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Minnesotans Strongly Oppose Sulfide-ore Mining Near BWCA

Thursday, March 10, 2016
Posted by
Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters

Recent polling results show that Minnesota voters want to protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from proposed sulfide-ore mining. This news comes alongside this week’s important news about Twin Metals Minnesota’s proposed sulfide-ore mining operation in the watershed of the Boundary Waters Wilderness.

On Monday, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton released a letter to Twin Metals’ COO calling the Boundary Waters Wilderness “a crown jewel in Minnesota” and stating his “strong opposition to mining in the proximity of the BWCAW.” The next day, the federal government confirmed its authority to either deny or approve Twin Metals Minnesota's request to renew its outdated and expired federal mineral leases. This decision opens the door for a thorough and necessary environmental review of the leases, which has never been performed before. 

The statewide poll, conducted by the research firm Anzalone Lizst and Grove, shows that 67% of Minnesota voters oppose sulfide-ore mining near the Boundary Waters Wilderness, including 61% of voters in Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District where proposed sulfide-ore mines would be located.

This broad statewide opposition coalition includes eight-in-ten DFL voters, more than 60% of Independents, and a 30-point majority in opposition among Republicans.

In addition to the large number of people opposed to sulfide-ore mining in areas near the Boundary Waters Wilderness, an additional 65% of Minnesotan voters believe the Boundary Waters watershed should be afforded permanent protection, including 59% of voters in the Eighth Congressional District.

Twin Metals, owned by South American mining giant Antofagasta, has proposed to mine sulfide-ore on lands next to the Boundary Waters Wilderness and along rivers and lakes that flow directly into the Wilderness. This kind of metal mining is known as “America’s most toxic industry.” Preliminary drilling has already occurred within one-quarter mile of the Wilderness boundary.

Read the Governor’s letter and send him thanks for his support of protecting the Boundary Waters Wilderness.

Governor Dayton Voices Strong Opposition to Mining Near BWCA

Tuesday, March 8, 2016
Posted by
Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters

Yesterday, Governor Mark Dayton released a letter he sent to Twin Metals Minnesota, owned by international mining company Antofagasta, about the need to protect the Boundary Waters. The letter outlines his “grave concerns” about Twin Metals’ proposed massive sulfide-ore mining operation in the Boundary Waters Wilderness watershed.

“... my concern is for the inherent risks associated with any mining operation in close proximity to the BWCAW,” says Governor Dayton. “... I have an obligation to ensure [the Boundary Waters] is not diminished in any way. Its uniqueness and fragility require that we exercise special care when we evaluate significant land use changes in the area, and I am unwilling to take risks with that Minnesota environmental icon.”

In the letter, Dayton calls the Boundary Waters a “crown jewel in Minnesota and a national treasure.” The Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters has been working tirelessly to help decision makers like Governor Dayton recognize that America’s most visited wilderness is not the place for what the EPA calls the most toxic industry in America and take action to ensure its protection for future generations.

“The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a national treasure. It is too special to put at risk,” said Becky Rom, National Campaign Chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, in response to the Governor’s letter. “This is a clear signal that the lands near the Boundary Waters Wilderness should be off limits to sulfide-ore mining. I’d like to thank the Governor for his strong leadership on this issue."

The Governor has also reached out to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). “I apprised the Director of my strong opposition to mining in close proximity to the BWCAW,” he says in his letter. “I was informed that the BLM is in the process of making a determination pertaining to the renewal of Twin Metals' federal lease holdings. I believe that the BLM decision will offer further guidance on the future of mining in the area.”

Let’s thank Governor Dayton for his leadership and urge him to do everything in his powers to support permanent protection for the Boundary Waters Wilderness watershed. 


From the Freemans: Donuts, Visitors and a Polar Plunge

Thursday, March 3, 2016
Posted by
Amy Freeman

Today is day 162 in the Boundary Waters and we are camped on Fall Lake. We recently traveled from Tin Can Mike Lake to Pipestone Bay of Basswood Lake, then to Fall Lake.

