What a whirlwind of activity! The past few days have flown by as we wrapped up all our final preparations, then packed our bags and took part in several farewell gatherings. The first day of fall lived up to expectations. After a week of gorgeous weather, September 23 was rainy and chilly. That didn't stop 80-some hearty souls from showing up for the launch of A Year in the Wilderness at River Point Resort and Outfitting Company. I'm continually impressed by the dedication of the folks we meet, devoted to protecting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from sulfide-ore copper mining.
Thank you to everyone who showed up and everyone who has pitched in to help make this project a reality. Thank you to the Koschak family for hosting the launch event at their resort. Thank you to the many businesses and individuals that have donated equipment, food, clothing, time and money. Thank you to the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters for the hours and hours of work that you've put in behind the scenes—doing everything from sending out press releases to seam-sealing our tent.
Also, a special thank you to the folks who offered to bring in homemade treats on various resupply missions. Multiple people asked about our favorite kind of chocolate (dark) and we have received offers to deliver homemade granola, chicken chili made with heirloom beans, and dehydrated vegetables grown in peoples’ gardens.
On Wednesday, folks launched canoes and kayaks to paddle the first couple miles with us on the South Kawishiwi River, from River Point to the Highway 1 bridge. A sense of finality settled in as we crossed under that bridge, leaving behind our friends and family. During our two-mile paddle with that flotilla of 40 people in canoes and kayaks, people were laughing, telling stories, offering last minute advice and even singing. The serenade of “Happy trails to you” brought a tear to my eye.
Three more miles and then we reached the Boundary Waters. Those initial portages were quick and easy. And the rain held off, despite the thick blanket of clouds
We saw several bald eagles as we paddled; one even perched on top of a white pine, surveying the water below. My favorite eagle sighting happened shortly after landing at our campsite. A bald eagle flew low overhead, directly over us and then out over the river.
We're in a five-star campsite. It has a perfect canoe landing spot, sloping granite allowing for optimal sitting and thinking right near the water’s edge. We found a good space for our tent and the view from the fire grate is panoramic.
In the days leading up to our departure, I've been relishing my final opportunity to do some things—like my last chance to eat out for a year, last shower for a whole year. People have actually pointed some of these things out to us … last chance to sleep in a warm bed under a roof, last salad loaded with locally grown vegetables. The thing is, I'd rather focus on what there is to look forward to out here. Sure, we are making some sacrifices by being out here for a full year, but in many ways we are pretty darn lucky to have the chance to observe this place in all seasons.
We're really looking forward to sharing our observations and stories with you throughout the year. Please share A Year in the Wilderness with your friends and family, and encourage them to check out all the great information compiled on the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters website in order to learn more about the threat, the science behind our concerns, and what you can do to ensure that this special place is permanently protected from sulfide-ore copper mining within the watershed.
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.
“Why does the Boundary Waters need to be saved?” I was asked that question in late August when I joined nearly 100 others in volunteering at the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters booth at the Minnesota State Fair. I was happy to answer questions like that by sharing how the proposed sulfide-ore copper mining threatens the wildlife, habitat, interconnected waters and surrounding communities of the Boundary Waters.
Located to the right of a sausage stand and across from the turkey booth in the Dairy Building, our exhibit at the Great Minnesota Get Together featured expansive color maps of this spectacular wilderness area, three iPads for those who were interested in signing our pledge, a prize wheel where you could win fabulous prizes (aka “free stuff at the Fair”), a large video monitor showing our new animation video and a photo kiosk with a wilderness backdrop where people could send themselves a memento of their support.
As the morning wore on, orange stickers dotted the maps as people selected their favorite places in the Boundary Waters. And then the iPad screens had to be cleaned after being touched with fingers that had already seen their share of greasy fried food! One of the main benefits of being at the Fair is the sheer volume of people you can reach – we had seven staff members and volunteers at our booth and were consistently busy throughout my shift.
And, as we were in the Dairy Building, it seemed like everyone who walked by or stopped at our booth had ice cream. (I decided my favorite was the strawberry rhubarb sundae. I also decided that Great Old Broads for Wilderness was my favorite of all the partners listed in the booth.)
