As an English major, I tend to be full of big words (and of myself), but I have always found the Boundary Waters to be a place that is utterly indescribable. Since I was five years old, the Boundary Waters has been a sacred safe haven for me. I have been on 14 different trips since then, all with different intentions. Due to the vastness of the Boundary Waters, visitors are able to go on a lifetime of trips; all with different intentions. Some trips have been done with the intent to cover as much area as possible, like our Little Indian Sioux Loop trip. Others have been to catch as many fish as possible. Still others have been purely for relaxation purposes and to take as many gorgeous pictures as we could. However, I most significantly view the Boundary Waters as a sacred place of protection and peace for all who enter. It offers a break from our civilized reality and gives its visitors a glimpse into the wild, uninhibited, unadulterated beauty of the wilderness. If we take a moment to stop and think about the true impact of this experience, we can see that this place deserves our lifelong protection. Everything that it currently exists as is more valuable than any monetary rewards that a mine could potentially offer.
I recently had the opportunity to take Environmental Ethics at college. During this course, we spent a lot of time discussing the intrinsic value of nature. Why is it worthwhile? I have concluded that all of the wild places we have left on this Earth have extreme intrinsic value just based on their existence. They don’t need to have monetary value to be “valuable.” Our forests and wild places are disappearing at an alarming rate because we value profit over nature. This is wrong. We need to keep our wild places, wild.
Recently, I went on a powerful trip to Lac La Croix with a roommate. At the end of the trip, before picking up the canoe for the final portage, I turned and looked at the woods and water in all of its boisterously quiet beauty. The beautiful paradox of the wilderness; its beauty is so quiet it’s almost deafening. As I willed my eyes to stop watering, I said silently, “Thank you. I’ll be back very soon.”
A week after returning to “real life,” my roommate sent me a text that simply said, “Do you ever just think about the Boundary Waters and cry?” My answer was easy; of course I do. There are no proper words to begin to describe the emotions that the Boundary Waters evokes. For many, it is a solitude; a home that is so special it is only visited occasionally. Many promise to be “lifers” but the honest truth is that life is tricky and doesn’t always honor promises. Families change, kids grow up, and parents grow older and separate. Our lives are in constant motion, and you never truly know when “next time” will be.
However, our fight isn’t for the “next time.” Our fight needs to be ensuring that there will always be the possibility of a “next time.”
The Biden administration just announced an important step to protect the Boundary Waters and its watershed from the threat posed by sulfide-ore copper mining. On Wednesday, October 20th, the Departments of Interior and Agriculture announced that the Biden administration is halting all new mining leases, prospecting permits, and other mining-related approvals on 225,378 acres of federal land within the Boundary Waters watershed for two years while it conducts an environmental review of a proposed 20-year mining ban on this same acreage in the Superior National Forest. Help us thank the Biden Administration and our Boundary Waters Champions for taking this important step by clicking here.
The next day, the U.S. Forest Service initiated a 90-day public comment period on its proposal to protect the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs National Park. Sulfide-ore copper mining poses a threat to this unique ecosystem, the water, cultural resources, and recreation resources it holds, and the people and economy that depend upon it. The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will then complete an Environmental Assessment (EA) on the Forest Service proposal, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The BLM, which manages federal minerals beneath the Superior National Forest, published an official notice in the Federal Register about the U.S. Forest Service’s application for the mineral withdrawal and start of the comment period. The BLM’s Federal Register notice also announced a freeze for up to two years on issuance of any new mineral leases or prospecting permits, to allow time for the completion of the EA and a decision from the Secretary of Interior on whether to grant the 20-year mineral withdrawal.
In short, today’s announcement from the Biden administration is very good news for the intact and unique Boundary Waters ecosystem and all who love it. You and all Americans will soon have an opportunity to comment in support of this proposal to fully protect this crown jewel of America’s public lands.
Having deja vu?
This process has been initiated before -- in January of 2017, the U.S. Forest Service filed an application to withdraw 234,000 acres of Superior National Forest lands from mineral leasing, and the BLM initiated a 2-year freeze (the legal term is a segregation) on new mining leases, prospecting permits, and other mining-related approvals.
