My husband Dave and I skijored to the deepest spot on Wood Lake. Sled dogs Tina and Acorn pulled Dave. I followed with Tank enthusiastically trotting along. The air temperature was 10 degrees below zero—it was cold and the wind out of the northwest made it even colder. We paused near an island to detach ourselves from the dogs and walked the rest of the way to the deep spot. GPS in hand, Dave confirmed our position and kicked snow off the surface of the ice with his ski boot. He assembled our hand-powered ice drill and I pulled out the Hach Meter and clipboard. This was our 61st lake for measurements. The data we collected included dissolved oxygen and water temperatures for every meter—from the surface to the bottom or the end of the 15-meter probe, whichever came first. We also measured conductivity at the surface and when lakes were not ice-covered, turbidity with a secchi disk.
As Dave completed the final cranks of the hand-powered ice drill and pulled it from the hole, I pulled the batteries for the Hach Meter from my warm pocket. If I had left them in the Hach Meter even for our 20-minute ski, they wouldn’t have functioned in the cold. I breathed a sigh of relief as the Hach Meter powered on and I lowered the probe into the hole. Dave did jumping jacks as I wrote down measurements—happy to have mastered the art of wielding the pencil with my mitten on. The dogs watched with curiosity from their spot, nestled in the spruces. Despite the fact that the lake was only 5 meters deep, this was our most challenging spot to measure. I longed for the ice-free season when I simply lowered the probe over the gunwale of the canoe.
Why were we bothering to collect this data? In addition to keeping the beloved Boundary Waters on peoples' minds for an entire year, we also collected water quality data for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), adding measurements from 100 bodies of water to its database. We also collected water samples for Adventure Scientists’ Global Microplastics Initiative.
It will be a while until the data is publicly available on the MPCA and Adventure Scientists websites, but I can share with you a few things we learned during the process. It was expected that most Boundary Waters lakes would have dissolved oxygen greater than 5 mg/L (milligrams per liter) at the surface; we frequently saw dissolved oxygen higher than 7 mg/L—and it was not uncommon for us to find 10 mg/L or higher. In deep lakes, it is normal for dissolved oxygen to drop to near 0 mg/L mid-summer, about 10-20 feet down at the thermocline. Lake trout are cold-water fish and can be found in many of the deep, clear lakes in the Boundary Waters. These fish need dissolved oxygen concentrations greater than about 7 mg/L from the surface all the way to near the bottom to survive and we were happy to confirm that was the case in many of the deep, clear lakes that we measured.
I’ll give Basswood Lake a little more scrutiny, since it has a thriving fishery and is known for excellent fishing opportunities for lake trout, walleye and smallmouth bass—and it happens to be downstream from the proposed Twin Metals mine site. We took our measurements at the deepest part of Basswood, which is 111 feet deep and maxed out our probe. The dissolved oxygen at the surface was 10.29 mg/L, and halfway down (14 meters) it was still a healthy 9.3 mg/L. No wonder Basswood is a world-class fishing destination!
What about the samples for the Global Microplastics Initiative? They are being analyzed now and soon we will find out how many pieces of microplastics were found in each liter of water that we gathered. Microplastics are plastic particles smaller than 5 millimeters in size. They pose a significant environmental and human health risk when they enter our waterways. The Adventure Scientists have found microplastics in the vast majority of samples they have compiled over the last few years. It will be exciting to see the results from the samples we gathered.
Just in the past year, more and more reports are coming out about lakes being un-swimmable or unfishable due to pollution in the southern part of Minnesota. The walleye fishery in Lake Mille Lacs is in decline. Yet we happily drank out of, swam in and handily fished in the wilderness lakes of the Boundary Waters during our year out there. We are fortunate that wilderness advocates have kept the Boundary Waters forests untrammeled and the water unpolluted up until now, but it will take foresight and diligence to keep them that way.
“This is the most beautiful lake country on the continent. We can afford to cherish and protect it. Some places should be preserved from development or exploitation for they satisfy a human need for solace, belonging and perspective. In the end we turn to nature in a frenzied chaotic world, there to find silence—oneness—wholeness—spiritual release.”– Sigurd Olson
Take action today to protect the clean water of the Boundary Waters for future generations.