We sat out some colder weather during our time in Pipestone Bay, as several inches of snow fell. As we took off, we planned our exit strategically, by heading out on a warm day. We figured that if we did hit slush, it wouldn't freeze to our skis and toboggans. We were pleasantly surprised to find that our skis, toboggans and dog feet stayed on top of an icy crust. What a difference! We cruised fairly efficiently across the bay, taking a short, wide portage into Back Bay.

Basswood is a massive lake, full of big, long bays that seem like lakes in and of themselves, especially considering that there are portages between the bays. It’s interesting to do a portage, but still be on the same lake when you reach the other side. I'm glad we did it, because it cut off significant mileage.

We were surprised that we couldn’t find a well used dogsled trail in Back Bay. From Back Bay, we followed the lakeshore to Hoist Bay. Once we rounded a point, passing through a narrows, we saw several ice fishing shelters set up across the way. We also saw wolf tracks. I think these tracks followed older ones in the snow, because they went exactly in the direction we needed to go. Maybe that old track was left by us when we traveled through about a month ago. I looked down in front of my ski tips to see the dog tracks mixed in with the wolf tracks. Every once in a while, I saw what was obviously a wolf track, standing out because it was significantly bigger than the dog paws. The wolf that left this track was sizable.

As we cruised across Hoist Bay, a dog team headed towards the Four Mile Portage on the well-used trail. Tina, Acorn and Tank perked up their ears and suddenly they shifted into a new gear as they took aim for the dog team. Once our three-dog team turned onto this well-packed trail, they were unstoppable. Both dogs and humans enjoyed our trip across the Four Mile Portage to Fall Lake where we set up camp. The warm day gave way to a warm night. As we settled into unzipped sleeping bags, we heard wolves howling from somewhere to the north.

The next few days were filled with a steady stream of visitors, including both of our fathers, who camped out for a few nights, along with friend and fellow guide, Don Watson and Grand Marais-based artist, Neil Sherman. Neil spent several days painting in and around our campsite. We also had a few visits from day trippers on skis, on foot, and traveling by dog team. This meant getting significantly more food than our usual resupply-- including mangos, homemade banana bread and a bag full of fresh donuts from Britton’s in Ely.

There's a little more to the donut resupply story. Five guys from the Twin Cities volunteered to trek out to our campsite, hauling our resupply of food. As they handed us the grease-soaked paper bag of donuts, they told us they heard that we really like receiving fresh vegetables and fruit in our resupplies– well, they said, they decided to go a different route. Dave quickly downed a donut the size of his head, while I slowly savored every bite. This crew happened to arrive on an unseasonably warm day. Because of the bluebird weather, Dave and I decided to take our monthly dip. The air temperature topped out at 46 degrees! As we greeted the resupply crew, we showed them the hole we had spent an hour digging with auger, axe and saw. It was big enough for a person to plunge in. I invited them to join us for a dip– and before we knew it, they used our tent as a sauna, and took a hurried dunk in the ice cold water. Dave and I were the last to go in. It was refreshing and felt quite good– after getting out of the water, down the path and back in the warm tent! We offered to reopen the ice hole for Neil, but he declined. Our dads didn't go for it either, claiming that at their age, they were concerned it would provoke a heart attack.

Cold weather returned, we got a dusting of new snow, and now it is impossible to tell that our polar plunge zone ever existed. There seems to be a steady stream of traffic on Fall Lake, as it is one of the major winter entry points for mushers, ice fishermen, winter campers and cross-country skiers. We've been here for four days and we've seen all of above each day. While the Boundary Waters sees the majority of visitors in the summer, it is definitely enjoyed by a variety of people in the winter as well.

[Top photo by Josh Bryant]

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.