In 2017-2018, the U.S. Forest Service held two comment periods and several public meetings that attracted more than 2,700 attendees and 181,000 public comments were received. Shortly before the 2017-2018 NEPA process was to have been completed, however, the Trump Administration abruptly canceled it.
Initiating a mineral withdrawal process is a great start to achieving permanent protection for the Boundary Waters and its watershed upstream and just outside of the Wilderness. You and your friends and neighbors have an important role to play in supporting the proposed mineral withdrawal by participating in the 90-day federal comment period.
What you can do to help
With the Biden administration announcement today, Minnesotans and Americans can now participate in fully protecting the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs.
RIGHT NOW: Thank the Biden Administration and Boundary Waters Champions U.S. Representatives Betty McCollum, Dean Phillips, Angie Craig, and Ilhan Omar, and U.S. Senator Tina Smith for taking this big step for the Boundary Waters! You can show your appreciation here.
RIGHT NOW: Participate in the federal comment period. On October 21, the US Forest Service initiated a 90-day comment period on the mineral withdrawal. Urge the federal government to ban sulfide-ore copper mining in the watershed of the Boundary Waters here.
STARTING NOVEMBER 9: Urge Minnesota to put state lands in the Boundary Waters watershed off-limits to sulfide-ore copper mining, too, during the upcoming state comment period. On Monday, October 4th, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) initiated the state process that could result in rulemaking to prohibit the siting of sulfide-ore copper-nickel mining in the Boundary Waters watershed. A 30-day public comment period will commence on November 9th and continue through December 8th, 2021. Your voice is critical in this process.
On October 4, we held the biggest Boundary Waters celebration of the year, at Nicollet Island Pavilion!
We lucked out with gorgeous weather and had a wonderful evening hearing a virtual message from Senator Tina Smith, along with an in-person address from U.S. Representative Betty McCollum, Brady Robinson, Executive Director of The Conservation Alliance; and M.C. Rob Coughlin of Granite Gear, Becky Rom, Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters Board Chair, and Ingrid Lyons, our new Interim Executive Director.
Elected officials from the Minnesota legislature also attended including Sen. Ann Johnson Stewart, Sen. Steve Cwodzinski, Sen. Jen McEwen, Rep. Kelly Morrison, Rep. Sydney Jordan and Rep. Emma Greenman.
Thanks to all our supporters and the introduction of the Walter Mondale Legacy Fund we were able to surpass our goal and raised over $275,000 which goes directly towards winning permanent and lasting protections for Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining.
If you didn't get a chance to donate to protect the Boundary Waters, there is still time to join us with a donation in honor of the late Vice President Walter Mondale.
*A very special thank you to photographer and supporter Keith Meisel who took wonderful photos of the event you see in this post!
Our largest and most successful silent auction ever raised more than $28,000!
A big thank you to all of our silent auction donors and event sponsors!
Abode Outside, Aspen Waste Systems, Bare Home, Bedrock Sandals, Clear Waters Outfitting, Wendy Paulsen, Dick Moe, Ely Outfitting Company and Guide Service, Enlightened Equipment, EXPED, Frost River, Garage Grown Gear, General Store of Minnetonka, Glorud Design, Gondola Romantica, Granite Gear, Grayl, Hala Gear, Humble Apparel Co., Idea Mountain, Jack Liebo, Juniper Ridge, KEEN, Klean Kanteen, Klymit, L Nijssen Photo, Lake Superior Art Glass, Merrell, MiiR, Minneapolis Bouldering Project, MTI Life Jackets, North Face, North Mallow, Northstar Canoes, Old Mustache Canoe Paddles, OneEleven, Paddle Bridge Guide Cooperative, Parks Project, Patagonia, Piragis Northwoods Company, Redbudsuds, Royal Robbins, Ruffwear, Sanborn Canoe Company, SHoR Products, The Show Syndicate, SITKA Gear, Spiral Brewery, Steger Mukluks, Sweetland Orchard, Swen Products Inc., True Earth Yoga, Vasque, Wenonah, Willa’s Oat Milk, Women’s Wilderness Discovery
At NMW, we commit to fostering sustainable wilderness edge communities, where you can live, work, and play. To that end, we seek to connect people and resources in ways that make our local economies grow and our communities welcoming and vibrant.