The overwhelming majority of people I had the chance to chat with were either unaware of the issue and interested in learning more or already knowledgeable about the topic and eager to sign our pledge. Several people thanked me for being there and one gentleman, with a look of bewilderment on his face, said “I don’t see how this is even a question.” It seemed one woman had specifically sought out our booth. With a very serious expression on her face, she saw our petition and asked, “Where do I sign?” In addition to Minnesotans, we had visitors from Ohio and Illinois who weren’t familiar with the Boundary Waters, but had enjoyed their time at national parks and appreciated the efforts to conserve those areas.
As with most exhibitions, a few people politely declined to take our information (and one man memorably said, “I don’t want to know nothing about nothing”) but I was impressed because when I left to spend the rest of the day at the fair with my family (it’s a tradition), we had already collected nearly 300 signatures – pretty amazing for the first morning! I have portaged some of the lakes and used a few of the campgrounds in the Boundary Waters so I know firsthand what a privilege it is to have this pristine wilderness right here in Minnesota.
After all the deep fryers have been turned off and another state fair is in the books, the work of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters continues. Onward!
During the 12 jam-packed days of the Minnesota State Fair, 90-some volunteers helped in the booth, more than 9,000 people signed our petition and more than 1,300 people and families used our photo kiosk to send pictures to decision makers.
It's almost time for the Minnesota State Fair. Time to celebrate the end of summer, back to school and all things Minnesotan, like award-winning cows and fancy chickens, Minnesota-made honey and beer, giant stuffed midway prizes, food on a stick, and our natural treasures, like the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
I’ve been looking forward to the Fair since I first entered the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters for a spot for last fall. Once we found out space was available, we chose the Dairy Building to make sure we caught crowds as diverse as Minnesota’s population and won’t just be preaching to the choir, but reaching many new people who haven’t yet joined our efforts. We can also keep an eye on the butter sculptures and grab a milkshake when the line isn’t too long!
For the last few months, our State Fair planning team, many of whom are volunteers generously dedicated so much of their time to make this happen. With their help, we've designed and produced a beautiful and educational booth that shows off the splendor of the Wilderness through Brandenburg photos and makes clear the threat posed by proposed sulfide-ore copper mining. The booth backdrop is a huge map where visitors can point out their favorite lakes and see potential mine sites on the Wilderness edge and the path of pollution leading into the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs National Park.
Like so many of our projects, we couldn’t do it without scores of committed volunteers. At our series of volunteer trainings, we've briefed seasoned and brand-new volunteers on our Campaign history and strategy, basic tips for messaging and outreach, and tested out all the elements of our booth. Those fun booth elements include a new iPad pledge app, a prize spinning wheel and a social-media enabled photo-kiosk. All these interactive elements will help draw people to our booth and allow them to take meaningful action that will catch the eye of our decision makers, many of whom will have their own presence at the Fair.
So come see us at the Great Minnesota Get-Together! The Dairy Building is on the south edge of the Fairgrounds, at the corner of Judson and Underwood across from the Haunted House and Agriculture Building. The booth will be open from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. August 27 through September 7.
As Ron Meador notes in MinnPost this week, it is an unrelated yet bizarre coincidence that the Animas River in Durango, Colorado, turned an eerie shade of mustard-yellow a few days after the one-year anniversary of Mount Polley copper mine’s tailings dam failure. Instead of the week being dominated by Mount Polley retrospectives, headlines are recounting a homegrown mining disaster a hundred years in the making. Though these mines are not in Minnesota, they have great bearing on proposals to dig into sulfide-bearing ore to extract copper and nickel. They are shocking displays of what can--and often does--go wrong in the hardrock mining industry, and should serve as a warning for those considering the impacts of placing sulfide-ore copper mines in the watershed of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageurs National Park. PHOTO: Jerry McBride/Durango Herald/AP
A year ago last week, the Mount Polley copper mine tailings dam burst unexpectedly and catastrophically. News reports called the breach “Canada’s worst mine disaster," and to this day, the long term environmental impact of the spill is unknown. As of April 2015, water flowing out of Hazeltine Creek into Quesnel Lake still had significantly elevated heavy metal concentrations and water in the Quesnel River, downstream of the lake, was still too murky for residents to drink. Heavy metals had built up in the sediment at the bottom of the lake, as well, giving rise to the concern that there will be additional pulses of metals as the lake water and sediments turn over and mix during natural seasonal variations, according to the Vancouver Sun. To make matters worse, the breach altered the very physical characteristics of Hazeltine Creek: it now resembles more of a carved rock canyon than a stream. Mount Polley shows us the potential for an unexpected catastrophic infrastructure failure at a modern mine operated by a company with an otherwise good reputation in a country with supposedly advanced mining regulations and environmental protection requirements. We have learned, however, that disasters happen even in those best-case circumstances. PHOTO: Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press
Before the Gold King Mine in Colorado released a torrent of acidic water into the Animas River, I had planned to follow up the Mount Polley anniversary notes with observations of other mines across North America that have made the news for unexpected releases of polluted materials into their surrounding environments. These fall into the category of contamination considered to be less individually severe but that occur more frequently than a catastrophic failure like the one at Mount Polley. For instance, British Columbia shut down the Yellow Giant underground gold mine on Banks Island in mid-July 2015 for releasing polluted materials into lakes, creeks and a wetland. Yellow Giant had only been operating for three months before it released an “unauthorized” discharge in March, and again released effluent and tailings in June and July. The same article references additional small spills occurring at the Myra Falls and Copper Mountain mines in British Columbia in the last year as well. These run-of-the-mine (as it were) spills fit into a larger context of the industry’s frequent leaks and spills due to infrastructure failure, human error or unexpected conditions. To some extent, these releases are simply expected to occur -- thus the distinction between an “authorized” and an “unauthorized” discharge.