Science Desk: Interactive Tour of Wilderness at Risk

Tuesday, March 1, 2016
Posted by
Rachel Garwin

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a breathtaking wild landscape of lakes, streams and woods that covers 1.1 million acres along the Canadian border. International mining companies have proposed building sulfide-ore copper mines right on the edge of the Wilderness, threatening to contaminate its pristine waters and disrupt its quiet wilderness character.

Through the Science Desk series, we try to describe the importance of the Boundary Waters, its watershed and the different ways sulfide-ore copper mining would fundamentally change the landscape. Instead of a written account this month, we invite you to take a virtual tour and see what’s at stake.

This tour uses the Google Earth platform to guide you through the beautiful Boundary Waters in a geographically grounded context. You can see pictures of the South Kawishiwi River and Birch Lake, as well as check out the locations of the sulfide-ore copper mining facilities proposed by Twin Metals Minnesota. 

Check out this one-minute preview:

View the Google Earth tour here.

Technical Suggestions:

  • The tour works best using Firefox or Safari with the Google Earth Plugin installed.
  • You can still view the tour using Chrome, however it will be in 2D rather than 3D.
  • If you prefer to see the tour in the Google Earth program itself, you can download this KMZ file and open it using Google Earth. 
    • Click “Play Tour” in the My Places window,
    • Use the play/pause button in the bottom left hand corner of the map window to start and stop the tour after reading the information windows and scrolling through pictures.


Rachel Garwin is the Campaign's policy director. She holds an M.S. in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont. Every month, Science Desk will include our latest scientific support and share a deeper understanding of the potential environmental impact from sulfide-ore copper mining near the Boundary Waters.

Resupply Report: Winter Is My Season

Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Posted by
Joseph Goldstein

Every season has its appeal, but something about the cold and the snow appeals to me, and seems to calm the chaos of everyday life. I wait for winter the same way that most kids wait for their summer vacation.

Winter makes no apologies – you’re either prepared to take it on, or you’re going to suffer until spring. Six years ago, when I was 8, I first learned to really LOVE it when my parents took me dogsledding with Wintergreen in the BWCA. Since then (except for last winter when chemo kept me on lockdown), I’ve travelled and camped in the dead of winter in the BWCA, Svalbard (Norway) and Greenland.

If you want to spend your winter outside, in the wilderness, you better be prepared to work for it. There’s no easy way to do it: No easy way to camp, cook, travel, get or stay warm. You have to plan, think, be prepared and earn the right to be there. 

What is the best thing about Winter camping in the Wilderness? Not many people can go do it, and the ones who can are the ones that you want to go spend time with. A few days ago, I took a dogsled into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to resupply my friends, Dave and Amy, during their Year In The Wilderness. I got to spend time with my dad and brother and our good friend Jason. I also got the chance to share my favorite place with awesome guys and hosts of the TV show Rock The Park, Jack and Colton!

This trip was amazing.  The first night was truly cold.  We got to hear the sap freezing and cracking the trees, saw huge icicles hanging from cliffs where small drizzles of water run in the summer, rolled around and played with the sled dogs and sat around the fire telling stories.

I’ve learned a lot about the world that grown-ups inhabit during the past year.  I know that at my age, I’m supposed to be itching to be an adult. Based on what I’ve seen, it is a pretty constrained place. So many needs compete with simply doing what’s right: political agendas, financial needs, protection of status. It gets complicated and messy, but it make makes me appreciate the simplicity of being a 14-year-old kid whose parents and friends and community support my simple Wish: to protect and preserve the Boundary Waters Canoe Area for everyone, forever.

So sign the petition, write your representatives, donate to the campaign and lend your voice to the thousands of us fighting to save the BWCA. This is how we stand up together and say, “Not here. Not now. Not ever.” to the mining that will destroy it.

[photos by Jason Zabokrtsky]

Joseph Goldstein (age 14) took his first trip to the Boundary Waters when he was around 8 years old. Joseph was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in October 2014. Since then, he committed to helping protect the Boundary Waters. Joseph traveled to Washington, D.C., last March to meet with federal decision makers and deliver 60,000 petition signatures in support of permanently protecting the Boundary Waters from proposed sulfide-ore copper mining. Joseph plans to to help Explorers Dave and Amy Freeman during each season of A Year In The Wilderness by resupplying the Freemans with supplies and food. Learn more about Joseph’s story in his own words.