Dave and Amy Freeman, 2014 National Geographic Adventurers of the Year, are dedicated to protecting the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining proposed on its wilderness edge. In 2014, they paddled and sailed 101 days and 2,000 miles from Ely, MN, to Washington, DC, on the Paddle to DC. From September 23, 2015 to September 23, 2016, the Freemans spent A Year in the Wilderness, camping at approximately 120 different sites, exploring 500 lakes, rivers and streams, and traveling more than 2,000 miles by canoe, foot, ski, snowshoe and dog team. They documented their year and will continue to share their stories on social media (@FreemanExplore, #WildernessYear) and in blog posts. A documentary about their journey, Bear Witness, premiered fall 2016. A book about their year will be published by Milkweed Editions in fall 2017.
Two years ago I went on a life changing expedition that gave me life again. It was an eight-day dogsled and cross-country ski expedition with Voyagers Outward Bound School (VOBS) veterans program in the Boundary Waters. This expedition sent me on a new path that made me want to engage with life again. At the end of the expedition, I realized that I was capable of so much more than what I had previously thought, and that I was not just damaged goods. After the trip, we learned about the dangers facing the Boundary Waters from proposed mines in its watershed. I could not stand by. To share my story and connect with other veterans who have similar stories, I founded Veterans for the Boundary Waters, partnering with the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters and Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters. I did this with hopes of showing what would be lost should the sulfide-ore copper mines be allowed to proceed. Throughout the two years as I shared my story, I wondered if I would ever go back to the Boundary Waters during the winter. There is something truly special about winter in the Boundary Waters. It gives you the space to look deep into parts of you that have been neglected or dormant. I really wanted to go back and see what I would learn about myself when I was not battling my own mind. That is when I was offered another chance to go on a VOBS veterans winter expedition. I was going on an adventure!
When I arrived at VOBS, Bud, the director of winter expeditions, told us that for the first time ever VOBS would be combining a Veterans course with an adult course. I met the only other veteran that would be on the trip--Doug Kelley, a Special Forces Officer who severed in Vietnam. Kelley, I would later find out, is the kind of guy that Chuck Norris would have a poster of on his wall. I wasn’t sure how this was going to work. So many opposites would have to work together in harsh conditions on one of the hardest courses that VOBS has to offer. The divides we would have to overcome included generational--we spanned the baby boomers, Generation X and millennials. I couldn’t see an overarching connection that would unite us all. My failure was I did not realize the experience itself would unite us.
Once we had gathered, the expedition started out the same as all of them do: classes on what to wear, how to solve gear issues, how to sleep on ice in the winter and how to set up our tents. We spent the first night on the ice in front of VOBS to help acclimate us to the cold. Before we climbed into our sleeping bags, we did some cross-country skiing on the lake to warm up. There was a moment that night when everyone shut off his or her head lamp and just looked at the stars. Those who had never been to the Boundary Waters before could not believe all of the stars that were out. While standing there in the quiet with nothing but the stars, I realized it was the first time that we felt connected as a group. The Boundary Waters has way of doing that, just a few quiet moments when you stop and look to see all that is around you. The beauty and stillness connects you to something greater than yourself something--it's intangible. In this moment, I could see the connection start in those that had never been there before.
The next morning, we packed our sleds and headed to the entry point. There is always a nervous tension in the air as you are about to embark from the entry point into the Boundary Waters. It is the excitement of what is to come, mixed with the fear of the unknown that comes in the phrase, “I guess we are really doing this!” For those who have never been on ice before, the question is always, “Is it really safe to step out on the ice?” Then comes the most terrifying step--the first one. We all took it and stepped out on to the ice. Despite all of our differences, we were going to live and work together in the wilderness for seven days. To be honest, I was not sure how it was going to work.
It did work. With each passing mile, task and night, it became clear that despite our differences we could relate to one another. As we gathered around a campfire each night to share our thoughts on the day, it was easy to find ways to relate to those we thought we had nothing in common. One night there was a conversation about how to train for a marathon, and several in the group wanted to run one. One of our instructors turned to Kelley and asked if he had ever run a marathon. Kelley replied, “I have run about 28 marathons; they are good training for hard climbs I have done, like Everest or El Capitan.” Everyone's jaw dropped and that was when the younger members realized they had a lot to learn from him. Although, it was not all smooth sailing. During the coldest day with the highest winds, the dogs were not cooperating. There was also tension over who would be chopping the rest of the firewood. However, the instructors’ guidance and an excellent meal eased all the tension.