What happens when polluted material makes it into the creeks, lakes, streams, wetlands and groundwater that surround a mine? It becomes incredibly difficult to monitor and clean up. Ask residents of Butte, Montana, who are locked in a debate with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over whether a plume of metal-contaminated leach water is creeping toward the Silver Bow Creek, part of which was recently restored. Experts in mine waste remediation cannot agree what to do with the Parrot mine’s pile of tailings that has sat in the center of town since at least 1906. Over 100 years later, residents still fear the uncontrolled underground spread of contaminants, and must live with the toxic legacy of one the nation’s largest mining booms.
A similar theme can be found in the in-depht articles discussing the Gold King mine spill. As Jonathan Thompson reported in High Country News, water pollution has been ongoing since miners first started digging up minerals in the Animas River watershed in the 1870s. A complicated series of corporate responsibility handoffs and ultimately legal and technical difficulties allowed water to build up in three mines, including the Gold King. Contaminated water seeped out of them, untreated, into tributaries of the Animas River. The EPA, in its efforts to address the thorny, complex problem of ongoing runoff, proved just how difficult it is to clean up mine waste: it accidentally triggered an even larger spill of an estimated 3 million gallons of acidic mine seepage water and sludge that turned the Animas River orange. The complexity of the issue is truly stunning, and it is instructive how promises of mitigation, remediation and responsibility for water treatment in perpetuity ring false.
Mt. Polley. Yellow Giant. Myra Falls. Copper Mountain. Parrot. Gold King. Though these mines are far away from the Boundary Waters, we must learn from their failures. If we don’t, then the pristine water of the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs National Park will be at risk for decades --and centuries--of contamination. As the diverse array of mine failures in the past year has shown us, the complexity of mining pollution makes prevention and clean-up incredibly difficult. The only fail-safe way to protect the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs from sulfide-ore copper mining pollution is to prevent it from occurring in their watershed in the first place.
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.
On August 9, 2015, Kathleen Ferraro will begin a thru-hike of the Superior Hiking Trail. Kathleen decided to hike in support of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters and use her hike as a chance to educate people about the risk posed to the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining. This blog is the second in a series about her adventure. Read her first post here.
As the start date to thru-hike the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) draws nearer, my hiking plans grow more concrete. The route is set: south to north, hiking 10 to 19 miles per day. My packing list is complete, my GORP recipe ready and my gear laid out. All there’s left to do is stuff my pack, put on my hiking boots and get on the trail.
In more detail, the route follows the Superior Hiking Trail Association’s guidebook suggestions, meaning I’ll experience all sections of the SHT. The trail largely sticks to the coast of Lake Superior going through various rivers, ridges, peaks, creeks and nearby trails. The end of the trail dumps hikers just seven miles from the Canadian border.
This hike is also an exciting opportunity to meet other adventure-lovers in northern Minnesota. The Superior Hiking Trail runs through myriad towns and state parks, complete with lodges and avid outdoor enthusiasts.
As I mentioned in my first post, my love of the wilderness up north extends to both the SHT and the Boundary Waters. Throughout the hike, I’ll be stopping at lodges in said towns and state parks to disperse Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters literature and collect petition signatures. I’ll be making these stops on the way to and from the SHT, as well as during resupplies every week, though I will be camping on trail.
