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From The Freemans: Life In Front Of The Lens

Tuesday, July 5, 2016
Posted by
Amy Freeman

"One more time!" said a familiar voice from the clifftop. Dave and I found ourselves repeatedly hurtling off a small cliff into the deep, cool water of Cherokee Lake. On such a hot, sunny June day we probably would have been doing this activity anyway, but this time it was for the camera. Matt Van Biene was stationed on top, running behind us right up to the brink with his camera, while Nate Ptacek floated in a canoe below. A moment of exhilaration passed as we propelled ourselves out from the cliff face and we hit the water with a splash.

Once we shot up to the water surface and reoriented ourselves, we waited to hear the all too familiar phrase from Nate or Matt (or both): "That was great! Let's do it one more time." Someone would reposition as Dave and I clambered back up to the top. Then our three-second countdown and we launched ourselves into the air yet again. Once Nate and Matt were satisfied that all the angles of the jump had been covered, Dave and I would have kept jumping were it not for a looming blanket of gray clouds heading our way. Back in the canoes, we made our way back to our campsite on Long Island Lake.

Nate and Matt are the filmmakers we're working with throughout A Year in the Wilderness. Dave has been filming, too. Duct Tape Then Beer is going to produce a short film about our expedition, which is made possible by a grant from Patagonia. Our hope is that this film will amplify the impact of A Year in the Wilderness. In case anyone is wondering: yes, you do need a film permit from the Forest Service to film in Wilderness Areas and we have one.

This was Nate and Matt's third and final trip for this expedition. They had paddled with us in the fall and then plodded along on skis in the slush and below zero temperatures in the winter. What a contrast to be out here now in the warm sunshine, with all the deciduous trees fully leafed out and wildflowers blooming in the woods. Their fall shoot had been gray and stormy for the most part. The week they spent with us in February was actually the coldest week of the winter. When we were preparing for them to come this time around, we were all braced for rain and intense bugs. You can imagine our sense of relief on this glorious June day. The weather made all of our jobs just a bit easier.

I continue to be amazed by the way Nate and Matt work. Not only do they need to get all the shots on their shot list and hope the weather cooperates, but they have to paddle a canoe and portage along with us. It's remarkable to think about how video equipment has changed in the past 10 years. Sure, multiple camera bodies and lenses added weight to their packs, but Nate and Matt were by no means encumbered by their gear. Passing them on a portage or on the water, no one would know that their portage packs contained all the equipment needed for capturing astoundingly high quality and high-resolution footage.

We've learned a lot from these guys and I hope it shows in our footage that ends up in the finished product. Getting behind the lens has helped us see the Boundary Waters Wilderness in a whole new way. We've looked closely at intricate details of frost on tree branches and leaves floating on the water. We're continually seeking out new vantage points for various scenes. We're also enamored with the quality of light at sunrise and sunset.

Nate and Matt joined us for two sunrise paddles to capture the ethereal moment as a morning fog burned off and the sun rose higher in the sky. Since the summer solstice occurred while they were out here with us, we had several super early mornings. While camped on Snipe Lake, our alarms beeped at 4:45 a.m. Matt poked his head out of the tent to assess the conditions. He determined it was a go, so we all groggily emerged from our tents and launched our canoes. Although Tank is an early riser, this was still a couple hours before he would normally commence his daily patrol of the campsite. We called him and he sleepily blinked at us. By about the third call Tank knew we meant business, so he trotted down to the water's edge and assumed his position in the canoe.

There was indeed fog. There was a narrow passageway between two islands that we poised ourselves near, ready to pass through when the light was just right. Dave was anxious, declaring that the light was already amazing. Then it got better. Rays of sunlight streamed through the channel and Matt gave the signal to paddle. We silently glided across the water's glassy surface and marveled at how the light made the moss-covered rocks glow. This was well worth the early wake-up call. In fact, I've never seen Nate and Matt so excited before. A loon popped up on the surface of the water and the full moon still hadn't set behind us. What more could one ask for?

Moments like these will be forever etched in our memories. Moments like these make enduring the portages and the rain and the bugs all worth it. Moments like these are why so many people fall in love with the Boundary Waters Wilderness. Sigurd Olson called it the "Singing Wilderness" and this particular morning was the epitome of that concept. The Wilderness was indeed singing a sweet song and all of us floating in our two canoes felt honored to have the opportunity to hear it. And this is why we are compelled to stand up for the Wilderness. If you have heard its song too-- or if you haven't yet, but want to hear it someday-- please speak up in its defense. Your voice is needed now more than ever. Please sign the petition to deny the Twin Metals leases. You have until July 20 to do so. If you are able, please go to Duluth on July 13 to speak up for the Boundary Waters. If you need a little dose of Wilderness right now, check out the Paddle to DC video made by Nate and the Bear Witness trailer made by Duct Tape Then Beer:

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. They are now spending a year in the Boundary Waters on A Year in the Wilderness. Follow their journey on social media (#WildernessYear) and by tracking the trip on their map. More A Year in the Wilderness blog posts.


Resupply Report: Water, Woods & Wonder

Thursday, June 30, 2016
Posted by
Greg Braun

Our early June visit to Dave and Amy Freeman's Year in the Wilderness on Horseshoe Lake was one of the clearest reminders to our group of why the watershed in the Boundary Waters is such a unique and valuable supporter and sustainer of life. Clean water anywhere makes sense, and especially here!