From the Freemans: Winter's Bite is Slowly Fading

Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Posted by
Dave Freeman

It is the heart of the winter in the Wilderness. I just finished wading through thigh-deep snow while gathering firewood from a spruce bog near our campsite. Last week the temperature barely rose over freezing during the heat of the day and plunged to -15 to -25 at night. Some of the questions we hear most often revolve around how we "survive" out in the Wilderness in the winter. I would say we are not just surviving out here, we are thriving. I would like to share some of the things that allow us to live and travel comfortably in the winter woods.

This isn't our first rodeo. Amy and I have more than 20 years of combined experience leading winter camping and dogsledding trips in the Boundary Waters. We have worked for Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge for many seasons and over the years we have learned many tips and tricks for staying happy and healthy in the winter Wilderness.

Good clothing is extremely important and we layer our clothing so that we can add a layer if we get cold, or remove a layer if we get too hot. Believe it or not, our biggest challenge is overheating. When we are skiing with the dogs we do not need to wear very many clothes because we are working hard. When we stop, we put on a down jacket or our anorak to help trap in our body heat. In the winter, we wear clothing that is breathable so that any moisture that our body produces can pass through our clothing. We wear Merino Air long underwear that was donated by Patagonia, and on top of that we usually wear one or two fleece layers to help trap our body heat. Our outer layer consists of pants and an anorak made by Wintergreen Northern Wear. When it is cold, and we stop for lunch or stop moving for a while, we can throw our Outdoor Research down parkas over the rest of our clothing to help us stay warm.

Another way we stay warm is by gathering and burning a lot of firewood. There is an old saying that firewood warms you twice, once when you cut it and then again when you burn it. Each day, Amy and I spend about an hour gathering, cutting and splitting firewood. We gather dead wood that is well back from the lake and away from summer campsites. It is hard work carrying the logs through deep snow back to our campsite, cutting it into 14-inch pieces, and splitting it with our axe. The benefit is that we can relax in our Seek Outside tipi tent and soak in the heat from the wood stove. The wood stove is in the center of our tipi tent. We have a drying line that runs around the top of the tent, from which we hang socks, mittens and other clothing to dry. We also hang our ski boots and other heavy items off of the center pole. With good wood burning in the stove, it is easy to keep the tent 50 or 60 degrees at head level and 80 or 90 degrees at the top of the tent where the drying lines are. The ability to dry out our clothing using the heat of the wood stove makes it much easier to stay warm and comfortable out here in the winter.

Good food, and plenty of it, also helps us stay warm and comfortable. In the winter we eat about 3,500 to 4,000 calories each day. Our diet contains a lot of butter, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, cheese and other foods that are high in fat. I know it's pretty rough adding an extra dollop of butter to our pasta, a big spoonful of peanut butter to our oatmeal or an extra helping of chocolate after dinner, but we will manage. In reality, being able to eat as much as I want without thinking twice is one of my favorite parts about extended cold weather trips. On some of our winter trips, we have eaten as many as 5,500 calories each day! We are thankful for the steady stream of volunteers who trek into the Wilderness every week or two with supplies for us. They often bring brownies, chocolate, cookies, fresh fruit and other special treats. Thanks to the cold and our active lifestyle, we can polish off a batch of cookies in one sitting without thinking twice!

Luckily we have about six weeks of winter left, so there is still plenty of time for us to eat as many treats as we want. February and March are some of my favorite months in the Boundary Waters. The days are getting longer and the sun is getting higher in the sky each day. Winter's bite is slowly fading and spring will be here before we know it. We are approaching the halfway mark of A Year in the Wilderness. We are so thankful for all of the support we are receiving from the staff, volunteers and Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters supporters. Thank you for helping us bear witness to this national treasure and be a constant reminder of what is at risk.