Anyone I stumble across on trail will likewise be educated about the need to protect the wilderness and hopefully contribute their signature to the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters petition. All in all, the goal is to encounter as many individuals and places as possible to spread the word while exploring. The Campaign calls this type of activity “adventure advocacy.”
Only a few more days before getting this show on the road, and I could not be more excited!
By now, you’ve no doubt heard that Twin Metals proposes to build a massive underground mine on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and upstream from Voyageurs National Park. Minnesota Public Radio described the resulting operation as a “vast underground city.” Though used to downplay concerns about the impact of the mining activity, the underground design still leaves plenty of pathways for significant negative environmental impact. Putting aside the fact that Twin Metals’ own Pre-Feasibility Statement states that the Maturi Southwest deposit “will likely be mined to the surface at some point in the future” (see PFS [PDF], page 14-30), it is crucial to understand the multitude of ways an underground mine will still impact the surface.
Two months ago, we detailed the toxic leaks, seeps and spills that are likely to occur. These byproducts result from surface waste storage ponds; the tailings storage facility slated to hold 234 million tons of toxic tailings; the tailing pipelines throughout the area; and even from the underground caverns themselves.
Last month, we discussed the habitat loss and fragmentation from paste plants; a 1,000-acre concentrator plant facility; a 7,000-acre tailings storage facility; and increased traffic. What would that surface infrastructure look like, and what impact would it have on the environment? Underground mine infrastructure from other parts of the world, such as the world’s largest underground copper mine in El Teniente, Chile, (pictured left) can give us a sense.
Other infrastructure would include four paste plants built above the Maturi and Maturi Southwest deposits. These industrial plants would mix tailings, cement and fly ash before the mixture is then pumped underground. Thirteen ventilation facilities are currently planned to be built, to ensure miners deep underground have sufficient air to breathe, and these systems can be quite large. The axial-flow ventilation at the Kriel coal mine in South Africa (pictured right, photo courtesy of Dr. Steven Bluhm) and the Turf No. 3 Vent Shaft at Newmon’s Leeville underground mine in Nevada (pictured left, below) are some examples of ventilation facilities used with this type of mining.
Besides the destructive physical footprint and negative visual impact of these facilities, they would have a noticeable noise impact. Fans from the ventilation facilities, diesel engines from round-the-clock truck transport and even surface crushing of ore (for at least 13 years) would drown out the natural sounds of the Northwoods. In addition to disturbing human environment, the constant and continued noise pollution could have severe impacts to wildlife.
Studies have shown that noise alone can harm birds, as detailed in a recent New York Times article. When researchers built a phantom road out of speakers, birds affected by the noise had significantly less body weight when the road was “on” than when it was “off.” The researchers in that study and others hypothesize that when too much noise drowns out the early warning systems birds and other animals use to warn of predators, they spend too much time worried about being eaten and not enough time looking for food. Combined with a harsh northern Minnesota winter, the impacts of such constant noise could be disastrous.
These examples of surface infrastructure are not the only ones that would be involved in building and running a “vast underground city.” A truly massive industrial zone would have to be created on the surface to support the workers, trucks and machinery busy at work below. Fueling stations, high voltage transmission lines (with their own distinct hum), chemical storage tanks, water retention ponds and even sewage storage or treatment facilities would create their very own surface city on top of the one underground.
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.
In just over two months, Amy and I will launch our canoe near the proposed Twin Metals mine site and paddle up along the Kawishiwi River into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. We have paddled and dogsleded along the Kawishiwi River many times, but I have a feeling we will have a heightened sense of excitement and probably a little more apprehension when we paddle into the Wilderness this time. Our newest adventure begins on September 23 and will not last an hour, a day or a week. We will be entering the Wilderness for a full year.
We are undertaking this journey because we want to inspire people to take action and help protect the Boundary Waters from Twin Metals and other sulfide-ore copper mines. We love the Wilderness and want to continue to enjoy it. We want to share this canoe country with people during every season. It has been exciting working with a large group of volunteers, staff, organizations and businesses that are rallying around our Year in the Wilderness. This dedicated team, made up mostly of volunteers from the Ely area, is helping us organize resupplies, gather the food and equipment that we need and working to insure that A Year in the Wilderness will have as great an impact as possible. Ultimately our goal is to permanently protect the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining. In order for that to happen we need tens of thousands more people to join us by take direct action to insure the Boundary Waters is protected.