We were taught the ways of the dragonfly nymph and how it spends so much of its life in water. We saw the mink along the shoreline and witnessed how this habitat is really its home. The water bugs were busy and the black flies were hatching while the nighthawks were attracted to their feast. We heard of the mom and baby moose around the way that came to the water to eat the aquatic plants. 

How is all this life to be supported in this place without clean water?

Our group of four came in with several goals in mind - accomplish the resupply; introduce two younger people (my daughter and nephew) to their first overnight Boundary Waters trip; and, for my cousin and I (prior Boundary waters tripmates), to “remember what silence sounds like."

We accomplished the main objective of getting the resupply pack to Dave and Amy on the first night safely (along with a burger and fries for each from Trail Center)! From there we witnessed the many sights and sounds of the dragonfly, mink, water bugs, black flies, birds, beavers, geese and many other forms of life that reminded us of the life the clean water, woods, and air supports.

We are always reminded at least once per trip that we are visitors here and it is their home. That moment occurred after our few nights with Dave and Amy when we had moved on to Caribou Lake for our last night and returned to our campsite from our day trip to Meeds Lake chased back by a bit of rain. The night was active with an on and off shower - we kept a fire going through it all with logs on top of the fire grate. Then, all in a matter of minutes it seemed after the shower came and went and chased us in and back out of our tent ... the double rainbow from end to end, the excited beaver passing along the shore, the large groups of Canadian Geese flying overhead, and back to the hope and awe of the fading rainbow.
This flurry of activity reminded us of the watershed, the new rain, and what the clean water supports -- It matters greatly. We know that each moment that we get to experience here is something to treasure and also know they are fleeting. We wondered if Dave and Amy had seen the rainbow at their new campsite. So many experiences in this amazing wilderness are frozen in a short moment or two at the right place and right time - you don’t ever see or experience it all and what you missed someone else may have experienced around the way, but you are always reminded clearly that this is home to so many forms of life.

The grassroots effort going on to forever protect this life supporting and sustaining watershed matters to keep this place a home to so many and help us keep our lives in proper perspective. Thanks to everyone who is making a difference to this end!

As we ended our trip, my daughter knew she would come again, my nephew crossed this item off his bucket list, and my cousin and I for sure “remembered what silence sounds like, "but most importantly we dipped our paddles in that water, and we saw the universal sign of hope that it will remain the clear, untarnished life-sustaining watershed it needs to be forever.

Greg Braun lives in Mason City, Iowa, with his wife and four daughters. He loves visiting the Boundary Waters with his family and believes in the power of the Wilderness to reduce stress and increase perspective. Greg is the CFO of Opportunity Village -- a private, non-profit disability services provider located in Clear Lake, Iowa. He became interested in conservation as an adult and has taken trips to the Boundary Waters for nearly ten years. Previously, Greg served on the board of Lime Creek Nature Center Foundation and has a strong interest in the life and work of Sigurd Olson.


Book Excerpt: Shelter

Monday, June 27, 2016
Posted by
Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters

We are pleased to share an excerpt from Shelter, a memoir by Sarah Stonich that will soon be reissued in paperback by the University of Minnesota Press. Sarah Stonich is an American writer and editor based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She is the author of Vacationland, The Ice Chorus and These Granite Islands. Under the pen name Ava Finch, she is writing Reeling, the sequel to Fishing With RayAnne. Meanwhile, Sarah is also working on Laurentian Divide, the sequel to Vacationland.

Coffee Moment

Sometimes the draw feels like the tug of a compass needle, an unseen force. Maybe the north is imprinted on me genetically, or perhaps it's been one of the few constants in life. Friends, lovers, relatives weave in and out, come and go, die.  Marriages fail, life tumbles, my son grows up, leave homes, leaves the country. Interests wane, directions shift. One thing doesn’t change, it just hunkers a couple hundred miles away, whether life is being gently rocked or swamped, the lakes are there.  

In and out of thrall with the north most of my life, I know when it began, can think of one moment - too young to be able to describe with words, being only seven or eight. I was barefoot and tripping from the cabin to the shore. Mist still skirted the surface of the lake and I registered that the mist made a corresponding line to the dew dragging the hem of my nightie. The wet grass felt oddly distinct under underfoot and I imagined each blade of it, the textures of shiny side/dull side. I could smell it, and knew what it would taste like – I was all in chlorophylly tune with the grass, imagining the woof and warp of roots even as my own toes were digging in.  Some other eye in my brain opened to map how the roots dipped into the soil for nourishment, weaving turf below while blades above pulled light from the sun to make itself grow, to make itself be, to make itself grass.

In this oddly comforting moment came the realization that I could feel safe outside the tight spaces of childhood – which could be frightening. The natural world at last made sense – it was all utterly connected, one thing essential to the other – the trees needed the water needed the air needed the wind needed the sun, and the clouds needed all and vice versa and so on.  All somehow pitched in with time to make now, and I knew I was most alive at that moment, and that one either is, or isn’t. The piece of driftwood knocking itself in the surf wasn’t. The living tree next to me was. I was.

For a long time I connected that moment as specific to the north, though I know now it can happen anywhere, because it has: on a rainy street of yellow taxis reflecting their drunken twins over wet pavement; during a frost while walking furrows in a southern field; staring out an airplane at the glow of a city a mile below. It happens only when the mind is so empty it drops its tether to consciousness, when clarity springs up to bite the present on its arse.  