For several years now, we’ve been researching rural America trends, talking with civic leaders, legislators, and local businesses, and developing ways in which NMW could best serve the communities on the edge of the BWCAW. Our work reinforces our belief that strong rural communities and wilderness enjoy a unique and mutually beneficial and supportive relationship.
Boundary Waters Connect has launched or has underway a number of initiatives, some of which we wanted to highlight for you:
If you would like to stay better informed about the activities of Boundary Waters Connect, please join our dedicated email list by emailing ElyTuesdayGroup@gmail.com.
We also welcome volunteers to this effort, or just your thoughts and ideas! Please reach out at any time to engage with us by contacting Lacey Squier, our regional coordinator via email at ElyTuesdayGroup@gmail.com.
The Minnesota DNR will soon begin a public process relating to its nonferrous (copper-nickel) mining rules to determine if they are inadequate to protect the Boundary Waters. The process will include at least one public meeting (likely by zoom) and a comment period.
Last week, a state district court remanded a Minnesota Environmental Rights Act claim to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to begin an administrative process to determine if Minnesota’s nonferrous mining rules - which currently allow dangerous sulfide-ore copper mining in the Rainy River Headwaters - fail to adequately protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the Rainy River Headwaters from pollution, impairment, or destruction.
The DNR process is the result of a lawsuit brought by Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness (NMW), the lead organization in the 400+ member Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness asserts that the DNR siting rule should be amended to prohibit nonferrous mining in the Rainy River Headwaters altogether as the only way to protect the Boundary Waters from irreversible damage.
The downstream half of the Rainy River Headwaters is in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, where no mining is allowed by state law (1976) and federal law (1978). The upstream half of the Rainy River Headwaters is open to mining; all water pollution from the upstream half of the watershed would flow into the Boundary Waters, first passing by 30 businesses and hundreds of homes. NMW has requested that the entire Rainy River Headwaters be closed to sulfide-ore copper mining as necessary to protect the Boundary Waters. The lawsuit is based on Section 10 of the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act. The Act allows anyone in Minnesota to challenge rules that fail to protect Minnesota’s natural resources from pollution, damage, and destruction.
In 2016, the U.S. Forest Service concluded that sulfide-ore copper mining in the watershed of the Boundary Waters posed an unacceptable risk of harm to the Wilderness, and the resulting damage could never be fixed, mitigated, or remediated (because of the interconnected waterways and management as wilderness - no roads or mechanization allowed).
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency completed a water quality assessment of the Rainy River Headwaters in 2017 and found the waters to be exceptionally clean and immaculate and urged that additional protections be afforded to the watershed.
Twin Metals Minnesota - the wholly owned subsidiary of Chile’s Antofagasta - proposes to build a massive copper - nickel mine in the Rainy River Headwaters which includes, among other destructive features, a 430 acre toxic tailings storage facility on shores of Birch Lake immediately upstream of the Boundary Waters and threatening the high water quality of the Wilderness and the Rainy River Headwaters.
The order directs the DNR to establish a public comment process by October 4th to seek public input about the 28 year old rules. Watch for future announcements from the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters for more information about public meetings and comment opportunities.
Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, in addition to being lead organization and founder of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, also conducts other work, including data collection and scientific assessments, and preparation and submittal of technical comment letters on projects being proposed or reviewed by state and federal agencies. Three recent examples of NMW's work are described below.
2020-2021 Sulfate Sampling Effort for Birch Lake
Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness (NMW) manages and conducts a monitoring program including water sample collection and testing. On June 28, 2021, NMW completed a report presenting NMW’s water quality data for the years 2020 and 2021 relevant to Birch Lake and sulfate (SO4), the pollutant that is known to damage wild rice and to fuel the production of methyl-mercury, the form of mercury that bioaccumulates in insects, fish, and species higher in the food web including humans, bats, river otters, eagles, etc.
