Photo by Adam Steinhilber

Wilderness Character Report

 "The Impacts of Mining on the Character of a Wilderness Landscape: Considerations for Federal Decision-Making" looks at several aspects of the consideration of the character of a place and what it means to human beings in the context of federal agency decision making, with an emphasis on the South Kawishiwi River and Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). Among these are:

  1. What does the character of the place mean to people who live and visit the Boundary Waters and South Kawishiwi River, and how would changes brought on by sulfide-ore copper mining affect their sense of well-being?
  2. When have federal agencies made decisions that taking into account similar considerations?
  3. How does the field of ecological risk assessment support and provide a context for such considerations in National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis or other forms of environmental review? 
  4. What are the inevitable impacts of industrial sulfide-ore copper mining that would result in a transformation of the character of the South Kawishiwi area and would significantly impact the wilderness character of the adjacent BWCAW?

Read the full report

Key quotes excerpted below

"Part of what makes the BWCAW so important to people results from its designation as wilderness, which has left it free of roads and automobiles, houses and other development. Spending time in such untouched places can leave a deep impression on the human psyche and character. As Dr. John Hendee put it, “Wilderness is used for growing people, as well as growing natural resources.”

"...It is clear that wilderness offers veterans immense opportunities for healing and regaining control over their lives. Like the personal benefits to youth who participate in wilderness therapy, personal benefits felt by veterans can accrue to society at large by reducing the demand for mental health services, improving family relationships, and reducing the strain on communities unable to adequately support returning military personnel."

"A common theme among women traveling through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness or Grand Canyon National Park was “the importance of being in a bona fide wilderness area; in other words, that the trip itself had taken place in a pristine setting, away from the trappings of modern civilization.Other researchers report that participants consistently credited the contrast between wilderness settings and the human-made worldespecially tranquility, silence, lack of human activity, and the opportunity for solitudeas a trigger for having a peak experience."

"Even as Congress continues to protect additional acres of wilderness, the wilderness we have erodes. The silence, the dark night skies, the sense of remoteness; the clean water, pristine air, native plants and ecosystems; the habitat acreage and corridors needed to sustain native species, all disappear to encroaching development. Mining brings that development to the doorstep of wilderness in the most intrusive way.

Perhaps more than for any other wilderness in the country, American citizens have stood up again and again to fight to retain the wilderness qualities of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. They have done so because the BWCAW speaks to them in a way of no other place they have known. Mining at the edge of the wilderness would ensure that this part of the BWCAW would no longer bring the deep joy that so many come here to find."