Sportsmen's "Fish Out of Water" Wins the Spirit of Film Award

Tuesday, February 9, 2016
Posted by
Piper Hawkins-Donlin

We are pleased to announce that Sportsmen for the Boundary Water's film, Fish Out of Water, won the Spirit of Film Award at the Frozen Film Festival on February 7. The Spirit of Film award embodies the spirit of independent filmmaking while advocating for a cause.

The Frozen Film Festival was a 2016 addition to the Saint Paul Winter Carnival and the winter version of the St. Paul Film Festival. It showcased over 30 independent films from around the world; from documentary shorts, to feature length films.  

Accepting the award were Mark Norquist, owner of Green Head Productions and executive producer of the Fish Out of Water, and Phil Aarrestad, story developer and second camera operator for the film. “We are proud that the film was recognized by the Frozen Film Festival. We hope the film will help raise awareness of the risky sulfide-ore copper mines proposed near the edge of this beautiful wilderness,” Norquist said during the acceptance speech. 

The three-part film series brings you into the Boundary Waters with three Minnesota chefs;  Lachelle Cunningham of Breaking Bread Café, Amanda Cowette of Wise Acre Eatery, and experienced sportsman Lukas Leaf, executive chef at Al Vento, for an expedition into the wilderness to fish, cook and showcase the beauty of this fishing and hunting destination threatened by Twin Metals and other companies’ proposed sulfide-ore copper mines.

The film, which was shown in the documentary shorts category, was attended by the several members of the crew, along with the film's stars, Amanda Cowette and Lukas Leaf.

Watch all three episodes of Fish Out of Water today and relive the excitement as Sportsmen's three chefs venture into the wilderness to fish and cook. 

From the Freemans: Challenges Make Lasting Impressions

Thursday, February 4, 2016
Posted by
Dave Freeman

Often we describe the tranquil times, silence, sunset and countless beautiful moments that one encounters when they are immersed in Wilderness. Wilderness has many moods: blizzards that chill you to the bone and 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.

Several days ago we packed up camp on Gun Lake, expecting an easy day traveling on a packed trail to Sandpit Lake where we would meet a resupply team. We took our time packing up camp. The temperature had dropped to -12 overnight and a stiff south wind was blowing, so we were in no hurry. We leisurely packed the toboggans and harnessed the dogs. As expected, we rocketed along on a hard-packed trail with the dogs pulling me and and our toboggans.

After 5 minutes a 50-yard-wide pocket of deep slush appeared where our hard packed trail had been the night before. We took off our skis and searched to the right and left, looking for a way around the slush. The dogs barked and lunged, unhappy about our sudden stop. Diverting to the right seemed better so we turned the team and headed toward the right-hand shore through the deep untracked snow. After 10 minutes we had negotiated the slush pocket. Despite our best attempts to avoid the slush, our skis and toboggans were coated in ice. We pulled out our scrapers and spent 10 minutes removing the ice cemented to our gear. A few minutes later we encountered another large pocket of slush and repeated the process. While we were scraping after the second slush pocket, a Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge advanced camping group passed us. We followed their trail through and around the slush for the rest of the day. The slush made traveling slow and hard.

As it was getting dark, we caught up to the Wintergreen group near the end of a mile-and-a-half long winter portage into Tin Can Mike Lake. Two men had fallen in up to their waists while crossing an unfrozen patch of bog. They were obviously exhausted and way past their comfort zone. Their young guide, Peter Schurke, has been tromping through the Wilderness in every season with his family since he took his first steps and cheerfully encouraged them to keep moving. They would camp “just around the corner.” This was just another day in the Wilderness for Peter; a day full of challenges, but nothing he hadn't seen before. If fact, I am sure Peter came into the Wilderness looking for these challenges because he knew they would leave a lasting impression on his companions in ways that go beyond the sunsets and silence that Wilderness affords.