In total, the results from 104 water quality samples show significant impairment in Birch Lake. NMW sent its report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during a federal comment period regarding Minnesota wild rice waters impaired for sulfate.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is responsible for listing waters that do not meet federal water quality standards for pollutants, including sulfate, but the MPCA has never listed wild rice water as impaired for sulfate, though it is manifest that many waters are impaired. In 2015 the Minnesota Legislature passed a law containing a provision barring the MPCA from discharging its duties with respect to sulfate under the federal Clean Water Act. The U.S. EPA announced in the spring of 2021 that it would step in to carry out the duties MPCA would not, i.e., list wild rice waters in Minnesota as impaired for sulfate. The EPA invited the public to submit comments including data that might help EPA determine which Minnesota wild rice waters should be listed as impaired.
NMW’s June 28, 2021 report presented the sulfate concentrations in 104 water samples collected by NMW as determined by a qualified testing laboratory. Nearly all of the samples show sulfate concentrations above 10 mg/L, the state and federal water quality standard for wild rice waters in Minnesota.
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NMW works with strong allies and partner organizations to accomplish shared goals. NMW thanks our partners Center for Biological Diversity and the Izaak Walton League - Minnesota Division, and our ally WaterLegacy, for their excellent work and help in preparing and submitting with NMW the two documents described below.
WaterLegacy & NMW comment letter to U.S. EPA
On June 30, 2021, NMW joined WaterLegacy in submitting a comment letter to the U.S. EPA presenting water quality data to the EPA, including NMW’s report “2020-2021 Sulfate Sampling Effort for Birch Lake,” and making the case that Birch Lake and a number of other wild rice waters should be listed as impaired for sulfate.
NMW-Center for Biological Diversity-Izaak Walton League Minnesota Division comment letter to the U.S. Forest Service on the Tofte Landscape Project Draft Environmental Assessment
On July 16, 2021, NMW, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Minnesota Division of the Izaak Walton League of America submitted detailed comments to the U.S. Forest Service on the Tofte Landscape Project, an extremely large, 15-year logging and forest management license which requires the public to submit actionable comments before details are final on what exactly the U.S. Forest Service is proposing to log; by the time final details are available, the opportunity to submit actionable comments has passed. Among the comments made in the comment letter is that this scheme violates the National Environmental Policy Act.
For various reasons, we aren't running our Save the Boundary Waters Minnesota State Fair booth in the Dairy Building this year in 2021. However, we have great memories from our five years at the Great Minnesota Get-Together, such as meeting tens of thousands of Fair-goers to talk about the Boundary Waters Wilderness and the need to protect it forever.
What did we accomplish at the Minnesota State Fair together? Hundreds of volunteers joined us to talk to Fair-goers, tens of thousands of people from all across Minnesota and the United States signed our petition to protect the Boundary Waters from toxic copper mining, we met directly with elected officials at the Fair to ask them to protect the Boundary Waters, and we had a ton of fun with giveaways and merch, our photo booths, a giant Boundary Waters map, special events in the booth, and of course sampling so much food on a stick!
Every year at the Fair, 10,000-15,000 people sign petitions at our booth, and without it this year, we are missing out on these new petition signatures. The Boundary Waters still needs you! Click here to complete the most urgent action right now to protect the Boundary Waters.
Planning and running a State Fair booth was a ton of work every year, and we are so grateful to the staff and volunteer teams that made it happen. We couldn't have done it without the hundreds of volunteers who showed up in a big way. What a fun way to meet so many passionate Save the Boundary Waters supporters and engage volunteers who have helped with many other events and actions since.
We're not physically at the 2021 State Fair but we are hard at work educating and engaging people across the state and country at in person events as well as virtual gatherings! Visit our events page to find us in your community or virtually.
And we’ve got exciting new Boundary Waters merch! Use code FAIR21 at checkout in our online merch shop for 15% off apparel and other items during State Fair season!
This past Saturday, the U.S. Forest Service announced that it has closed the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness due to the active wildfires and drought conditions. Backcountry access is prohibited, including all portages, lakes, rivers, and hiking trails. Overnight permits will be refunded. This is the first time in 45 years that the Boundary Waters has closed due to wildfire activity
The closure order will be reviewed weekly, and there is no scheduled time when the Boundary Waters will start opening sections again. This closure will negatively impact many outfitters and Wilderness-dependent businesses. Local businesses in northeastern Minnesota would appreciate anything you can do to help support them during the closure.