The real breakthrough came the morning after solo. Solo is our chance to go out to our own campsite with the skills we have learned and put them to the test. It is also a time for us to reflect. We reflect on where we are going in life, what we have done and whatever else we would like to reflect on. It was during solo night on my last trip with VOBS when I found peace--a peace that never made me think again that taking my own life was a solution. During my solo on this trip, I thought about how far I had come from that first solo, and I thought about the Wilderness that I was now trying to protect. The Boundary Waters in winter is far quieter than in summer. The only real sound is that of the wind. It's not like any park or recreational site you may find elsewhere. It’s a true Wilderness that gives you space from modern life to truly reflect and look deep into yourself. This is why so many who do solos or have been to the Boundary Waters come out different and more in-tune with what is important to them. The next morning I decided that I would share my story with the group: how I came to this point in my life and why I am now better. After I shared my story, the others shared their stories. Even though we all had very different backgrounds and very different life experiences, we related to each other. It was a moment that I do not think could happen under any other circumstances.
After that morning, we had one more day of travel. During our final fire conversation, even those who did not talk much before were having great conversations about the trip and their future plans. Kelley shared which schools taught mountaineering, the first time campers planned their next camping adventures, and I reflected on how far we had come. In terms of distance, we had only done about 27 miles. In terms of coming together to have a successful expedition, we had come so much further. The way the VOBS ran the program combined with the Boundary Waters itself allowed us to bridge gaps that many in our society may think impossible. In one week, all of the generational labels were swept away and we worked together as a group. At the final graduation ceremony, Kelley summed up the the feeling of the expedition the best. He said, before the expedition he was worried by what had been going on in our country, but after working with the 18-year-olds on this trip--he thought America would be just fine!
I always knew that the Boundary Waters was very special, but what I learned on this expedition is that the human potential that surfaces from a trip like this is far more valuable than any mineral that can be ripped out of the earth.
Erik Packard is the founder of Veterans for the Boundary Waters. He has been going to the Boundary Waters his whole life, with his family first taking him as an infant. In 1996, at the age of 17 years old, he joined the United States Army. Packard served in the United States Army Reserve for 14 years and served two combat tours in Iraq. After his last tour in Iraq, he began suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. After many treatments, he discovered Voyageurs Outward Bound School's program for veterans. After his trip with VOBS, Packard began fighting to protect the Boundary Waters from proposed sulfide-ore copper mining and has been sharing his story to help protect this Wilderness.
15-year-old Joseph Goldstein recently returned from spending a few days in Washington, D.C. meeting with legislators [Right: with Representative Betty McCollum] and land management agency leaders to urge support for permanently protecting the Boundary Waters Wilderness. Joseph’s passion and dedication for protecting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness has continued to grow since we first shared his story in March 2015.
A little over two years ago, Joseph Goldstein was diagnosed with High Risk Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Since then he has made it his mission to help protect the Boundary Waters.
Joseph first visited DC and met with elected officials in March 2015 during a break in his chemotherapy. During that visit, Joseph met Jack Steward and Colton Smith, educators and hosts of the show Rock the Park, an educational program about America’s National Parks (see a preview of their Voyageurs National Park episode). Following that visit, Joseph developed a friendship with “Those Park Guys” and they even joined him on a winter resupply mission to visit and help Dave and Amy Freeman during their Year in the Wilderness.
This past week while in the nation’s capitol, Joseph had the opportunity to give a speech at the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) annual Salute to the Parks gala, which honored Jack and Colton with the Robin W. Winks Award for enhancing public understanding of the National Park System. Joseph’s speech is below.
I’m so happy to be here tonight to help honor Jack and Colton for their amazing and inspiring show, Rock The Park. Each week they introduce us to another one of America’s incredible National Parks, and to the beauty and power of wild places – and they do it with so much love and enthusiasm that every park becomes a new addition to “The List.” Just for the record, I’m going to have to live an extended life – my list is becoming very long ...
I first met Jack and Colton at this same event, two years ago when I was 13, during the first season of their show. They were (and still are) heroes in my eyes – the coolest guys doing the very coolest job I could possibly imagine. I was a big fan, and meeting them was one of the highlights of my first visit to D.C.
About six months prior to that I was diagnosed with what is officially known as “High Risk Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.” It’s the kind of diagnosis that makes your big, tough dad cry and your mom look you straight in the eye and tell you that you WILL survive this, and that she loves you but that she will not for one minute put up with you feeling sorry for yourself. My mama knows how to straighten you up…
We talk a lot in my family about drawing light out of the darkness; that although you don’t always have a choice in what happens TO you – and believe me, no one would choose hair loss and puking – you always, ALWAYS, have a choice in how you react to what happens. So, when the Make a Wish foundation approached me, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I had an opportunity to do something that would be bigger than me.