Places look better from far away.  Except they aren’t, and I’m not the only person drawn by the perceived romance of this place, taken in by it, thrilled by it, disillusioned by it, or even spat out by it. It’s tough here. One arrives having dreamt of the trip, planned, and anticipated.  Subscribed to Outside, read the Sigurd Olson books, mooned over the Brandenberg photographs, shopped REI or Patagonia for clothing made of engineered feather-light fabrics that if sold by weight would cost $700 a kilo. Canoes are translucent Kevlar. The trip will be soul-crackingly beautiful.

Start the day wriggling from the cocoon of a sleeping bag that is separated from the hardest stone on earth by a half-inch pad. First order of the day is beating ones limbs to get blood circulating. The sudden exposure to cold air prompts the next immediacy – to pee. Puppet-leg it into the boreal dim to the camp pit toilet and bare your nether bits in the same brush where carnivorous mammals are eager for their own breakfasts, where deer ticks are cocked and aimed.

That accomplished, a fire is built and vacuum-packed shards of food are reconstituted with water that hopefully has had the Giardia boiled out of it. Coffee is so essential one may have scrimped on a few other essentials like extra socks and batteries in favor of the 2.5 pound Tomiko K2 espresso kit. Perched on a picturesque rock in morning light, one might enjoy an espresso better than any from the cafes of Montmartre. It hardly matters that the creamer is powdered, the cup is lip-scorching aluminum; you very well might, in the lull before the insects du jour converge, experience a true coffee moment. A fellow camper might capture such a moment in a photograph of the sort seen on glossy ads for the aforementioned espresso maker. Such satisfying moments invariably lead to other, less romantic post-coffee moments that involve trekking back to the latrine with scant squares of toilet paper, muttering a prayer for brevity.

After calamine lotion is applied and ticks tweezed and DEET sprayed, every item in camp is tediously re-packed and loaded into canoes, and the adventure begins. The paddle in yet-unblistered hands feels light. You set off under either a soft sun with calm waters, or under a punishing sun, or eerie fog, or rain, or a wind that either blasts, gusts or blows. Snow in May is not uncommon. This is real paddling – and will be the reason that by end of day your shoulders and forearms howl. The first day may be easy, with a single portage. When strapping on the pack over sunburnt shoulders there might be some regret over the espresso maker and its carrying case – surely the 1.5 pound model would have sufficed.

Portages are serenaded by buzzing, slaps, grunts, obscenities and sighs, trudging alongside in fellowship with someone who would paddle-throttle you if they suspected you were hoarding a Mars Bar. By nightfall, should it ever come, you’re thrilled to eat a half-cooked, unidentifiable meal charred over butane. Pitch sideways onto a ledge of Canadian Shield, too tired to wish for an Oxycontin. After five or six such days emerge with stories to tell using childbirth analogies, the only other experience to rival such exquisite misery. Memories warp in the backward lens of time and one forgets, and goes on to birth more babies or make return visits to canoe country during the heat of July or the snows of June. If an episiotomy requiring 26 stitches can be forgotten, so too might a 260 rod portage in a downpour. Highlights and details of the trip grow more florid with each telling. The length of portages exaggerated; a fondly recalled sunset glows every bit as fiery and colorful as the pass of an obstetric scalpel.

Amnesia aside, when packing for the next trip, practicality might prevail and the espresso kit left behind, knowing full well that next time, freeze-dried Folgers or a steaming cup of spit would suffice if it contained caffeine.

Sarah Stonich was born in northern Minnesota, northwest of Duluth. She moved to the Twin Cities in 1986, where she has worked in the literary community as a columnist, editor and freelance writer. Her essays and short fiction have been published in Zyzzyva, Columbia Journal and Minnesota Monthly. Stonich has been an instructor and lecturer at writing conferences and workshops at The Loft, San Miguel Allende Literary Conference and the Aspen Writers Institute. She is also an editor at WordStalkers.




Put a Loon On It

Tuesday, June 21, 2016
Posted by
Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters

We're excited to again partner with Duluth Screen Printing and designer Geoffrey Holstad to offer fun loon design merchandise. The navy loon shirts are back, plus this time we have natural color shirts and a navy hat. A portion of the proceeds benefit Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, the leader of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. Available for a limited time. Get yours or find the right gift for the Boundary Waters lover in your life today!

Make your purchase today and support our efforts to protect the Boundary Waters from risky sulfide-ore copper mining. If you are looking for what to wear to the U.S. Forest Service Listening Session in Duluth, this may be it!

Duluth screen printing Boundary Waters loon merchandise







BWCA Dads: Bill Rom

Friday, June 17, 2016
Posted by
Becky Rom

Bill Rom founded Canoe Country Outfitters in Ely, Minnesota, in 1946 and served as an outfitter for Quetico Provincial Park, the Superior National Forest and what we know now as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. At the time, it was often called the largest canoe outfitter in the world. A 1976 New York Times article crowned Bill Rom the “canoe king,” and his fleet of 600 rental canoes served generations of visitors.

Growing up in and around Canoe Country Outfitters, his daughter Becky became an explorer and defender of the wilderness in her own right. And it led her to her current role as our national campaign chair. When asked why she fights tirelessly for this quiet and beautiful place, Becky said this to the Great Old Broads for Wilderness: “I have a good support network. And, I do this for me, my dad, and Sig Olson—I feel an obligation to carry on their work.” Click here to learn more about Becky.

We're sharing this and other BWCA Dad stories on Instagram and Twitter. Share your story and tag your photo with #BWCADad and @savethebwca.

