HEALTH RISKS NEED TO BE CONSIDERED WHEN DECIDING ABOUT SULFIDE-ORE COPPER MINING
Over the past few years, the medical community in Minnesota has raised an unprecedented voice of concern in response to sulfide-ore copper mining, such as that proposed by PolyMet and Twin Metals. The Minnesota Medical Association, Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians, Minnesota Nurses Association, Minnesota Public Health Organization along with dozens of individual providers, and non-profit groups with ties to human health all submitted letters in response to the one Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) done for sulfide-ore copper mining in Minnesota. The consensus by all of these groups representing over 30,000 healthcare professionals in our state is that an independent Health Impact Assessment (HIA) be mandated as part of an EIS necessary for decisions regarding sulfide-ore copper mining.
Let us state here that we are not writing about the taconite mining industry, which has played and continues to play an important part in Minnesota’s history, economy, and culture. Sulfide-ore copper mining is a toxic industry with a very poor track record of success. A peer-reviewed Earthworks study in 2012 showed that 100% of modern US copper mines that had operated for 5 years or more had already polluted water. Several years can pass before leaks are detected. “Modern mining technology” that has been promised to be “safe” has not proven itself successful.
The World Health Organization lists the ten environmental toxins with greatest concern to human health, and sulfide-ore copper mining releases at least six of these - mercury, lead, arsenic, particulate air pollution, asbestos, and cadmium. Sulfide-ore copper mining also releases sulfates, which fuel the chemical reactions that transform mercury to its toxic form methylmercury.
These toxins have known harmful effects to human health including cancer, lung disease, heart disease, and neurodevelopmental diseases (dyslexia and other learning disorders, intellectual disabilities, autism, and ADHD among them). Babies from gestation through age three are especially vulnerable due to their rapidly growing brains, which have a high affinity for these heavy metals.
Not only will the water quality suffer, but so too the air. Due to releases of fine particulates, asbestos, and asbestos-like particles, sulfide-ore copper mining in the Superior National Forest (SNF) on the doorstep to the BWCA would be expected to cause degradation of the air quality in a significant portion of the Boundary Waters, potentially endangering miners, members of the community, and visitors to the area.
Given these still-present concerns, it is time again to raise our voices regarding the current decisions being made in Washington DC regarding the SNF “mineral withdrawal” (note that the terminology in the current federal process is confusing – withdrawal does not refer to mineral extraction, but rather to withdrawal of parcels of federal land from mining eligibility) in the Rainy River watershed. The outcome of the current process will directly affect our state’s crown jewel, the Boundary Waters Wilderness.
In short, unless protections are given to the sensitive area under study, there remains potential for a large, industrial sulfide-ore copper mining site on the banks of the Kawishiwi River at the headwaters of the BWCA. Any toxic leachate would enter the Kawishiwi River and then flow north into the heart of the BWCA and ultimately into the Rainy River and Canada.
To guard against these insidious health effects, we are urging the US Forest Service to do a comprehensive and robust Environmental Assessment regarding mineral lease withdrawal in the Rainy River watershed, specifically in regard to the risks to human health. This must include modeling for “less than ideal” releases similar to that seen in other sulfide-ore copper mines rather than limiting the modeling to the “best case scenario” often promised but never accomplished.
It is also imperative that this assessment include not only the potential negative effects of a sulfide-ore copper mine in this water-rich area, but also include an assessment of the economic and cultural benefits of the current region as it stands and the risks/costs of what will be lost with the development of such mining at the headwaters of the BWCA. It is our opinion that a robust EA including these components will clearly demonstrate that mineral withdrawal in the Rainy River watershed is necessary to protect the health and wellness of this sensitive and special region of our state.
We travelled to Washington, DC recently and voiced our concerns about these health impacts. Now more than ever, we need concerned Minnesotans to raise their voices, and we ask you to join us. Please go to the following website https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=50938 and submit a comment under “Comment/Object on Project”.
John Ipsen, MD PhD
Jennifer Pearson, MD
Steven Sutherland, MD
Kris Wegerson, MD
Directly south of Kekekabic Lake is Wisini Lake, which may seem small on a map, but looks are deceiving with this one. This lake is mighty.
