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Science Desk: Foreign Mining Company Threatens Boundary Waters

Sunday, April 2, 2017
Posted by
Matt Norton

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:

  • caused the biggest loss of cultural heritage in Chile’s recent history, according to the Chilean Archaeological Society, when it excavated more than 500 boulders bearing 2,000 petroglyphs and buried a pre-Columbian cemetery and archeological sites from two vanished cultures, to make way for the El Mauro tailings dam. (London Mining Network, 6/14/13);
  • was found guilty by the Chilean Supreme Court of harming residents of a community when Antofagasta located its tailings dam upstream, polluting the groundwater and blocking a critical source of water on which the community depended (BNamericas, 10/24/14);
  • faces a potential fine of $23.8 million and closure of its biggest copper mine in Chile over violations of its environmental permit, including water pollution (Reuters, 10/13/16; Mining.com 10/14/16); and
  • was responsible for the highest number of toxic spills in the region of Coquimbo; one spill dumped 13,000 liters of copper concentrate directly into a river (Conflicts Over Water in Chile: Between Human Rights and Market Rules, Sept. 2010).

In addition:

  • A Chilean senator brought charges against Antofagasta for tax fraud (United Press International 5/23/03).
  • Antofagasta is heavily involved in extreme water privatization occurring in desert areas of Chile, depriving many poor and indigenous families of their historic water sources.  (Conflicts Over Water in Chile: Between Human Rights and Market Rules, September 2010) (The Guardian, 3/21/2014).
  • Antofagasta’s corporate structure is dangerously consolidated within the Luksic family – one of Chile's wealthiest families (The Telegraph, 11/06/04).
  • The Luksics have a history of involvement in political-financial scandals. The Bank of Chile, which is controlled by the Luksic family, gave the Chilean president’s daughter-in-law a special $10 million loan after she met with bank vice-president Andrónico Luksic (Reuters, 2/10/15), the chairman of the Luksic Group, the family's business holding company.

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.

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Trip Tales: Grand Portage

Monday, March 27, 2017
Posted by
Mackenzie Johnson

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.

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Science Desk: Strong Voices at Hearing and Rally in Duluth

Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Posted by
Matt Norton

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.

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Wilderness Heals: Veteran Returns to the Boundary Waters Wilderness

Friday, March 17, 2017
Posted by
Erik Packard

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.

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Polling: Strong Support for Protecting Boundary Waters

Wednesday, March 8, 2017
Posted by
Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters

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.

For more on this new polling, read our press release and the memo and deck from Fabrizio Ward.

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.

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Campaign Statement re: Antofagasta renting house to Ivanka Trump

Wednesday, March 8, 2017
Posted by
Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters
Today the Wall Street Journal and Star Tribune reported that the Chilean billionaire owner of Antofagasta, parent company of the Twin Metals mining project in Minnesota, is also renting a house to Ivanka Trump and White House Sr. Advisor Jared Kushner.
 
Antofagasta is currently suing the Federal government over mineral rights adjacent to Minnesota's Boundary Waters, America's most popular Wilderness and a national treasure. In December federal land managers declined to renew expired Twin Metals leases.
 
Statement from National Campaign Chair Becky Rom: "This deeply troubling news raises a simple question: Are Minnesotans - and our elected leaders - willing to cede control over our beloved Boundary Waters to a Chilean billionaire landlord to the Trump family? At stake is a pristine wilderness made up of some of the world's cleanest water. When healthy, the Boundary Waters helps power a thriving $900 million economy that supports 17,000 jobs in Northeastern Minnesota alone. Antofagasta's long history of pollution is no secret, but we now know the lengths to which they will go to curry favor with the Trump administration in order to enrich their foreign executives at Minnesota's expense. They simply can't be trusted with our precious national treasure."

The Poetry of the Boundary Waters

Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Posted by
Grace Christenson

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.

 


 Leave No Trace

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,
Lock,
And cover.
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 you,
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 hug,
The love.
The clarity in the break of dawn.
It must be a sacred place
A powerful space,
With a soft pace.
Step back.

