*ICYMI* The Timberjay: NMW lays out strategy for BWCAW protection

Jul 31, 2023
Libby London

Contact: Libby London (612) 227-8407
July 31, 2023


*ICYMI* The Timberjay: NMW lays out strategy for BWCAW protection


Executive director Ingrid Lyons of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters and national chair Becky Rom presented to a packed audience at the weekly Ely gathering “Tuesday Group,” where they outlined Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness’ strategy to protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness permanently. Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness (NMW) is the lead organization of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters.

(ELY, MN) -- On Tuesday, July 25, Lyons and Rom of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters outlined the plan to permanently protect the Boundary Waters watershed from sulfide-ore copper mining to over 80 attendees at the weekly “Tuesday Group” gathering of locals in the Ely area. Boundary Waters Connect sponsors Tuesday Group, which is a weekly community gathering at the Grand Ely Lodge, where the organizers aim to provide a space for people to learn something new and strive to feature speakers and topics relevant to northeast Minnesota.


From the Timberjay piece:

Rom outlined NMW’s strategy to permanently protect the Boundary Waters from all future Minnesota mining activities. That strategy, which has been in play for several years already, has five parts:

1. Deny and cancel the two federal mining leases in the Rainy River watershed. The leases were the only federal leases within the Superior National Forest.
2. Withdraw all federal lands within Boundary Waters watersheds from availability for mineral leasing for 20 years.
3. Pass federal legislation to permanently ban mining on federal lands in watersheds that feed the Boundary Waters.
4. Change Minnesota’s nonferrous mining regulations to ban mining in the Boundary Waters [watershed].
5. Pass state legislation to permanently ban mining on state lands in the BWCAW watershed.

Rom related how the first two objectives in the NMW strategy have already been achieved after a decade of effort. “When we started (ten years ago),” Rom said, “our goal was to (convince) the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that they needed to conserve the environment (of the BWCAW). And if they did, they would deny the renewal of the (Twin Metals) leases.”

Rom went on to explain how the first objective had to be done twice. While the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) refused to renew the two leases in 2016, the Trump Administration overturned the 2016 USFS decision in 2019, undoing a hard-won victory for the NMW. Then the Biden Administration determined the leases were unlawfully renewed in January 2022.

The group’s second objective was achieved in January when U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland banned mineral leases for approximately 225,504 acres of the Superior National Forest. Rom called Haaland’s action “the most significant conservation measure protecting the Boundary Waters in 45 years, since the passage of the 1978 Boundary Waters Wilderness Act.”

With the first two objectives accomplished, the NMW has much yet to do: the remaining three strategic objectives plus ongoing efforts to preserve their first two victories, both of which are being contested in court.

Both Rom and Lyons discussed their efforts to achieve protections for the Boundary Waters at both the federal and state levels, given that the state owns a significant portion of the land in the areas upstream of the BWCAW. Even as they work in Washington to win a sulfide mining ban on all federal lands in BWCAW watersheds, they are working simultaneously in St. Paul to achieve similar protections for state lands.

On January 26, 2023, U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland signed a Public Land Order that withdrew 225,504 acres of federal lands and minerals located in the Rainy River Headwaters upstream of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from the federal mineral leasing program for 20 years.

You can read the entire piece here.