Eleven years ago my parents took my second brother, and me to the Boundary Waters for the first time. For me, it was like coming home. I fell in love and, as I was recently reminded, I was sobbing when I was told it was time to leave. Since then, the Boundary Waters has become “my place;” that space in the world where I want to be whenever I can. My memories of the BWCA helped me get through that AWFUL first year of chemo. And every chance I’ve had -- through almost three years of treatment -- I’ve returned there for strength and healing. It is the most perfect place imaginable, and today it is under direct threat from a toxic copper mine that has been proposed directly on its border.
My parents say it's the hubris of youth to believe that life is binary (obviously, they also like to use words I have to Google). But I think that the greatest thing about youth is that you GET to be as hubris-y as you want. You get to say things like “either you're a defender or you’re a destroyer.” There is no room for gray on this issue: We are called to be guardians of sacred places, and now, more than EVER, we have to plant our feet, stand our ground, and defend.
Sometimes life only gives you one chance. I think this is ours. This is our one chance to defend our beautiful national parks and wildernesses that give so much to so many of us. There are a multitude of reasons why people choose to pick up a paddle – or throw on a pack - and head into the wilderness. Sometimes we don’t even know beforehand exactly why we do. But universally we all come out changed, and changed for the better.
So, that’s MY wish: To permanently protect the BWCA. The BWCA is “my place,” but I’m willing to bet that each and every one of you here tonight has “your place,” too. I bet you’ve felt it – that peace that can only be found in the utter stillness of a starlit night in the woods. Or the desert. Or at the top of a mountain you’ve spent the day summiting. We all have that place.
These are the places that Jack and Colton take us to every week. Their work is inspiring and important, and I know that every kid who watches and learns from them is adding another, and another, and another park to their bucket list – because I am, too. Their adventures make me want to do more, see more, learn more, BE more, and defend more. They have inspired me, and I know they are helping recruit the next generation of defenders– my three little brothers, included. As Ed Abbey once famously said, “The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders.”
When I met Jack and Colton two years ago, they were bigger than life -- stars to me. But over the last two years as I’ve watched and learned from them, and they joined me for a winter adventure into the BWCA by dogsled, I have come to understand that they are true Wilderness Warriors, and I am very proud to call them my friends.
Congratulations, Jack and Colton! To quote Abbey again, “May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, (and) dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.
Support Joseph in his wish to protect the Boundary Waters. Submit your comment today and speak up for the critical things that need to be studied during this environmental review.
This is Part II of our blog about the recent Duluth comment period hearing and our concerns about Twin Metals' parent company, Antofagasta. Make sure to read Part I of this blog, Strong Voices at Hearing and Rally in Duluth.
America’s most-visited Wilderness area is threatened by sulfide-ore copper mining proposed on nearby lands in the Wilderness watershed.
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness contains 1.1 million acres of pristine water and unspoiled woodlands, including more than 1,175 lakes and more than a thousand miles of rivers and streams. The Superior National Forest, which includes the Boundary Waters, contains 20 percent of all the fresh water in the entire National Forest System. This great natural landscape is the backbone of a thriving gateway business community that exists because every year hundreds of thousands of people from around the world visit to enjoy this spectacular region of woods and waters.
The copper mining industry has a long history of acid mine drainage and heavy metals leaching with catastrophic environmental impacts, especially to water. And even state-of-the-art mines are at risk for major infrastructure disaster. For example, in August 2014, a tailings dam breach at the Mount Polley copper and gold mine in British Columbia released 4.5 million cubic meters of toxic slurry into a lake and river system that was a priceless salmon spawning area [Photo by Jonathan Hayward, The Canadian Press]. Two days later, a mine in Mexico spilled 40,000 cubic meters of copper sulfate acid into two rivers, wiping out the water supply for a vast rural area that depended on the river water for domestic use and agriculture. Fish and wildlife were devastated.
Now Twin Metals Minnesota, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Antofagasta PLC of Chile, is suing the United States demanding renewal of two sulfide-ore copper mining leases on the edge of our unique and fragile Boundary Waters Wilderness. Antofagasta, which owns several copper mines in Chile, has an environmental and social track record that should concern anyone who cares about the Boundary Waters and the communities around it.
Antofagasta should never be entrusted with the health and safety of the Boundary Waters and its watershed. In Chile, Antofagasta:
Here in the U.S., Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner’s new landlord just happens to be Andrónico Luksic. The Wall Street Journal reported that a business owned by Luksic bought a Washington, DC mansion for $5.5 million on December 22, 2016, and that twelve days after the purchase, Luksic’s company rented the mansion to Ms. Trump and Mr. Kushner.