Wisini Lake has one of the best kept secrets of the Boundary Waters, one so well kept among those who have visited it that it’s difficult to mention in this blog. We know you’ll love it as much as we do, so we’ll let you in on the secret!
If you’re heading south from Kekekabic Lake, make your way towards the bottleneck of land on the south end of Wisini. You’ll see a rock-step about 20 feet high. There is a campsite on top of these rocks with more than enough room for a couple of tents. We highly recommend a night or two up there, there’s nothing like a Boundary Waters sunsets perched above Wisini Lake. You’ll have to work a bit to get your gear up there, but it is more than worth it!
This is a great lake to enjoy a bit of silence on. You’ll probably see others passing through, but few stay as Wisini is in-between Kekekabic and Fraser. If you bring a hammock, you’re certain to get a nice snooze in as the wind whips through the trees above you.
Arrive on the early side if you’re hoping to get the site, and then spend the day exploring the cliffs or fishing off the rock-steps just below the site. We’ve heard some great Bass come out of Wisini!
What is your favorite Boundary Waters campsite?
The Boundary Waters continues to face the increasing risk of permanent damage from sulfide-ore copper mining. 2018 may be the defining year for Minnesota’s canoe country wilderness. As a Minnesotan, veteran, sportsman, father and frequent visitor to the Boundary Waters, I call on the citizens of our great state and nation to make your voices heard in 2018 to protect this national treasure. Now is the time to take action.
On December 22nd, the Department of Interior reversed its decades-old policy regarding mineral leases in a move toward reinstating two expired mineral leases on national forest lands next to the Boundary Waters, leases formerly held by the giant Chilean mining conglomerate Antofagasta and its subsidiary Twin Metals. This decision clears the way to reconsider renewing these leases. Going even further, on January 26th, the U.S. Forest Service announced it is downgrading the current and on-going two-year comprehensive Environmental Impact Study; reversing its decision in favor of conducting a much less rigorous Environmental Assessment.
The Trump Administration is on a continuous drum beat to reverse the Boundary Waters into environmental and economic oblivion. Our national treasures demand the most rigorous of science-based analysis when considering the environmental and economic damage posed by sulfide-ore copper mining. We should demand nothing less.
The Superior National Forest (which includes the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness) was established by President Theodore Roosevelt over a century ago to ensure the canoe country was passed down to future generations unharmed. He was an avid sportsman (founding the Boone & Crockett Club), decorated veteran (leading the Rough Riders and being awarded the Medal of Honor) and a proud father regularly bringing his own children into the wilderness to build character. He also saw the value and importance of these public lands to our country’s distinct and unique character.
The Boundary Waters has been exceptionally formative to my own family. Living for days in the wilderness and arduously portaging from lake to lake not only gives one an appreciation for nature, but builds the grit, perseverance, teamwork, empathy, and “can-do-spirit” that helps to build our youth into strong citizens and future leaders, whether in the military, public service, or the private sector. As such, it has become a cornerstone of high adventure leadership development programs for organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America and Outward Bound. Quite simply, protecting the Boundary Waters is not only a matter of conservation; it can also have an impact on national security and the vibrancy of our country.
Protecting the Boundary Waters has broad based bipartisan support across our country. Within Minnesota, Governor Dayton and a bipartisan group of representatives from the state’s Congressional delegation have spoken on behalf of Boundary Waters protection from sulfide-ore copper mining. Across America, support is coming from, among others, 204 bipartisan U.S. House Members who recently voted against Congressman Emmer’s anti-Boundary Waters bill (H.R. 3905) as well as over 285 business owners who advocate protecting the existing infrastructure and economic engine of the Boundary Waters.
However, even with this broad-based support, the Boundary Waters continues to be under regular attack. As a result of the Trump Administration reversals, our Superior National Forest lands could be turned over to a private foreign entity (in near perpetuity), contradicting the will of a large majority of Minnesotans. If this happens, and sulfide-ore copper mining begins, it could very well be the defining moment when we lost the glory of the Boundary Waters to history.
It is not too late to save the Boundary Waters. As we move into 2018 and the upcoming election campaign cycle, it is imperative we speak loudly to ensure that candidates for public office, regardless of party affiliation, elevate conservation of the Boundary Waters and our other national treasures as a priority. Candidates should support existing bedrock conservation laws and principles, which have served our country very well over the last century. It is also imperative we continue to let the Trump Administration know we disagree with these reversals and support a two-year Environmental Impact Study to determine the comprehensive damage sulfide-ore copper mining will inflict in the Boundary Waters.