"My dad treated me just as he did my brothers; I belonged in the woods and on a canoe trip just as much as the boys. I didn’t appreciate this at the time, but I do now. I attribute my love of the canoe country to my dad, as well as my determination to keep it forever wild. Here's a glimpse at my father through the years." - Becky Rom

Bill Rom- The Early Days of Canoe Country Outfitters (1940's)

Bill & Becky Rom - Route Planning (1965)

Becky Rom - Canoe Country Outfitters (1965)

Becky & Larry Rom - Crab Lake, BWCA (1956)

Bill Rom - Fishing at Camp St. Home (undated)

Bill Rom - U.S. Forest Service Fire Watchtower, Kekekabic Lake, BWCA (1938)

Bill Rom - BWCA Bush Pilot (Undated)

Bill & Becky Rom - BWCA Ice Fishing (Late 1960's)


From the Freemans: A Day In the Life

Friday, June 17, 2016
Posted by
Dave Freeman

I think people often wonder what we do out here in the Wilderness. This blog post walks you through a typical day during A Year in the Wilderness. Our days are varied and there is always plenty to do. What's the weather like? Is it just Amy and me, or do we have visitors? Are we headed out on a long day trip, packing up camp and moving to a new lake, or spending the day close to home? Well, today we are staying close to our campsite.

By 5:30 a.m. the chickadees and white-throated sparrows are singing and the sun is beginning to light up the land. This is when I typically wake up. If an idea pops into my head, or I have something pressing I need to finish writing, I quietly get up, trying to let Amy sleep. If there is nothing urgent to dom I often lay in bed listening to the birds and the wind until Amy's watch alarm beeps at 6:30 a.m.

Once I am up and dressed, I grab my Helinox chair and iPad and leave the tent. Down by the water's edge I fill our pot and set up our BioLite stove. I grab the tiny, dry kindling I set aside the night before and build a small fire in the BioLite. While waiting for the water to boil, I take some photos and video if the light is good, or answer emails, edit photos, or work on a piece we will share on social media. I take a break every few minutes to place a few more tiny pieces of wood into the stove. I enjoy this quiet time when I am alone in the morning. It is a good time for me to jot down ideas and elaborate on things that floated through my head as I lay awake listening to nature. Once the water is boiled, I make a cup of coffee for myself. Once I hear Amy rustling in the tent, I brew a cup for her. While sipping my coffee, I add a cup of grits and several cups of hot water to our Fry-Bake, and put it on the stove to simmer for 15 minutes. I watch a pair of loons feeding off our campsite as I sip my Stone Creek Coffee and tend to the grits. Butter and cheese finish off the grits and Amy emerges from the tent to enjoy coffee and grits with me.

After breakfast, Amy cleans our bowls and the Fry-Bake while I set up the solar panels and the satellite terminal. Amy finishes the dishes as I finish sending and receiving email and packing up the satellite terminal. We sit by the lake and make a list of the things we hope to accomplish today. We have had a lot of visitors lately so there are a few things we need to catch up on.

Amy finds a nice spot in the sun and spends most of the morning catching up on her journal. It is supposed to be sunny and our batteries are nearly all charged, so I turn on our laptop and spend an hour backing up photo and video files on our external hard drives and importing them into our media catalogue. Afterwards I work on blog post for National Geographic Adventure and finish up our daily social media post. After Amy finishes writing in her journal she edits and proofreads everything I have written.

By now it is lunchtime, so we take a break to cook some Patagonia Provisions Tsampa Soup and quesadillas. We munch of GORP and Clif Bars while the food cooks. After lunch, Amy uses the Scrubba, which is like a combination drybag/washboard to wash some of her clothes. She squeezes a few drops of biodegradable soap into the Scrubba and places a T-shirt, two pairs of underwear, and a pair of socks into the bag. Then she pours several liters of lake water into the bag, seals it, and kneads it like bread dough for about five minutes. She then walks at least 150-feet back into the woods to dump the dirty water. She repeats this process two more times without adding soap to finish cleaning and rinsing her laundry before hanging everything out to dry.

While she is doing laundry, I set up the satellite terminal and email the blog post and social media content so that it can be published on the web. After Amy is done I take a turn doing a small load of laundry, which will dry in the afternoon sun that is baking our campsite.

We haven't done any water testing on Snipe Lake yet, so in the afternoon we launch our canoe and paddle to the deepest part of the lake. Snipe Lake is over 60-feet deep so it takes us over half an hour to take measurements at 1-meter increments from the surface to the bottom. Amy lowers the probe and records all of the data while I mark our location with our DeLorme InReach and work to keep the canoe from drifting off our mark. We are measuring dissolved oxygen, temperature, conductivity and turbidity. When the lake is perfectly calm, it is easy to hold our position. Unfortunately, today a stiff wind is blowing so staying in place requires constant adjustments. On lakes less than 40 feet deep we can use an anchor bag with a rock in it to hold us in place, which makes collecting data much easier.

After we finish take measurements, we spend a few minutes paddling around the lake and pull over along shore to gather some firewood. Our BioLite stove only requires a few handfuls of wood per meal, but we prefer to gather our firewood well away from campsites. When we find an easy place to land we just walk back into the woods until we are out of sight from the shoreline and gather the firewood we need.

After we return to camp, Amy inventories our food and supplies while I answer a few emails. After she has a list of the food we have, we compile a list of the food and supplies that we will need brought in by a group of volunteers in about a week. It's about 5 the time our list is complete so we take a break before making dinner. Amy reads while I take a few photos and a few casts. Instead of snagging a bass, I snag a log, so I place my rod down, launch the canoe, and paddle out to unsnag my lure.