While Andrónico Luksic has tweeted that Ms. Trump and Mr. Kushner are paying market rate rent - and perhaps they are - the real cause for concern is that Luksic of Antofagasta reportedly spent $5.5 million to make a mansion available to members of the First Family and top advisors to President Donald Trump at a time when Antofagasta is suing the United States to try to force renewal of mineral leases near the Boundary Waters.
We hope these reported efforts to open the watershed of the Boundary Waters to sulfide-ore copper mining are stopped; and that the Forest Service and the BLM maintain a steady course and complete the environmental review already underway; and that two years from now Interior Secretary Zinke sees the merit in, and orders, the 20-year withdrawal of federal lands inside the watershed of the Boundary Waters, from mining, as has been proposed by the U.S. Forest Service."
Matt Norton is the Campaign's policy director. He previously worked as campaign director with Minnesota Environmental Partnership, and as forestry and wildlife advocate and staff attorney for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.
It was a sunny day in June when our group of five embarked on our 14-day journey. It was a beautiful day with a light wind as we paddled away from civilization with light hearts and calm minds. As the trip went on, we bonded over scary stories and stupid games. We joked about our eternal hunger and sore muscles. The time we spent on the water was time for singing songs and listening to Sally, our trip leader, read Harry Potter. Sometimes we would paddle quietly and simply observe our beautiful surroundings.
One of my favorite memories was on our first night when there was a beautiful sunset. We all stopped what we were doing and watched it. We were all yelling how beautiful it was and we had a group hug under the amazing sky. Sally wrote in our journal that night: “Our crew of five just spontaneously viewed and hugged through a mad gorgeous sunset on Ensign. Crayfish danced and the sky smoldered with pinks, purples, and oranges that were equally beautiful as they reflected on the water below. I’ve never been so stoked to be here.” It was an incredible first night.
As time went on, and we got further and further east, the beautiful trees and rocks gradually turned into plateaus and cliffs. We were getting closer to our final destination of the Grand Portage to Lake Superior, which we would complete on our last day. Our last full day we spent traveling up the Pigeon River to the mouth of the Grand Portage. We saw two moose in the span of a couple hours. At the time, the canoe in front of us slowed down to a stop and before I could ask why, I stopped in my tracks too. There was a huge animal crossing in front of us and it slightly scared me because of how close it was. The moose started trotting across the river, becoming more nervous as it went. It was incredible.
We got to the Grand Portage on our last day and completed the 8.5 miles in six hours. It was a grueling journey, but I’m so glad I could do it with some of my best friends. We made it to Lake Superior and hugged and cried after we set our canoes down. We were so happy. I’m extremely grateful I could spend two weeks in the place I love the most with some of the most amazing people I know.
Mackenzie Johnson is a junior at Minnetonka High School. Johnson made her first five-day trip to the Boundary Waters in the summer of 2014. She fell in love and could not wait to get back. In the summer of 2015 she went on a 10-day trip, and in July 2016 she completed a 14-day trip that ended with the 8.5 mile Grand Portgage to Lake Superior. Johnson loves everything about the Boundary Waters and supports the area in any way she can to make sure herself and others can continue to enjoy it for many years to come.
This is Part I of our blog about the recent Duluth comment period hearing and our concerns about Twin Metals' parent company, Antofagasta. Make sure to read Part II of this blog, Foreign Mining Company Threatens Boundary Waters.
Last week, the Campaign and partners gathered in Duluth as part of an official public hearing at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, to speak up for the protection of the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining. Just before the hearing, which was part of the scoping process for the two-year environmental review now underway, supporters of saving the Boundary Waters held a rally, complete with We Love the BWCA signs, and rousing speakers who addressed the risks of sulfide-ore copper mining near the Boundary Waters.
During the meeting, the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management heard comments from business owners, Arrowhead residents, citizens from across the state who enjoy wilderness recreation and clean water, and sportsmen and women. They also heard from supporters of sulfide-ore copper mining.
Speakers supporting protection of the Wilderness shared the critical points they believe should be considered during the two-year environmental review, including the economic impact a sulfide-ore copper mine would have on tourism and outdoor recreation economy, the risky history of this type of mining, the damage pollution from sulfide-ore copper mining would do to the ecosystem and human health, and much more.