The Year in the Wilderness was officially announced yesterday through a press release that has already led to more than a dozen news stories. We have a great team of people helping us check things off of a to-do list, which seems to grow longer by the day!
Amy and I are wilderness guides and educators and this is a way that we can use our skills to help ensure a place we love and rely on for our way of life and our livelihood will remain protected. There are things that all of us can do, from calling our elected officials and encouraging them to protect the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining to donating money and time to further the cause.
Last night Amy and I were part of a group of volunteers that met at Sustainable Ely to call people and urge them to contact elected officials. Many of the people we talked with were very concerned and left messages for Senator Franken and other elected officials, but my conversation with one man still stands out in my mind. I talked with him for more than 10 minutes and he asked me many questions and had lots of good ideas.
He asked me if I had ever met Senator Franken in person and I explained that my wife and I paddled from the Boundary Waters to Washington, DC, last fall and met with dozens of people, including both our senators. He suggested we contact the media and I explained that there was a story on the cover of the Duluth News Tribune about this issue today and the work that we are doing with the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. I explained that the story was picked up by the AP and printed across the country. He couldn’t believe that anyone would or could build a mine up near the Boundary Waters, but he refused to contact his representative and share his opinion.
Believing that something should or should not happen doesn’t matter; it is the actions we take, both large and small, that effect change. The work being done here in Ely, across Minnesota, and around the country to protect this place by an ever-growing group of individuals dedicated to the perseveration of the Boundary Waters is truly inspiring. The next year is a critical time and it is critical that we contact our elected officials, write letters to the editor, talk with our neighbors and take action.
Jake and Mitch at Sustainable Ely are organizing weekly phone banks each Thursday evening from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. with pizza and beer. While calling people you don’t know can be a little intimidating, I sort of got the hang of it by the end of the night. Amy and I had never done any phone banking before last night. We look forward to volunteering again. Plus, you don’t have to be in Ely to participate, you can call from home, all you need is a phone and a computer. Contact Sustainable Ely to learn more.
Help support A Year in the Wilderness by voting for the Freemans in the Canoe & Kayak magazine Dream Your Adventure contest (Voting closed July 15).
Two months ago, I loaded up my parents’ Subaru with all of my belongings, my kayak strapped firmly to the roof, and made the roughly four-and-a-half-hour trip north from St. Paul to Ely, Minnesota. It was not an unfamiliar drive, but rather one that brought back memories of countless journeys that I had made to Ely and the Boundary Waters with my family and friends throughout my young life. Despite the nostalgia, as we neared Ely, I could not deny that this adventure had a decidedly different feel to it, as well as a different purpose.
I made the decision to move to Ely in large part because of the surrounding wilderness, the endless miles of forest to be hiked and waters to be paddled. I also came here to answer a call from this very same wilderness which has given me so much, a call for defenders who will work to protect this uniquely special place now when it needs them most.
I am an intern here at Sustainable Ely, the home of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. Along with our Northeast Regional Organizer Jake Flaherty and our fabulous team of passionate volunteers, I help keep the office staffed from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., 7 days a week.
Our mission is to spread awareness about the threat to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area from proposed sulfide-ore copper mining to the people who come to Ely to enjoy this precious wilderness. We work to educate and provide accurate information to visitors about this newest threat to the Boundary Waters, share what this wilderness means to the region and to the 250,000 people who visit this national treasure annually, and tell them how we can all contribute to the effort to protect it.
We also bring the Campaign to exciting events in and around the community, such as the Fourth of July Parade and Blueberry Arts Festival in Ely and the Boundary Waters Expo on the Gunflint Trail. Sustainable Ely also works with the many local businesses who recognize the value of the Boundary Waters and help us in our efforts to protect it by promoting our growing national movement.
If you find yourself in Ely, be sure to stop by. We have a large selection of of brochures and educational materials that will help you understand the issue and let you know why it is so important that we act now to protect this wilderness. Sustainable Ely also has a number of displays that explain where these sulfide-ore copper mines are proposed and the areas that they could impact. These resources are intended to help visitors take an informed stance with regards to proposed sulfide-ore copper mining in the Boundary Waters watershed, but also to provide our supporters with the tools that they need to educate their friends and family about this issue.