Around 6:30 p.m. we light a fire in our BioLite stove and boil water for dinner. After the water boils, I fill Amy's coffee cup with hot water, which will be used for washing dishes. Then Amy adds lentils and wild rice to the pot and lets it simmer for 10 minutes. Then she adds a handful of dehydrated veggies and lets our dinner simmer for another 20 or 30 minutes.

It's still light at 8 p.m. when we finish dinner. We enjoy the cooler evening air, sitting by the lake. The sun casts a golden glow over our camp so I take a few photos while Amy washes our dishes. A gentle breeze blows across the rocky point where we are camped, keeping the bugs at bay. We sit on the end of the point relaxing and talking about the day before retiring to our tent.

My eyes are closed before it is dark enough to need a headlamp on a June evening in the Boundary Waters. Amy will stay up for another hour reading before switching off her headlamp and calling it a day.

Tank has spent the day napping, moving from shady spot to shady spot as the sun slid across the sky. He became active when the rustling of bags signaled meal time, but mostly he was content to sleep in the shade. Since it is a clear night he is curled up under a tree not far from our tent. If it was raining he would be curled up next to us in the tent, but he seems to prefer to be outside on clear nights.

So that's a pretty typical "rest day" during A Year in the Wilderness. Not much traveling, but still plenty to do and see. Probably a little different than the average Wilderness visitor's day, but a typical day for us during A Year in the Wilderness. We are out here bearing witness to this very special place and working to protect it from Twin Metals and other proposed sulfide-ore copper mines that threaten this maze of Wilderness lakes and rivers. Please join us in our efforts to protect the Boundary Waters.

We are so excited about the announcement the U.S. Forest Service made on Monday. The U.S. Forest Service is "considering withholding consent for lease renewal" of Twin Metals leases. This would be a huge step forward in our efforts to permanently protect the watershed of this beloved canoe country.

Please urge the Forest Service to deny those leases! Speak up today! Share this with your friends, family, and neighbors and urge them to take action as well.

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. They are now spending a year in the Boundary Waters on A Year in the Wilderness. Follow their journey on social media (#WildernessYear) and by tracking the trip on their map. More A Year in the Wilderness blog posts.


Breaking BWCA News from the U.S. Forest Service

Tuesday, June 14, 2016
Posted by
Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters

The U.S. Forest Service announced on June 13 that it is "considering withholding consent for lease renewal" of Twin Metals' request to renew two 50-year-old, expired federal mineral leases on the edge of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. The Forest Service said a final decision will be made after a public input period.

“The Boundary Waters Wilderness is a one-of-a-kind natural wonder and key driver of the economy of Northern Minnesota,” said Becky Rom, National Chair for the Campaign to Save the Boundary the Waters. “In recognizing the incredible value of the Wilderness and the dangers posed by sulfide-ore copper mining, the Forest Service’s announcement is an important acknowledgement about the need to protect the Boundary Waters.” Read our full press release.

If the Forest Service denies renewal of these expired mineral leases held by Twin Metals (owned by Chilean mining giant Antofogasta), it would be a huge step forward in our efforts to permanently protect this beloved canoe country from risky sulfide-ore copper mining. These two expired mineral leases are located right next to the Wilderness, along waterways that flow into the Boundary Waters. They expired more than two years ago on December 31, 2013, and the federal government has the legal right to grant or withhold consent to renew them.

In the Forest Service announcement, they said, "A final determination on consent has not been made. However, the Forest Service is deeply concerned by the location of the leases within the same watershed as the BWCAW, and by the inherent risks associated with potential copper, nickel and other sulfide mining operations within that watershed. Those risks exist during all phases of mine development, implementation and long-term closure and remediation. Potential impacts to water resources include changes in water quantity and quality, contamination from acid mine drainage, and seepage of tailings water, tailings basin failures and waste rock treatment locations. Based on these concerns, the Forest Service is considering withholding consent for lease renewal."

Your incredible support and hard work across the country has brought us to this critical moment. Take action today to make sure we win permanent protection for this beloved, one-of-a-kind Wilderness. And stay tuned for details about the listening session hosted by the Forest Service to be held at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center on July 13.



Science Desk: Waves of Warblers Flood the Northwoods

Friday, June 3, 2016
Posted by
Ellen Hawkins

Recently, we shared a Science Desk blog about landscape ecology, which considers broad patterns of ecological relationships and processes that can never be corralled by boundaries on a map. Its principles support the eagle-eyed perspective we need to protect the Boundary Waters. Water flowing into the Boundary Waters has a huge influence on wilderness water quality and everything that depends on it, so we think in terms of entire watersheds when we consider proposals to undertake sulfide-ore copper mining here.

Thanks to science reports we've commissioned and reports in the media, we know a lot about the flow of ground and surface waters within the Rainy River watershed. We can clearly see how contaminants could be transported from mining locations into the wilderness and beyond by Spruce and Stoney Creeks and associated flowages, the Kawishiwi and Rainy Rivers, and points west and north.

What happens within our airsheds also demands the broad perspectives of landscape ecologists and wilderness advocates. Vast rivers of birds flow across oceans and continents, following flyways that connect wintering grounds with distant breeding habitat – which for many is the Boundary Waters and surrounding wildlands. The air currents that carry these great migrations would be polluted by sulfide-ore copper mining as surely as the rivers beneath.