People spoke 31 to 22 in favor of protecting the Wilderness and continuing the current environmental review on the sensitivity of the Boundary Waters Wilderness watershed, and the risks of sulfide-ore copper mining. We are proud of our supporters who shared comments during the rally and have submitted written comments, as well. If you missed the Duluth public hearing, or you attended but didn’t get a chance to speak, please know that this important public comment meeting will be followed by others. You also should be aware that there has been a 120-day extension of the comment period, which now concludes August 17.
During the remainder of this comment period, it is critical for all supporters of protecting the Boundary Waters to submit comments and raise their voices. We ask that you ask your friends and family members to submit comments as well. We’ll share any information on subsequent comment meetings when they are announced. At the conclusion of the comment period, the U.S. Forest Service will begin drafting the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). Later, likely in early 2019, a Final EIS will be released, and then, perhaps some months later, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will make a decision about whether to protect this watershed for a 20-year period.
This two-year environmental review process runs on public input, and your input absolutely will be required again, not only at the next public hearing (location and date are still to be determined) and in the remainder of this comment period, but again once the U.S. Forest Service has released the DEIS, and finally when the FEIS is published. Your public lands, and the future of the Boundary Waters, are certainly worth it.
As you think about what you want to convey to our federal agencies, consider these excerpts from a sampling of speakers at the Duluth hearing last Thursday, March 16:
"The riskiest place to put a sulfide-ore copper mine is a water-rich environment like the Boundary Waters,” said Jason Zabokrtsky of Ely Outfitting Co. and Boundary Waters Guide Service (pictured).
“The natural landscape is what drives our economy. It’s what makes us different,” said Dave Seaton, owner of Hungry Jack Outfitters on the Gunflint Trail. “Clean water is more valuable than copper.”
"We are looking at jobs for a finite period and pollution that can last over 500 years," said Will Jenkins of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.
The process for this environmental review began late last year, when the Departments of Agriculture and Interior announced an intention to initiate a “withdrawal” of public lands from the federal minerals leasing program, in order to protect the natural assets of the Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters. That announcement of intent was followed in January of this year by formal publication of intent in the Federal Register to do a two-year environmental review on the effects of the proposed withdrawal.
The withdrawal process is one that is provided for in law - specifically in section 204 of the Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA), and in federal regulations promulgated by the Department of the Interior pursuant to FLPMA. The withdrawal process has been used in the past many times, notably to protect the Grand Canyon from increased uranium mining, and to protect Yellowstone National Park from the threat of sulfide-gold mining.
Much of the opposition to the current process, at least as I observed in the Duluth hearing last Thursday, seems to be coming from supporters of the proposal by Twin Metals to mine sulfide-copper ore next to the Boundary Waters. That project can no longer move forward because the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management declined to renew Twin Metals’ expired mineral leases, leases which are now cancelled. Whether because they invested financially in the Twin Metals project, or because they hoped that the project would benefit them in other ways, the supporters tend to see the answer to local or personal needs in the Twin Metals project. Are they seeing the full picture? After all, Twin Metals parent company, Antofagasta has a troubling track record.
READ MORE: Learn about Twin Metals' owner Antofagasta and our concerns regarding their environmental and social track record in Part II of this blog: Science Desk: Foreign Mining Company Threatens Boundary Waters.
Matt Norton is the Campaign's policy director. He previously worked as campaign director with Minnesota Environmental Partnership, and as forestry and wildlife advocate and staff attorney for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.
Today, I'm running though my final packing list and making sure that my gear will once again be ready for a great adventure that that has me very excited. Once again, I will travel north and experience the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in winter. For seven days I will travel with my fellow veterans by ski and dog sled in a place that provides a peace seldom found in modern life. The expedition is being put on by Voyageur Outward Bound School, the base camp is called home place. I could not think of a better name, because for me this is a return trip and home place means a great deal to me, and this is why.
Two years ago, I completed a weeklong dog sledding expedition with the Voyager Outward Bound School in the Boundary Waters. As a child, I had followed the expeditions of Will Steger and Paul Schurke as they explored the worlds’ Polar Region. Instead of just reading about these accomplishments from afar, I got to lead a team of dogs through the Wilderness myself and sleep in the snow, leaving with a sense of accomplishment. These new experiences, this accomplishment within me, filled a space in my spirit that had previously been occupied by the darkness of doubt. That darkness told me I would never be good enough, that I was a failure, and a burden. As I led my dog sled out of the Wilderness, I couldn’t help but feel that I was coming out of spiritual wilderness as well.