Amy and I were looking forward to setting up our own camp soon as well. We scraped ice off our skis and toboggans for what we hoped would be the last time as Peter and his campers slowly trudged around the corner. At that moment I doubt that they noticed the raw beauty of a raven flying overhead or the emerging stars creeping across the sky as the sun's final glow disappeared beyond the rugged pine-studded ridge across the lake. I also doubt they came to the Wilderness in search of slush, partially frozen bogs, and setting up camp in the dark. But after a warm shower and a hot meal, those challenges become the glue that adheres the Wilderness to your soul, allows you to take a part of the Wilderness with you, and changes you in a way that only those difficult moments can.

Those experiences are one of Wilderness's greatest (but often overlooked) assets, and are an important reason to protect Wilderness for future generations.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced in the Wilderness? How did it affect you? It is important to share those moments with others. Tell your elected officials about how those challenges have shaped you. The changes Wilderness imparts on us ripple through our lives and our communities long after we leave the Wilderness, which is one important reason we need to save the Boundary Waters.

[PHOTOS: Top, Peter Schurke and Bottom, Marc Sadeghi (2)]

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.

Minnesotans are accustomed to difficult winters, and so are its animals. While a person might don an extra coat or retreat to a heated house, animals rely on adaptations and changes in behavior to survive cold temperatures, deep snows and frozen lakes found in the Northwoods, including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Though these animals have evolved to survive these harsh conditions, winter is demanding and puts extra stress on wildlife that are constantly trying to survive. Placing massive industrial facilities associated with sulfide-ore copper mining on the edge of the Boundary Waters would heighten the existing stressors and end badly for these year-round residents.

In some ways, animal's winter adaptations parallel humans’ responses to winter. In 2014, Doug Smith of the Star Tribune shared a nice roundup of how animals survive Minnesota’s brutal winters. Whitetail deer, for instance, grow a winter coat with hollow hairs that has more insulating power than their summer coat. Likewise, a person might choose to wear a fleece or down coat that traps more warm air near her body, creating better insulation between her and the cold surroundings. Smith goes on to describe chickadees and other birds pulling a similar move by “puff[ing] out their feathers to increase insulation.” Chickadees can also “pull one foot up into their feathers,” much like a skier pulling cold fingers out of a glove to warm them in his palm.

Unlike humans, many animals, especially birds that don’t migrate, must constantly consume calories to survive winter conditions. Deep snow and ice can make it difficult for birds to forage because their normal foods are covered. Waterfowl can collect around open water, creating a high concentration of prey for predators to attack. Grouse also stick around during the winter, and expose themselves to predator attack while digging through deep snow for food. Rabbits and snowshoe hares must also frequently forage for food, relying on woody plant stems, balsam fir twigs and other hardy vegetation that lasts throughout the winter.

Moose, which are extremely well adapted to winter with their long legs and heavy winter coats, appear to be increasingly stressed during winter for counterintuitive reasons. The decline is likely spurred by a variety of factors acting together, and recent information from the Minnesota moose study suggests that winter warming plays an important role in moose mortality. Moose are prone to heat stress in winter if temperatures rise since they can’t cool down in ponds and their dark fur acts as a heat sink in the midst of a snow-covered landscape. Warmer winters also allow the explosion of winter ticks, which attach to moose in the late fall and terrorize the animals well into the winter. Moose in New Hampshire and Maine scrape themselves raw to rid themselves of the blood-sucking parasites, which exposes them to cold temperatures when they finally come. These stresses reduces the ability of many moose to forage and exposes them to higher levels of predation or other diseases.

We’ve discussed on this blog how sulfide-ore copper mining proposed in the Boundary Waters watershed would affect moose specifically, and the impacts would likely be worse in winter since it is an already stressful time. This is true for other animals, as well. We discussed the interference noise and traffic would cause in birds and other animals’ ability to look for food while also watching for predators when we investigated the above-ground footprint of an underground mine. All day, year-round noise, light and traffic from the proposed mine would keep waterfowl, deer, grouse, snowshoe hare and other hardy winter creatures from hearing predators approaching from the sky or through the woods.