Sometimes we get an inkling of that airy river when we hear the soft twittering of birds flying in starlight all through the night. Radar that can track migrating birds and reveal the magnitude of the great migrations has helped create the concept of flyways as rivers. That metaphor was embedded in my mind by an encounter with warblers on a cool and misty day in mid May several years ago.

I was planting trees on a campsite on Alton Lake. Across the lake, the treetops, just beginning to leaf out, were vibrant green pillows scattered across the pale landscape. A few yellow-rumped warblers preyed on a hatch of soft little flies.

By late morning the just-hatched insects covered every rock, tree, and shrub near the lake, and suddenly I realized there were warblers everywhere. Along the shore from the south came dozens, then hundreds, all on the prowl, plucking flies from every surface.  There were gorgeous redstarts, strikingly handsome black-throated greens, bay-breasteds resplendent with velvety brown heads and rich chestnut throats. Rusty-cheeked Cape Mays searched a young fir beside me while palms worked the ground practically at my feet.  By noon I’d seen more than half of the 24 species of wood warbler that nest in the BWCAW, and they were there by the thousands.

They piled up against the shore where a bay blocked their flow, until the point was alive with beautiful warblers from forest floor to canopy. Then they surged out across the bay and flew northward, pushed on by warblers pouring in from the south.

I later found that friends at Tettagouche State Park and in Grand Marais, and my husband on Knife Lake were witness that day to the same spectacle, so the crest of this wave of warblers must have been at least 40 miles wide.

Bud Heinselman, in his classic book The Boundary Waters Ecosystem, reports astonishing numbers of warblers in the Boundary Waters and surrounding wildlands. His estimates, based on studies done in the 1970s–80s, range from 1,300–2,200 pairs per square mile - which adds up to some 5 million adults and young wilderness-hatched warblers at the start of the fall migration.

Every one of these warblers preys on insects. One pair can pick off all the caterpillars from a million leaves in the 10 days it takes them to fledge their young. Even though each warbler is tiny (most weigh well under an ounce) together they provide invaluable free (and pesticide-free) insect control services throughout their nesting habitat and on down the flyway. We know about many of the hugely beneficial ways warblers interact with their environment.  For example, Tennessee, Cape May, bay-breasted, and blackburnian warblers play a big role in regulating frequency and severity of spruce budworm epidemics. Many others, no doubt, are yet to be discovered.

Chel Anderson and Heidi Fischer discuss the bird-forest relationship that is so crucial to forest health in their book North Shore: A Natural History of Minnesota’s Superior Coast.  Summed up, our forests must have birds, including the all-important warblers, to maintain health and vigor; and for warblers, forests with a diversity of communities of different species and of various ages, including especially mature coniferous forests in unbroken tracts, are absolutely essential. When this relationship fails, results are dire.

These wonderful warblers are in danger from Twin Metals and the other proposed mines. An obvious peril would be the displacement of thousands of birds by the mining operations’ footprints. Nesting habitat lost to new roads, buildings, parking lots, and waste disposal sites could not be replaced, and each year would mean the loss of what should have been that generation’s offspring. 

The operations’ footprints would be irregularly shaped, meaning that new forest fragmentation would be maximized. A study of global changes in forest cover from 2000 to 2012 reveals that we’re losing forest interior three times as fast as loss of overall forest.  While there was a net loss of forest cover about 2 ½ times the size of Texas during that period, it’s the fragmentation that’s the bigger worry. The authors conclude, “Forest area loss alone from 2000 to 2012 underestimates ecological risks from forest fragmentation. In addition to the direct loss of forest, there was a widespread shift of the remaining global forest to a more fragmented condition.” This is bad because some organisms, including some songbirds, must have large stretches of unbroken forest. 

Also, interior (unfragmented) forest can better withstand impacts from things like invasive species and various kinds of pollution. At the edges of forests, and in small fragments of forest – exactly what the mining operation has produced, with its hundreds of test drill sites with access roads widely scattered throughout the forest, and which would continue to be produced should operations proceed - things like variation in soil moisture, nighttime lights and noise, and traffic have a much bigger impact.

Along the edges of the mining operations, 24/7 noise and light pollution would be more than a nuisance to wildlife of many kinds. For example, even seemingly innocuous lights like porch lights and street lamps have been shown to have negative impacts on migrating and nesting songbirds. The dead zone as far as successful nesting for warblers might extend far beyond the actual footprint of mining operations.

The air the birds travel and breath would be contaminated with dust which could carry, to name some of the toxic ingredients, mercury, sulfur, copper, nickel, cobalt, arsenic, lead, and cadmium, as well as asbestos-like fibers and non-toxic, but still unhealthy, particulates. This scary mix wouldn’t just hover above the mine sites. It would become part of the currents of air that stream up toward Ely some days and out across the wilderness and on to the North Shore on others, to be breathed into lungs, scattered across leaves, lakes, soil, caterpillars, canoeists, warbler nests, and your garden and mine. 

The University of Minnesota’s Center for Forest Ecology Director Lee Frelich discusses potential impacts likely to affect the Boundary Waters in his report Forest and Terrestrial Impacts of Mining. According to Dr. Frelich, windblown metallic dust can remain a problem for several decades after mining ceases on copper-nickel mine tailings. Once in the soil, the heavy metals can be taken up by plants and can be further distributed by forest fires. It can contribute to acidification that may lead to mineral deficiencies and slow plant growth. Essential mycorrhizal relationships may be disrupted.  Cumulatively, the overall resiliency of the forest may be diminished.