As a Minnesotan, veteran, sportsman, and father, I don’t ever want to be in a position where I have to tell my future children’s children what it was once like to have a clean, pristine and accessible Boundary Waters adventure. I would rather take them there to experience the transformative effect for themselves. This can be our legacy to the next generation, but it will only occur it we collectively stand up and take action now.
Joe Banavige has over 20 years of experience as a business leader, Army officer (Desert Storm), State Department diplomat (Iraq surge), DOD civilian (Afghanistan surge) and is a volunteer with the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, DOD or the US Government.
In 1980, my parents bought a cabin on West Bearskin Lake. Our land is on a peninsula, so we actually have docks on two lakes (Hungry Jack and West Bearskin Lakes). Both Lakes are entry points into the Boundary Waters Wilderness. From West Bearskin you can go to Duncan, Moss and Daniels Lake. From Duncan Lake in particular, you can go to Rose Falls and the famous Stairway Portage. To say that I have spent a lot of my life in the vicinity of the Boundary Waters is an understatement. A trip to Rose Falls is an ideal day trip from the cabin. I love the Boundary Waters because it is one of the few places where you can go to truly be off the grid. I love canoeing, fishing, swimming, and camping andthe Boundary Waters is an ideal place to do all those things. I love the wildlife. I love hearing nothing but bird calls and splashing water. And sometimes absolute silence. Which I am also okay with.
The most recent trip I took into the Boundary Waters was with my mom. We went snowshoeing to Rose Falls. The air temp was cold. We had to keep moving to stay warm. It has been so cold up there that Rose Falls is completely iced over, which I have never seen. Mom and I are notorious for getting a late start, which proved to be a very beautiful thing: we got to see the sunset and the moon rise over Duncan Lake.
On another trip to Rose Falls with my best friend, we got stuck in a thunderstorm going back to the cabin. As I was paddling on Duncan I could see the storm clouds gathering. The clouds looked like the horses that Arwent calls down the river in Fellowship of the Ring. The first raindrops started falling the moment we reached the Duncan/West Bearskin portage. Once we got to the West Bearskin side, the skies opened and we were soaked instantly. Thunder rumbled and lightning streaked across the side. We hunkered down until it was safe to cross the lake. We made it back in time to enjoy post journey malts at Trail Center on the Gunflint Trail.
I started volunteering for the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, because I wanted to get involved with an organization that aligned with my values and this has been the best way for me to be involved. The wilderness needs advocates. I believe that the work we do is important. The Lorax said it best: “I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.”
The long story is, I signed up to volunteer at the send off party for Amy and Dave Freeman the day I moved into my current apartment. Moving is stressful so I was emotional to start off the evening. Then I watched the video about Amy and Dave Freeman’s plan to spend a year in the Boundary Waters Wilderness and preceded to burst into tears. I followed that up by getting a really bad case of Pneumonia after running the Twin Cities Marathon for the first time. I was unable to start volunteering until mid-November of 2015, but I have not stopped since.
Volunteering for Save the Boundary Waters has allowed me to express my leadership skills. I am most proud of the brewery events that I have helped to plan. I like making connections with the owners breweries here in the cities. These connections are truly symbiotic: we bring them business, they give us space to spread the word. (Mark your calendars for Lake Monster Brewing Company of April 7th. Two local bands. The Broken Heartland String Band and The Northerly Gales are performing. Stay tuned for event details!)
Jasper Lake is located just west of Seagull and Alpine lakes. Depending on wind, Jasper is a great destination for a trip from Seagull Lake and has awesome scenic views of recently burned forest to the South. Paddlers can connect Jasper to Alpine or Seagull with ease, and then head north towards Saganaga Lake and the Canadian Border. Check in at the ranger station in Cache Bay to take a day trip into the Quetico and see Silver Falls!
For those looking to enjoy just a little more seclusion, Jasper offers some privacy and quiet and might be a great place to stay one more night. Seagull and Saganaga can be busy during the more popular months in the BWCA, but the multiple portages from entry points to Jasper can be all that you need to get away from other travellers. Pack a book and something to sit on to enjoy an epic view. Careful getting up to the campsite on the north side of the lake, as it was shut down during the fall of 2017 to control erosion. Be kind to that campsite, and remember to always practice Leave No Trace Ethics.