The more time put into listening for and hiding from predators, the less food they can collect. If they prioritize foraging, the animals are more exposed to being eaten. The more time spent foraging, wading through deep snow, or keeping warm in adverse conditions, the more food is necessary. Industrializing the landscape around the Boundary Waters will accentuate these winter tradeoffs, with potentially dire results for animals that have otherwise figured out how to survive in harsh conditions.

Rachel Garwin is the Campaign's policy director. She holds an M.S. in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont. Every month, Science Desk will include our latest scientific support and share a deeper understanding of the potential environmental impact from sulfide-ore copper mining near the Boundary Waters.

American Angler: Risk vs. Reward

Thursday, January 28, 2016
Posted by
Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters

The American Angler article "Risk vs. Reward," written by Morgan Lyle, originally ran in the January/February 2016 issue of American Angler and is reprinted here with permission. The following is an excerpt. You can read the full article as a PDF.

More than one million acres of water and woods, one hundred fifty miles long with thousands of lakes, and streams full of smallmouth bass and northern pike. Protected since 1926, made part of the National Wilderness Preservation System in 1964, and today the nation's most-visited wilderness area.

And now, possibly, a next-door neighbor to huge copper and nickel mines which, opponents say, are all but guaranteed to wreak environmental havoc.

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) in northeastern Minnesota sits adjacent to a massive deposit of precious minerals of the kind Americans consume voraciously. Four mining companies, including a Chilean mining company called Twin Metals, owned by Antofogasta, want to dig large mines there that will produce 50,000 tons of mineralized ore per day for 30 years. This type of mining has never been done before in Minnesota.

Compounding the issue is the fact sulfide-bearing ore produces sulfuric acid when in contact with water or snow, and leaches toxic heavy metals and sulfates. In the history of mining, there's never been an open-pit or underground mine that hasn't generated this catastrophic brew, and there's no new technology, nor has there ever been technology, to make the mixture safe.

The quality of material from the proposed mines is also considered "low grade;” with less than one-percent of the ore containing copper. The remainder is simply waste Twin Metals says it plans to either pipe out or stock in tailings (with no lining).

Neither are benign treatments. The tailings will leach for centuries into the ground water that eventually reaches the Boundary Waters watershed. There's nothing a mining company can do to control that.

But some mining jobs pay more than $80,000 per year, and mined elements produce materials vital to everything from cell phones to catalytic converters to wind turbines.

"People try to justify all this by saying, 'Well, we need the jobs,' and yeah, it will bring jobs-well paying jobs; but only for engineers and the like, not for local kids. There aren't many positions, they don't last for very long, and they can actually displace many more jobs," Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters Campaign Chair Rebecca Rom said. "Communities that turn to mining because of jobs actually suffer from persistent poverty because of the environmental degradation and the undesirability of the place. Is this all worth risking our wilderness and national forests? Remember, the ramifications aren't just affecting those in northern Minnesota. As U.S. residents, we all have an ownership stake in these areas.”

"If you want the mine, you have to say 'I accept the risks of leaks and seeps. I accept the loss of our forest land where we hunt, fish, and hike.' I can't do that," Rom says. "We're asking the forest service and the BLM to withdraw the federally-owned minerals from the leasing program. The Secretary of the Interior has the authority to decide which lands are 'in' and 'out' of the program. It's an accepted practice, and it can happen."

“The BWCA has some of the highest water quality anywhere,” said Jason Zabokrtsky [owner of Ely Outfitting Company, a canoe trip outfitter]. “It’s the very top of a watershed flowing north to Hudson Bay. These are pristine drinking water lakes, where you can dip your cup right over the side of the boat and take a sit. They also are extremely good fishing waters. If you like a world-class fishery and you like clean water, you don’t want these types of mines to be there. It’s just a really risky place to put this type of mining.”

Read the full article