Two kinds of rivers, aerial and aquatic, intersected this morning in the form of a yellow- rumped warbler bugging above the Temperance River, not far from where it flows out of the Boundary Waters.  He flew in on last night’s front, and now he’s hunting from the top of a young cedar. From his perspective and ours each insect is backlit by golden sunlight. He eyes his prey, darts out and does some fancy maneuvering, makes the catch and flits back to his perch. He throws back his head and sings.

This bird has traveled to habitat that’s uniquely perfect for his springtime needs.  No other place in his entire range has habitat this intact, air and water this free of pollution, insects this abundant. I really wish I could tell him that his kind will always be able to come here and find clean air to fly through and clean water to hunt over.

We’re still in the early days of spring with not much happening in the woods, color-wise, so the bright yellow splashes on his rump and sides are eye-catching in a way you could say are out of proportion to their tiny size.

You might say, too, that our delight in watching one little bird is a little over the top, but I don’t think so – it feels just right, in this beautiful place, to pause and admire a perfect little predator just returned to the northwoods after an epic journey. 

Ellen Hawkins lives near the edge of the Boundary Waters, off the Sawbill Trail. Retired from the Forest Service, she finds that surprise encounters with wildlife of all kinds are still among her most delightful experiences, just as they were during her years as a Wilderness ranger.


Anderson, Chel; Fischer, Adelheid.  2015. North Shore: A Natural History of Minnesota’s Superior Coast. The University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Frelich, Lee. 2014.  Forest and terrestrial ecosystem impacts of mining. 

Heinselman, Miron. 1996. The Boundary Waters Wilderness Ecosystem.  The University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Riitters, Kurt; Wickham, James; Costanza, Jennifer K.; Vogt, Peter. 2015. A global evaluation of forest interior area dynamics using tree cover data from 2000 to 2012.



From the Freemans: Metamorphosis

Thursday, June 2, 2016
Posted by
Amy Freeman

While camped on Horseshoe Lake, we prepared to accompany our latest resupply crew to the portage to Gaskin Lake and noticed several dark shapes attached to our canoe. At first glance, it was obvious that they were dragonflies. Someone asked what they were eating and it was apparent that the insects had latched onto something. Upon closer inspection, we realized that they had recently undergone metamorphosis. They emerged from their nymph exoskeletons and were hanging off of our canoes, drying out and stretching their wings.

Suddenly, everyone was engrossed– taking pictures and delicately transplanting these bizarre creatures in their vulnerable state from the sides of the canoe to nearby rocks and vegetation. While Michelle, J.B., Jessica, Tim, Katie, Denny, Dave and I are adults, we were all acting like kids as we marveled at one of nature's many little miracles. The only kid in the bunch, ten month old Jasper– our youngest overnight visitor, was also transfixed.

Over the next few days we watched this process unfold multiple times, from the moment when the dragonfly first pops its head out of its old body, to the moment when it takes flight for the first time. Every summer I rejoice when I spot the first dragonflies flying around, because I know that they will eat some of those pesky black flies that leave such a vicious, itchy bite. The past 48 hours have given me new respect for dragonflies. According to this article in Smithsonian Magazine: "A single dragonfly can eat 30 to hundreds of mosquitoes per day."

A dragonfly spends most of its life in nymph form, creeping along on the lake bottom. Many species of dragonfly spend several years living as nymphs. We have been lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to see these primordial looking creatures emerge from the water, crawl across the forest floor and then in an upward direction. "They look like little monsters," was one observation. These dragonfly nymphs are large– and they would play the part of scary alien invaders in a sci-fi movie well if they were closer to us in size.

We've found that they settle in a spot with a slight overhang, firmly latched on, so that their new bodies can take advantage of gravity. This is why the side of our overturned Wenonah Itasca canoe was an optimal surface. We've also spotted them on the trunks of cedar trees, balsam branches, rocks, and the guy lines for our Cooke Custom Sewing Lean shelter.

First the head and legs emerge. It may shift position a little to get in the optimal spot to allow its wings to hang down. The wings are barely noticeable at first, plastered to its body. Slowly they appear to grow. The dragonfly's abdomen appears to grow too, because it emerges wide and stubby, but slowly lengthens and narrows. Eventually the dragonfly spreads its wings for some final drying in the sun and breeze. You might miss the moment when it takes flight if you're not looking carefully.

Just today, as Dave and I were returning to Horseshoe from Vista Lake, we were hugging shore due to the significant east wind. I caught a glimpse of a large brown body several yards ahead and controlled my excitement enough to whisper to Dave, "there's a moose ahead." We veered out from shore a little and were able to watch a mother moose and calf wading in the water. The mother was engrossed in munching on aquatic vegetation, stocking up on necessary nutrients to feed her young one, as we silently glided by.

What does one the BWCAW's biggest creatures have in common with one of its smallest? Both the moose and the dragonflies depend on clean water for their survival. While a dragonfly spends most of its life in the water, a moose depends on the plants that grow in the water as a food source. Although most humans inhabit cities and towns–-and are quite oblivious to the source of our drinking water beyond knowing it flows out of the kitchen sink–-we need this clean water just as much as the moose and the dragonflies.