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,
Neglect,
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
Her changing.
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.

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Dave and I are frequently asked, “How can you stand to spend so much time with your spouse?” We did manage to spend 366 days in a row in each other’s company without killing each other. In many ways, our Year in the Wilderness was good for our relationship [Pictured: Valentine's Day during Year in Wilderness]. We are now closer than we’ve ever been and, in many ways, our relationship is better when we are out in wild places. In honor of Valentine’s Day, we’ll take a look back at the early days and how our love for each other is intertwined with our love for wilderness.

First of all, we met because we were both drawn to northern Minnesota. I was in graduate school in Chicago, but managed to escape every summer to guide kayaking trips on Lake Superior out of Grand Marais, Minnesota. Dave had just acquired a piece of land, eight sled dogs and office space above a kayak shop in Grand Marais. He was running this awesome educational nonprofit called the Wilderness Classroom Organization (which he still does). At that point, he had already traveled solo across the Boundary Waters in the winter, canoed the length of the Mississippi River, paddled dugout canoes in Peru and dogsledded in northern Canada. Before I actually met him, I knew I had to meet this guy.

Wedding photo by Stephan Höglund

Fate stepped in, or rather the boss—John Amren. He asked Dave to guide the occasional kayak trip that summer and so we got to know each other. Even from the beginning, we were working together—and that is how it has been ever since, as we’ve guided kayak trips, canoe trips, dogsledding trips, and then crossed South America and North America under our own power.

Our first trip together was spent kayaking around Lake Superior in the fall of 2006. This came about from our time spent talking while paddling and sailing after work. Lake Superior is like an ocean—from Grand Marais, you can’t see across the lake. That horizon line where the water meets the sky was calling. Every day I paddled up and down familiar stretches of shoreline and I wanted to know what was around the next point. I wanted to get to know the lake and the best way to do that would be to kayak around the whole thing. I had zero expedition experience, my longest trip prior to that having been a week in the Boundary Waters, but Dave apparently liked me, and Lake Superior, enough to give it a try. I drew strength from his confidence and know-how. We took off from the pebbly beach in the east bay of Grand Marais on the last day of August and returned a few days before Halloween. Our friends had taken bets, determining that after the trip we would either be together for the long haul or we would immediately break up.

Fast forward through biking and paddling across South America, years of guiding canoe and kayak trips—we were still together. We returned to northern Minnesota to guide canoe and kayak trips in the summer and dogsledding trips in the winter. We both attribute our love of wild places to our early experiences in the Boundary Waters. And so we came to see the wilderness-edge communities of Grand Marais and Ely as our home base.

Wedding photo by Stephan Höglund

So when we finally decided to get married, we had a dogsledding wedding (The honeymoon suite? Not for this couple, Pioneer Press). Friends and family from the Twin Cities, Chicago, North Carolina, Kansas, Florida and Texas hiked, dogsledded, skied and skated out to our wedding reception on White Iron Lake (directly downstream from the proposed Twin Metals mine). It was the spring equinox of 2010 and the sun was out in full force. We stood under the towering red pines, the dog teams lined up out on the lake. Our dear friend and co-founder of the Wilderness Classroom, Eric Frost, married us and Paul Schurke shared the words of literary and wilderness conservation hero, Sigurd Olson. As the reception ended, all the dogs howled in unison and we hopped on a dogsled.

It was a day I’ll never forget—and it wasn’t just because I married my best friend and expedition teammate. It was because we successfully introduced a hundred of our relatives and closest friends to the north woods. That was the real motivation behind our dogsledding wedding. Memories of that day warm my heart because it was filled with love—love for each other and love of the wilderness.

This Valentine's Day, join us in sharing love for the Boundary Waters. Submit a comment to the Forest Service supporting the evironmental review of the watershed and share far and wide your love of this wild place.


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.

