The Boundary Waters continues to face the increasing risk of permanent damage from sulfide-ore copper mining. 2018 may be the defining year for Minnesota’s canoe country wilderness. As a Minnesotan, veteran, sportsman, father and frequent visitor to the Boundary Waters, I call on the citizens of our great state and nation to make your voices heard in 2018 to protect this national treasure. Now is the time to take action.
On December 22nd, the Department of Interior reversed its decades-old policy regarding mineral leases in a move toward reinstating two expired mineral leases on national forest lands next to the Boundary Waters, leases formerly held by the giant Chilean mining conglomerate Antofagasta and its subsidiary Twin Metals. This decision clears the way to reconsider renewing these leases. Going even further, on January 26th, the U.S. Forest Service announced it is downgrading the current and on-going two-year comprehensive Environmental Impact Study; reversing its decision in favor of conducting a much less rigorous Environmental Assessment.
The Trump Administration is on a continuous drum beat to reverse the Boundary Waters into environmental and economic oblivion. Our national treasures demand the most rigorous of science-based analysis when considering the environmental and economic damage posed by sulfide-ore copper mining. We should demand nothing less.
The Superior National Forest (which includes the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness) was established by President Theodore Roosevelt over a century ago to ensure the canoe country was passed down to future generations unharmed. He was an avid sportsman (founding the Boone & Crockett Club), decorated veteran (leading the Rough Riders and being awarded the Medal of Honor) and a proud father regularly bringing his own children into the wilderness to build character. He also saw the value and importance of these public lands to our country’s distinct and unique character.
The Boundary Waters has been exceptionally formative to my own family. Living for days in the wilderness and arduously portaging from lake to lake not only gives one an appreciation for nature, but builds the grit, perseverance, teamwork, empathy, and “can-do-spirit” that helps to build our youth into strong citizens and future leaders, whether in the military, public service, or the private sector. As such, it has become a cornerstone of high adventure leadership development programs for organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America and Outward Bound. Quite simply, protecting the Boundary Waters is not only a matter of conservation; it can also have an impact on national security and the vibrancy of our country.
Protecting the Boundary Waters has broad based bipartisan support across our country. Within Minnesota, Governor Dayton and a bipartisan group of representatives from the state’s Congressional delegation have spoken on behalf of Boundary Waters protection from sulfide-ore copper mining. Across America, support is coming from, among others, 204 bipartisan U.S. House Members who recently voted against Congressman Emmer’s anti-Boundary Waters bill (H.R. 3905) as well as over 285 business owners who advocate protecting the existing infrastructure and economic engine of the Boundary Waters.
However, even with this broad-based support, the Boundary Waters continues to be under regular attack. As a result of the Trump Administration reversals, our Superior National Forest lands could be turned over to a private foreign entity (in near perpetuity), contradicting the will of a large majority of Minnesotans. If this happens, and sulfide-ore copper mining begins, it could very well be the defining moment when we lost the glory of the Boundary Waters to history.
It is not too late to save the Boundary Waters. As we move into 2018 and the upcoming election campaign cycle, it is imperative we speak loudly to ensure that candidates for public office, regardless of party affiliation, elevate conservation of the Boundary Waters and our other national treasures as a priority. Candidates should support existing bedrock conservation laws and principles, which have served our country very well over the last century. It is also imperative we continue to let the Trump Administration know we disagree with these reversals and support a two-year Environmental Impact Study to determine the comprehensive damage sulfide-ore copper mining will inflict in the Boundary Waters.
As a Minnesotan, veteran, sportsman, and father, I don’t ever want to be in a position where I have to tell my future children’s children what it was once like to have a clean, pristine and accessible Boundary Waters adventure. I would rather take them there to experience the transformative effect for themselves. This can be our legacy to the next generation, but it will only occur it we collectively stand up and take action now.
Joe Banavige has over 20 years of experience as a business leader, Army officer (Desert Storm), State Department diplomat (Iraq surge), DOD civilian (Afghanistan surge) and is a volunteer with the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, DOD or the US Government.