The staff at Sustainable Ely are knowledgeable and always excited to have a conversation about protecting the Boundary Waters, a place that we all love and that we want to make sure is here for future generations.
Please come visit us here on 206 E. Sheridan Street to find out more about the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, chat with me about paddling, talk to Jake about fishing hotspots, or find out about the best places to visit in town from the longtime residents of Ely who volunteer here daily. Before you leave, be sure to sign your name on one of our Wenonah canoes and our petition in support of the National Park and Wilderness Waters Protection Forever Act to permanently protect the Boundary Waters from the dangers of sulfide-ore copper mining.
Photo Credit: Becca Dilley
On August 9, 2015, Kathleen Ferraro will begin a thru-hike of the Superior Hiking Trail. Kathleen decided to hike in support of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters and use her hike as a chance to educate people about the risk posed to the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining. This blog is the first in a series about her adventure. [Katheen pictured on right in photo]
My connection with the wilderness is both old and new. Having grown up in Minnesota, I’ve always considered myself a part of a body of people uniquely attached to the environment--it’s the land of 10,000 lakes, after all. Growing up with wilderness literally minutes away, hiking, swimming, sailing, skiing, camping and biking have always been favorite pastimes. There is also a certain environmental spirit that Minnesota and Minnesotans alike embody: an innate regard for the outdoors in both work and leisure, and physical and spiritual senses. Where going “up north” is synonymous with going outside, where deadly winters are just an opportunity to play pond hockey, Minnesota has a harmonious environmentalist spirit that I love, respect and hopefully embody.
Beyond that, my backpacking days began at Project Wildcat, a pre-orientation program before I started college at Northwestern University. Project Wildcat features a body of student counselors that take incoming freshmen on eight day backpacking trips on the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) in northern Minnesota. I did it, I loved it and I became a counselor. Since then, I’ve been planning and leading trips every year with a great group of outdoor devotees.
Since becoming a counselor for Project Wildcat, I’ve done everything possible to continue to engage in wilderness around the world, including working with a guiding company in Iceland and trekking in South America. All the same, good ol’ northern Minnesota is still my favorite place.
Whether its the fact that its home or the many Project Wildcat-related memories I associate with the SHT, I would drop anything to head up north for a few days on trail (in fact, I did drop everything: I’m sitting on a boat in Lake Superior writing this right now). After these experiences, I’m a firm believer that being in the wilderness strips you down to the best, most authentic version of yourself, and if wilderness can do that to me then it's only fair that I do everything I can to maintain the best, most authentic environments on earth.
Naturally, with a few weeks off at the end of this summer, what better adventure to undertake than thru-hike the SHT? And how better to do it than in support of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters? I wanted to do my part to support their efforts to protect the area from the proposed sulfide-ore copper mines. And I was certainly inspired by the adventure advocacy efforts of the Bike Tour to Save the Boundary Waters and Dave and Amy Freeman’s Paddle to DC and upcoming Year in the Wilderness.
What the SHT is to hikers, the Boundary Waters is to canoers. I know that my experiences on the SHT have helped me grow as an outdoor enthusiast and as a person. I also know the power of the Boundary Waters and the impact that wilderness has had on me and many others.
My adventure begins August 9, 2015. Let’s hike!
Have you wanted to understand more about the mineral lease renewal process for the mining proposals we've discussed? Or wanted to understand the environmental review possibilities, such as an in-depth Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)? Read this article for a deeper understanding.
Lease renewal latest flashpoint in mine debate: Opponents of copper-nickel mining call for environmental impact statement
This piece, written by Marshall Helmsberger, originally ran in the May 15, 2015, issue of the Ely Timberjay and is reprinted here with permission.
An ongoing effort by Twin Metals to renew two federal mineral leases has become the latest pint of conflict over the prospect of copper-nickel and precious metals mining within the Superior National Forest.
The company is also seeking to convert three existing prospecting permits into what are known as preference rights permits, which could eventually give the company the right to mine.
In all, the permits cover several thousand acres running roughly parallel to the South Kawishiwi River, southeast of Ely.
Opponents of the proposed mine, who are fearful of the water pollution within a major Boundary Waters watershed, have asked the Bureau of Land Management, which overseas the mineral rights on federal lands, to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, before renewing the permits. Jason Zabokrtsky, of Ely, an organizer with the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, said the EIS is an opportunity to take a “big picture” look at whether a mine is compatible with the vast water-based wilderness located downstream.