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From the Freemans: Speak Up for the Boundary Waters

Monday, February 6, 2017
Posted by
Dave Freeman

During our Year in the Wilderness, we often focused on the tranquil times, the silence, sunsets and countless beautiful moments that one encounters when they are immersed in Wilderness. Wilderness has many moods: blizzards that chill you to the bone, drenching rains that fill the canoe and leave you soggy, wondering if you will ever see the sun again. Then there are bugs, blisters and giant portage packs that send you wobbling down the portage trail. These uncontrollable factors are often the fuel for our most memorable and transformational Wilderness experiences.

At this moment a year ago we found ourselves engulfed in one of those challenges as we made our way from Gun Lake to Tin Can Mike Lake. Traveling into a steady headwind, constantly scrapping frozen slush from our skis and toboggans and setting up camp by headlamp. We were tired when we zipped up our sleeping bags around midnight, but it's the hard days that stay with us long after we leave the Wilderness. Overnight calm weather and near perfect travel conditions had turned into a blinding blizzard and some of the hardest traveling conditions we experienced all winter. When we woke up in the morning, I immediately noticed large, but subtle patches of discoloration spread across the lake’s snowy surface. These slightly darker patches made my stomach churn because I knew that water was seeping through cracks in the ice and forming giant pockets of slush under the fresh blanket of snow covering the lake.

As soon as a ski, toboggan, boot, or dog paw broke through the snow, the slush would freeze to it and halt our progress as we worked with numb fingers to bang, scrape and in the case of the sled dogs’ paws, gnaw at the ice. Looking back on that hard day, and many others like it, I understand that these challenges are at the heart of why we venture into the Wilderness. It’s the raw power of nature reminding us of our place in the world and challenging us to become more resilient as we begin to understand our true potential.

The challenges that Wilderness travel often afford are one of Wilderness's greatest (but often overlooked) assets, and are an important reason to protect Wilderness for future generations. I hope that the challenges that come with Wilderness travel will also give us the confidence and the resolve that we need when we encounter obstacles in our movement to permanently protect the Boundary Waters watershed from sulfide-ore copper mines. 

Last week, Representative Rick Nolan sent a letter to the Trump administration urging them to halt the two-year scientific review of the impacts sulfide-ore copper mining would have on the Boundary Waters watershed. This reckless action by our elected official is not only anti-Boundary Waters, but it goes against science and public input.

In Nolan’s public statements since he sent that letter, he has been trying to say that he is pro-science and would never support mining that would hurt the Boundary Waters—even though he has sided with foreign mining companies for years and is trying to undermine the current scientific process and public input period that our public land management agencies already determined to be the best path forward.  

Last Thursday, we joined about 100 people outside Rick Nolan’s office in Duluth to stand up to his reckless actions and his false pro-Boundary Waters assertions. Like us, many of the folks were from Ely, and their jobs and way of life are at risk. Copper mines like Twin Metals would destroy our way of life and the resulting industrial mining zone and pollution would damage our pristine lakes and rivers—and kill our jobs. 

When we encounter stiff headwinds in the Wilderness, we dig in and paddle harder. When we encounter hurdles that aim to roll back the tremendous progress that has been made over the last couple of years to protect the Boundary Waters, we must dig deep and take action. Few things worth fighting for are easy and I hope you will draw strength from your Wilderness experiences and use that to actively fight for the protection of this national treasure.

People have been asking us what else they can do after submitting a comment to the U.S. Forest Service. I think the best thing people can do at this moment is join our Wilderness Warriors group. It only takes a minute to sign up and each week the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters will send you easy, impactful actions you can take from wherever you are. Together we’ll make sure key leaders are hearing from us and that we stand up to attacks from anti-BWCA forces trying to undo recent progress and expedite sulfide-ore copper mining on the edge of the Boundary Waters. And don't forget to comment during the environmental review if you haven't already.


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.

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Rallying Together to Speak up for Science & Public Opinion

Friday, February 3, 2017
Posted by
Sam Chadwick

This week we faced our opposition head on when Congressman Rick Nolan urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture “to reverse the agency’s decision to withdraw more than 234,000 acres out of multiple-use purpose from the Superior National Forest." We did not take that news lightly and organized supporters like you in response.