I joined the Army when I was 17, wanting to serve my country and seeking the adventure the Army was promising. I prepared myself mentally and physically for what I thought would be my long term career. In place of adventure, I experienced the pain of losing those closest to me, sacrificing all that we consider normal and traditional and did my best to survive two tours of duty fighting the war in Iraq. Like many who served alongside me, these experiences change me forever. It’s hardest to see what is inside you but those around me noticed a difference right away. Concern and fear replaced the relief those who love me felt when I returned home, as I stopped doing the things I loved and instead sought out alcohol to dull my pain. The more they asked me to seek help, the more I resisted, unable to admit the depths of my pain and self loathing. Then came the day I decided to kill myself.
Somehow I survived and, through the efforts of my family and the medical staff at the hospital and VA, I began living a zombie like existence. I was “stabilized” but not alive. During this stage of purgatory in my life I found Voyageur Outward Bound School (VOBS). To my surprise, I learned that they were offering free programs to veterans for years. VOBS was one of the first organizations to engage veterans in wilderness program to remind them of what they are able to do, and of things that can still be accomplished. This is not a therapy program. We went into the woods not to talk about our feelings but rather, we learned, side by side, that we are more than the sum of our damaged parts and that who we are, at our foundation, is unchanging and that we have the ability to connect with that again. Each day on the expedition I felt stronger in my sprit. The peace of the Boundary Waters was flowing into me and replacing the poison that had infected me. The bright sun and wind swept tress blowing through and dispersing the darkness. Since that expedition I have been affected by my experiences and resulting PTSD, but because of that expedition I have always had a way to connect back to myself and as a result I have never again thought, taking my life was an answer.
Since that first expedition, the hope I have felt is under threat from a powerful force that could change the Wilderness forever. Less than a mile from my expedition site, on the sun soaked and colorful banks of the Kawashiwi River, companies are already changing this once untouched and wild place. Veterans who are seeking solace from war are now being reminded of it when they are most vulnerable, when they are seeking help. Exploratory activity of a proposed copper mine has washed over the chirps of birds and rustling of animals in the foliage with loud helicopters, explosions and the constant grinding of drills.
I fear this wild place will be lost. I fear that losing the connection to my healing will be losing a piece of myself, and I am afraid of what that would mean for me, for my family and for anyone who needs another answer. I am only one man, but I still believe in fighting for others and I need to do something to stop this from happening. That is why I am sharing my story with you.
I know there are others like me, I believe in never leaving a soldier behind, and so I founded Veterans for the Boundary Waters, partnered with the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters and Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters. I want to reach those who need this place as much as I do and I am also seeking the support and action of others who recognize the value of this sacred place. Though deeply personal, I have shared my story on video, in Washington D.C, and in front a large crowd at the first listening session in Duluth this past summer.
I have been fighting this fight for two years, and during that time have learned that there are many, many others who have gone to the Boundary Waters (some leading scout troops, others with their families) but all of them have had a similar experience; a reconnection to life they once thought lost.
The Boundary Waters is incredibly unique; the diversity of plants and animals, activities and trails is unmatched anywhere in the world. It is why the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is the nation’s most visited wilderness. This place is one of the few truly wild places left for anyone who seeks adventure, who seeks an escape from modern life, who seeks a quieted mind or a reconnection to their spirit.
What the Boundary Waters teaches us is different depending on who we are and our story. I can’t tell you what you will learn or what you will see. I can tell you that the Boundary Waters taught me what it means to live; it showed me the way back to myself and so I fight. I fight to protect this place, as I fought to protect my country. We are a free people, adventure is in our spirit and life is meant to be lived. The Boundary Waters needs to be permanently protected so that it is available to all generations. My fight continues and I invite you to join with me -- submit a comment today. We can do it, but only if we do it together.
In a poll of Minnesota voters released today, conducted by President Donald Trump's chief polling firm Fabrizio Ward for our lead organization Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, results show continued support for protecting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and its watershed. This holds with our polling from March of last year, which also showed strong support for protecting the watershed of the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs National Park. The recent polling looked at views toward sulfide-ore copper mining in Minnesota and near the Boundary Waters, as well as how voters view the review process and "two-year pause" in place.
The polling shows that while Minnesotans generally support sulfide-ore copper mining in the state, nearly 60% oppose it near the Boundary Waters and less than 30% support it. In Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District, which contains the Iron Range, opposition to sulfide-ore copper mining near the Boundary Waters exceeds support by double-digit margins. Nearly 8 in 10 Minnesotans support the thorough ongoing environmental review happening now, including 70% of eighth congressional district residents. When compared with a process that first allows a mining company to present a mine plan, a whopping 70% of voters statewide favored the direction federal land managers are currently taking, including 61% in the eighth congressional district. This support crosses all party lines. Add your comment today and attend the March 16 public comment meeting if you can.