Here are a few things you can do to help right now:
Buy gift certificates from local outfitters & businesses to redeem in the future!
Trip cancelled? Ask your outfitter if they can apply your deposit from this year towards a trip next year instead of asking for a refund.
Shop online! Many outfitters and shops have merchandise and other items to shop in their store.
Here’s a list of some of the outfitters in our Boundary Waters Business Coalition you may wish to support during this closure:
Check out and support the many northern Minnesota businesses in the 350+ Boundary Waters Business Coalition.
Thank you to the firefighters, U.S. Forest Service, and community members who have worked incredibly hard to manage these wildfires during this intense drought.
More in the news:
MPR: Disappointed outfitters and paddlers adjust to BWCA closure
WTIP Boundary Waters Podcast - BWCA Closure and Fire updates
KSTP: Outdoor recreation businesses wait out fires threatening Boundary Waters
Quetico Superior Blog - Multiple articles
Green is my favorite color, in my head I could always picture that particular color: Pine and Cedar forests in a rainstorm. Never before have I seen it in the flesh. Ely knew I was coming
I drove up north in a rainstorm to do some work in the town as part of my political affairs internship. I remember coming around the bend on the highway after Tower, MN, and seeing the deep green of the pines through the raindrops on the windshield. It made me giddy. There would be a number of experiences throughout my trip that would take my breath away like the pine trees did, making me thankful to be a part of this cause and community.
During my several-day stint in Ely, I was fortunate enough to stay with The Schurkes, who run Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge and Clothing just beyond town. Although it was intended as a place to crash, I couldn’t wait until the day was done to head back to home base. I’d finish up emails with a sled dog’s head in my lap. I have not met a kinder family. They invited me not only to stay in their bunkhouse but welcomed me into morning coffee and family game night as well. When we would talk about my work with the campaign their love and respect for the land permeated the conversation.
Folks in town were lovely too. Whether it was the couple that I spoke to outside of our offices, or the family that chatted with me at dinner where I would have dined alone. There is a kindness, infectious in Ely.
I cannot count the number of times that Ely made me smile, but there is one moment of disbelief that sticks with me strongly. After a half-day of work, one of our outreach directors, Levi Lexvold, and I, strapped up a canoe and made the drive to Birch Lake, the intended site for the Twin Metals Sulfide mine project. We drove part of the rugged road before portaging the canoe down to a backcountry campsite where we launched. Out on the water, Levi mapped the mine plan for me: processing plant here where you see these pines, toxic tailings mound 50ft above the tree line there. Surrounded by pines, mossy rock outcroppings, and scurrying fish, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
With the still water reflecting the blue sky, I felt my heart sink at the prospect if the lake’s beauty alone was lost, not to mention in the 1000 lakes in the BWCA, then North to Quetico and West to Voyageur. Here in front of me was a place I had only gotten a taste of. What Twin Metals proposes to do is take that chance away from millions of Americans by leaching toxic chemicals into the air, land, and water that we cherish.
They say the mine will be done safely. It will not. They say the project is necessary. It is not. They say the town will be better off. It will not. As Minnesotans and Americans, we are lucky to experience this land, but that privilege also comes with a charge to protect it. Never will it be justified to sacrifice millions of acres of pristine, unique land to this toxic industry. Not everyone may have a personal connection to the land we seek to save, but everyone can do something about it. Contact your reps, donate, have conversations with friends and family. Together, we may just be able to Save the Boundary Waters.
We need you to help us keep our momentum going by becoming a Wilderness Warrior!
Wilderness Warriors receive weekly alerts about impactful actions they can take that help #SavetheBWCA. We will inspire you with ways to make a difference and show your love for the Boundary Waters -- from making sure your voice is heard by key leaders to speaking out on social media in support.
Anti-BWCA groups are trying to speed up the sulfide-ore copper mine proposed in the watershed of the Boundary Waters. Join our forces by becoming a Wilderness Warrior and stand up for this amazing Wilderness.