Any decision to complete an EIS could add two years or more to the renewal process and create uncertainty as Twin Metals seeks to advance its mining proposal. Company spokesman Bob McFarlin called a full EIS “unwarranted,” and said it’s never been done on a mineral lease renewal request before.
The federal Bureau of Land Management first issued the two existing federal mineral leases, known as MNES 1352 and MNES 1353, to the International Nickel Company, or INCO, back in 1966. The preference rights leases, which are the only two such leases ever issued on the Superior National Forest, have changed hands over the years, and today are controlled by Twin Metals and its parent Antofagasta.
The original lease remained in effect for 20 years, and has twice been renewed for ten years each time. The two leases most recently expired Dec. 31, 2013, and in anticipation of the fact, Bever Bay Inc., a company headed by longtime prospector Ernie Lehman, began the reapplication process back in Ocotber 2012. That entity has since been acquired by Antofagasta.
While the BLM approved previous renewal requests through a limited review process, know as a categorical exclusion, the agency has decided to conduct a broader environmental assessment, or EA, this time around. BLM officials originally told Twin Metals that they expected to release a draft of the EA by the end of 2013. Now, nearly a year and a half later, there’s now sign of the EA and federal officials say there still not sure how to proceed with the renewal application process. “It’s not a straight-forward process,” said Kris Reichenbach, spokesperson for the Superior National Forest. While the BLM manages federal minerals, the affected surface lands are governed by the Forest Service and both agencies are coordinating in the ongoing review and must have concurrence on the application before it can proceed. “My understanding is that there are ongoing discussions between BLM and at higher levels within the department,” she said.
Reichenbach said part of the delay stems from the fact that the original lease was issued prior to the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, when requirements were much different from today. “Now the question is what is the appropriate way to issue a renewal based on current guidelines,” said Reichenbach. “We’re doing some trailblazing here.”
Groups see need for broader discussion
Opponents of copper-nickel mining on the edge of the Boundary Waters say the lease renewal may be the only opportunity for a public debate on whether a mine is an appropriate development for the area. They say once Twin Metals proposes a mine plan, any subsequent environmental review will be focused more narrowly on the environmental effects of the proposal, and it won’t provide the opportunity to highlight alternative native futures for the area. “Now is the time for the BLM to step back and asses whether this location is an appropriate place to do this,” said Zabokrtsky. “It’s the one time they can look at this in a broader context, considering the values of multiple uses of this land versus the single use of a mine. This project really fits the standards for requiring a thorough EIS review.
Zabokrtsky said as more information has come out in recent years, the risks of a mine are clearer than they were when the leases were originally issued. “There’s so much new science on the issue as far as the risks to human health and this very unique and fragile ecosystem,” he said. “Our campaign has worked really hard to pull the science together and to make people aware of it.”
The campaign is hoping that the BLM will ultimately decline to renew the leases, but even if they lose that fight they see benefits from highlighting the science they say supports extreme caution towards any mining proposals near the BWCAW. “Given the value of the wilderness and [the mine’s location] in the heart of a very important economic area for St. Louis and Lake counties, there’s a big cost in dislocating all of that investment and economic activity,” said Becky Rom, who heads up the campaign. “This is the opportunity to really look at that and make an informed decision, based on the science.”
By contrast, Twin Metals officials say there really isn’t much to talk about when it comes to the lease renewals. Twin Metals’ McFarlin said that the company has no objections to the completion of an EA, which as already been decided in either case. “The bigger issue is the request to do a full-blown EIS. That certainly would be unwarranted and unprecedented,” he said.
McFarlin said if mine opponents want to have a broader discussion about the prospect of mining in the area, an EA would provide that opportunity. “That opportunity will come when the EA is released.” That’s when a public comment period gets underway.
As for assessing environmental effects, McFarlin said the lease, by itself, has no effects. “These are contractual documents. They give the right to propose activities in relation to the leases, but it’s not until you proposed physical activities that you have something to study.”
McFarlin said the BLM granted previous renewals without any significant environmental review and without any changes to the stipulations included in the original agreement. “We wouldn’t be surprised to see some updated stipulations,” said McFarlin. But, he added, company officials don’t believe the BLM can deny the renewals under the current circumstances.
In the meantime, the terms and conditions of the now-expired lease remain in effect.” Even so, said McFarlin, “we’d like to see the BLM get the process moving again.”