We're pretty darn fortunate that this vast tract of wilderness–-a 1.1 million acre landscape that is effectively half land and half water–-remains unpolluted. How about we keep it that way? Mining for copper in a sulfide ore body along the edge of the BWCAW is simply not an activity that is compatible with this water-rich environment. If you feel the same, join the movement. Please take a moment to sign the petition. Be sure to let your local elected officials know how you feel. And if you have a favorite Boundary Waters moment, feel free to share it here

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. They are now spending a year in the Boundary Waters on A Year in the Wilderness. Follow their journey on social media (#WildernessYear) and by tracking the trip on their map. More A Year in the Wilderness blog posts.


Resupply Report: Dream Come True

Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Posted by
Helen Clanaugh

I am one lucky person. In May, I got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet two of my heros, Amy and Dave Freeman, who are spending a Year in the Wilderness to help protect the Boundary Waters. The Boundary Waters is a place for me where I can just let everything go for a bit and enjoy life to its fullest. I had been following the Freeman's journey since day one and it was unbelievable to experience it firsthand.

On the first day of our Boundary Waters journey, it wasn't quite all sunshine and roses, it was more like snow showers and wind gusts. When I got up in the morning, I thought to myself, ”wow this is really happening, I get to meet the people i've been dying to meet since the beginning of their epic journey.” Finally, we got on the road after all of the hard work of getting packed. We stopped at Kwik Trip to get some gas and of course our favorite donuts. The journey had begun. The drive up the North Shore was nice, and I knew it was going to be a great trip.

After getting our permits from the Tofte Ranger Station, it was BWCA or bust. The first portage of our trip came up quick. My dad and I skipped the first rapids, but after Kelly Lake we decided to save ourselves 15 minutes by going right through the rapids.

The Freemans campsite was so close we could feel it. Once we arrived, we talked for a while, and got started setting up before it started to snow. We all went inside the Freemans tipi tent and I couldn’t wait to eat. For dinner we cooked steak, pasta and stir fry. After dinner we just chilled for a while, and then some guys from Frost River came over to our campsite to hang out. We all talked in the tent listening to the wind howling and snow falling outside. It wasn’t until late that the guys went back to their campsite. We gathered outside for a group picture in the snow and then they were on their way. It was a very cold night. Day one was great, and I hoped day two would have many fun-filled adventures as well.

The second day was again very cold. We decided to stay at camp and have a relaxing day. The smell of coffee and fire burning filled the tipi tent, it was very nice. For breakfast Amy cooked some dehydrated eggs and vegetables. She added the leftover steak to the eggs and that sure added some good flavor. We relaxed for a pretty long time and it sure felt good to contemplate life in one of the most precious places in the world.

I decided to entertain myself by going on paddles with Dave and Don. At one campsite we visited, there were a few black-capped chickadees and chipmunks, and I got really close to the chipmunk. As we paddled back, some heavy winds started to pick up, and it made it pretty difficult to steer the canoe. Our afternoon paddle was quite windy in some spots and very calm in others, which made for an interesting trip. On the way back there was a beautiful loon. We paddled right up to it, and I got some great pictures. We took our time getting back to the campsite, because the weather was so nice.

When we arrived back at camp, Tank was very excited. I helped chop some wood, and that made my hands very cold. Amy started cooking dehydrated stir fry and rice for dinner. I had never had much dehydrated food before this trip, and it was actually quite good. After dinner we were all gathered in the tent around a nice fire. We heard a saw-whet owl that had been making a constant noise searching for a mate for quite a while. We crawled into our cold tent, and I feel asleep pretty fast.

On my final full day in the wilderness, I was finally able to hop out of our tent and not sprint straight to Amy and Dave’s warm tipi tent. It was still pretty cold, but the sun was shining over the lake nicely. I could sense it was going to be a nice day. My dad and I made some blueberry pancakes on the griddle and they were delicious. Later, all of us headed out on a day trip. I was very excited to paddle with Tank and Amy. We visited Jack and Weird Lakes and we explored the Vern River. When we got to the first portage, Amy asked if I wanted to portage the canoe. At first I was kind of skeptical, because I had never actually portaged one before. I had always let my dad do the heavy lifting. Also, that thing was huge, but with Amy’s encouragement I tried it and it was awesome.

After that we paddled to a nearby campsite to stop for some lunch. The site had been occupied not too long ago, and there was a lot of trash left behind and the fire was still smoking a bit, which is not the way you should leave a campsite. After lunch, we all picked up the trash and Amy put the fire out with her water bottle. It was so nice to be in the wilderness taking a break from my everyday school life.

We took the 10-rod portage into Weird Lake, making plenty of weird jokes. The Vern River was a very cool place and I’m so glad I got to paddle up it. On our way back to camp some sprinkles started to fall.

The closer we got to camp, the harder it rained. I put on some dry clothes on and found myself right back in the tipi tent. For dinner we made a nice vegetable and meat stew that had carrots, potatoes, onions and an array of spices. Tank was very happy to join us in the tent and he also enjoyed licking the pan before it was washed. We gathered around the warm wood stove and listened to the steady rain while enjoying each other’s company. It was very difficult for me to leave the wilderness the next day.

Thank you so much, Amy and Dave, for having me, Don, and my dad, you guys are truly an inspiration. I’m so honored to have met Amy and Dave and I can’t wait to be back. We have to keep working to save this national treasure from these horrible mining threats towards the BWCA wilderness. My hope is that by spreading awareness about this majestic place, the younger generation will want to #SavetheBWCA.

Helen Clanaugh is a 14-year-old from Duluth, Minnesota. She attends North Star Academy. This was Helen's second BWCA trip, but she plans to go back for a third time this summer. Helen enjoys playing basketball and being outdoors.