Among Key Results:
The Boundary Waters Wilderness is a special place to Minnesota voters, and they want to protect it from sulfide-ore copper mining. By a 32-point margin, Minnesota voters are decisively against sulfide-ore copper mining in the areas near the Boundary Waters Wilderness. In fact, more voters strongly oppose mining near the Boundary Waters than the total of those in favor of it. Even half of the voters in CD-08 are against sulfide ore copper mining there.
Most Minnesotans are not anti-mining. Indeed, the industry’s image is more positive than negative. However, Minnesotans are passionate about the Boundary Waters. Their love for the area is both broad and deep. Overall, 78% have a favorable opinion of the area, with an eye-popping 58% viewing it very favorably. The love for the Boundary Waters area is not surprising given that two-thirds of voters have been there, with about one in five making the trip every year.
Though there has been public opposition to the process from Representative Nolan, voters believe the federal land management agencies made the correct decision in December. There is strong support for the current two-year pause to gather scientific information and public input about the potential impacts of sulfide ore copper mining near the Boundary Waters. This holds true among voters of all parties and in Rep. Nolan's District, CD-08.
Minnesota voters recognize that the Boundary Waters Wilderness area is special and that the usual mining review practices are inadequate for this treasured area. Some have argued that the areas near the Boundary Waters Wilderness should not be categorically ruled off-limits, that mine safety review plans are enough to guarantee a process that would ensure the safety of the BWW or wherever the mine was located. We tested that sentiment against the “pause and study” process the federal government set in motion in December. By a 40-point margin, Minnesotans want the current “pause and study” process to play out to see if a long-term moratorium on sulfide ore copper mining should be placed near the Boundary Waters Wilderness. Clear support for staying on the current path to finish the review holds among all party affiliations and in CD-08.
The Boundary Waters taught 14-year-old Grace Christenson to see beauty in the simplest things. Grace wrote Leave No Trace for her spoken word poetry unit at school. The Wilderness is something that she is very passionate about and she wanted to inform people about the risks facing the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Come with me to a place I love,
Come with me to a place I dream,
Come with me to a place I listen…
A fog over the land,
A change in my plan,
Can’t this be everlasting?
My paddle slicing the glass.
Tornadoes swirl through
The complex waters of beauty.
Like a mother’s hug,
The water envelops me,
Taking my breath away,
Like getting out of your sleeping bag
On a crisp morning.
No boundary shall live in
The Boundary Waters.
My footsteps will leave no trace,
The weather erasing it from
The earth at peace.
Slam the door,
We can’t balance
Our need for our greed,
The greed of minerals,
Without our need for beauty
Travel the world,
Sense the sea,
Comprehend the tree,
Love it all for me,
And all the billions of people.
Come with me to a place and listen...
For the loon calling to her kin,
The tranquil sounds of water,
The hushed whispers of wind.
Your voice stay humble,
Not soft, though..
“Speak loudly for a quiet place”
It must be a sacred place
To those who will embrace.
The clarity in the break of dawn.
It must be a sacred place
A powerful space,
With a soft pace.
Will you come with me for a moment?
Leave the busyness of your day behind?
Come with me to a place and imagine...
A forest, beach, or desert.
The wind kisses your face
Like the soft breath of a baby.
Rain tickles your head.
Trees, like a summers storm, laugh
Waves rejoice in song.
The Earth loves us.
Come with me to a place and love…
The Earth is a tapestry,
I weave into it when the stars shine in the sky.
The colors are bright capturing one's mind,
You turn them over never quite understanding
That the Earth is a tapestry
That this is the only one.
And yet we disrespect,
And abandon the pursuit of cherishing Earths beauty.
Earth has supported us,
She’s dusted our errors,
She’s polished our achievements.
But we’ve destructed her,
Adapted our understanding of
You can tell me what you think,
But I've got a whole Earth
Standing behind me.
Grace Christenson is a 14-year-old from White Bear Lake, Minnesota. Grace finds that the Boundary Waters is a place for her to be herself, to let go of her worries and feel the purity of the wind on her face. With every trip that she has taken since she was four years old, she has seen her strengths grow more each year--from carrying her paddle and life jacket, to her own pack, to the food pack, and in more recent years carrying the canoe on portages.