Waters watershed has drawn praise from academics and regulators. One agency has said that it knew of no nonprofit in the Great Lakes region doing water monitoring work equivalent to our’s in quality and scope.

As a result of our work, Birch Lake was included on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s November 2023 draft list of impaired waters as a Wild Rice Lake Impaired for Sulfate; we expect Birch Lake to be on the final list issued this spring. This is significant, as no new discharge for sulfate (by a mining company or other industrial use) can be approved as long as Birch Lake is impaired. Birch Lake is at the center of the area targeted by Twin Metals.


Through all our work, we are working toward greater inclusivity and accessibility to both the Boundary Waters and the movement to protect it. We are engaging more people through accessible content, storytelling, supporting and uplifting underrepresented voices, and coalition building for the future of Boundary Waters conservation. Our Wilderness Equity Initiative provides mini-grants for Boundary Waters trips and projects.

Boundary Waters Connect
Boundary Waters Connect is our economy and community development program. We serve our local Ely area to build on our thriving wilderness-edge community - creating neighbor and new resident connections, involvement in community events of all types, organizing weekly forums and meetups, and bridge-building across differences.

Boundary Waters Connect