His statement comes in response to the exciting news of earlier this year when the United States Forest Service officially announced a two-year pause on mining activities and initiated an environmental review of 234,328 acres of Superior National Forest in the Boundary Waters watershed. Read how this all fits into our short, medium and long term goals.

That Forest Service decision came about thanks to the more than 74,000 of you who petitioned for the denial of Twin Metals leases and asked for an environmental review of the entire watershed. Following the lease denial, the environmental review and comment period commenced in January and you can take action now to add a comment.

Rep. Nolan's action to halt this existing environmental review is anti-Boundary Waters, anti-science, and anti-citizen and benefits a Chilean mining company at the risk of permanent major damage to the Boundary Waters and at the expense of many home-grown businesses.

In response, this week we asked supporters like you to speak up, to call the congressman’s office (202-225-6211) and to show up in Duluth to speak up for the value of this environmental review and using science and public input to guide decisions about the future of the Boundary Waters. Thank you to all of you who have taken action at this critical time. If you want to know more about how you can help in moments like this or take action today, become a Wilderness Warrior.

Multiple media outlets covered our impromtu rally outside the Congressman’s office, including TV stations from Duluth like KBJR, WDIO and Fox 21 plus news outlets like MPR and the Duluth News Tribune

We’re grateful to Rep. Betty McCollum for backing up our efforts this week. The congresswoman stated, “Representative Nolan’s assault on this natural treasure is misguided. Minnesotans can count on me to stay the course and keep fighting everyday to protect our Boundary Waters from polluters, the Trump administration, and politicians who stand with it.” And for the continued support of Governor Dayton, who this week restated his support, saying, "protecting the waters of the BWCA is one of our generation's sacred responsibilities."

With so much back and forth between the representatives and Rep. Nolan’s own confusing defensive statements about protecting the Boundary Waters and supporting an environmental review, we wanted to take a minute to explain some more details about the process as it stands, Representative Nolan’s stance and why it’s important to speak up to keep this environmental review moving forward.

  1. Rep. Nolan is seeking to stop the most important environmental review - one that looks at the  Boundary Waters and the impact on the Wilderness if sulfide-ore copper mining were allowed in the watershed. This is the environmental review that is now underway, initiated by the U.S. Forest Service based on strong scientific evidence that sulfide-ore copper mining nearby will harm the Wilderness.
  2. Rep. Nolan claims that he is pro-environmental review. What he is not being clear about is that he only supports environmental review after a mining company asks for a permit. Only after the Forest Service has been forced - by raw political threats - to grant a mineral lease.
  3. Rep. Nolan wants to short-circuit the right process now underway. He would allow international copper mining companies to define environmental review the way they want. The mine-by-mine environmental review process that Rep. Nolan favors puts the cart before the horse, and is a recipe for permanent and irreversible contamination of the BWCAW.
  4. If Rep. Nolan gets what he wants then international mining companies will once again be able to apply for new mineral leases in the watershed, and they will re-start their plans to mine sulfide-ore copper... upstream from Minnesota's cleanest water and America's most-visited wilderness area. Minnesota’s Governor and the Forest Service have temporarily halted consideration of sulfide-ore copper mining in the watershed because of overwhelming scientific evidence of harm.

Join us in telling Rep. Nolan (202-225-6211) you oppose his attempt to shut down the established environmental review process, and shut Minnesotans and Americans out of the process.

Our Rally In the News:
KDAL: Interview with Becky Rom and Steve Piragis (February 2, 2017)
Fox 21: Protesters Oppose Mining in National Forest (February 2, 2017)
Duluth News Tribune: Boundary Waters supporters rally against U.S. Rep. Nolan (February 2, 2017)
WDIO: Nolan Outreach to Trump Administration on Mining Draws Fire, Protest Held in Duluth (February 2, 2017)
MPR: Debate over copper mining near Boundary Waters heats up again (February 2, 2017)
KBJR: Anti-copper-nickel mining protest targets Congressman Nolan (February 2, 2017)

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