Ima Lake was named for the daughter of Newton Horace Winchell, a Minnesotan geologist whose namesake is also attributed to Winchell Lake. Neighboring Hatchet Lake, Alworth Lake and Jordan Lake, Ima is the crossroads for many memorable BWCA expeditions for travelers of all ages. Connecting Ima to the north with Ensign Lake or to the south with Thomas Lake is a great way to extend a weekend getaway to a longer loop of lakes in the BWCA.
Ima is approximately 116 feet deep which makes it a great lake for fisherman pining for a BWCA Lake Trout or Walleye. Jigging along steep underwater drop-offs is toward the deepest parts of Ima is sure to get a bite! Do you have any fishing stories or wildlife sightings on Ima Lake?
The Boundary Waters has never needed us more than it needs us now. The wild, natural heart and soul of Minnesota are at stake. Do we want the Boundary Waters and the rest of our beautiful, healthy Arrowhead forests, lakes, and rivers to continue to be the magnet that draws scores of thousands of visitors from around the country and the world every year, with the resulting enrichment of lives and of the economies of Ely, Grand Marais, Tofte, and other Wilderness-edge communities - indeed, of the economy of Minnesota as a whole? Or would we rather have a Chilean mining company, Antofagasta/Twin Metals, begin the development of a vast industrial sulfide-ore mining district in the heart of the Superior National Forest on the doorstep of our priceless Wilderness?
The Trump Administration has taken two actions recently that make the job of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters harder. The Administration decided (i) to create justification for the reissuance of mining leases that were denied by the Obama Administration and (ii) to downgrade the U.S. Forest Service environmental review for the proposed twenty-year withdrawal of 234,328 acres of the public’s land in the Superior National Forest from the federal mineral leasing program. The Campaign intends to prevail over these setbacks with the help of Campaign partners and their millions of supporters.
First, the Trump Administration Department of the Interior, under Secretary Ryan Zinke, issued a legal opinion on December 22, 2017 that reverses earlier opinions that held that Twin Metals had no right to have old mining leases automatically renewed. If the mining leases were automatically renewable, Twin Metals would be able to avoid legally-required scientific study of the environmental effect of issuing leases for mining in the areas covered by the leases on the South Kawishiwi River and Birch Lake in the Boundary Waters watershed. The Campaign and its pro bono legal counsel believe that the Trump decision is clearly wrong, and we will file a lawsuit in federal court seeking to have the decision overturned. The language of the leases themselves, the federal laws that govern mineral leasing, and statements in the mining company’s own documents prove that Twin Metals has no automatic right of renewal.
Second, the U.S. Forest Service’s request in January 2017 that the Secretary of the Interior withdraw from the federal leasing program all federally-owned minerals in the Rainy River Drainage Basin, which includes the watershed of the Boundary Waters, triggered a legal requirement for environmental review of the environmental, social, and economic effects if sulfide-ore mining were permitted on federally-owned minerals in the Basin. Recognizing that the Boundary Waters is priceless and vulnerable, and fully cognizant of the poisonous water pollution and landscape destruction that always accompany sulfide-ore copper mining, the Forest Service began the process of developing a full environmental impact statement. An EIS provides for a thorough analysis (i) of relevant scientific studies of the impact that sulfide-ore mining would have on the ecology of the Boundary Waters and (ii) of the economic and social impacts of the destruction of a large part of the Superior National Forest and the pollution of Boundary Waters lakes and rivers. An EIS also provides for multiple opportunities for the public to comment during the process.
In another misguided decision, on January 26, 2018 the Trump Administration downgraded the legally-mandated environmental review of the proposed minerals withdrawal from a full EIS to a less-rigorous “environmental assessment.” One of the many negative results of the downgrade is a reduced opportunity for public comment. The Superior National Forest lands at issue belong to all the people of the United States, not to a Chilean mining company with a history of environmental violations and multiple alleged instances of corruption, its allied politicians, and the tiny handful of people who would benefit economically from a Boundary Waters mine.
A second negative result is that an EA may be a less rigorous and comprehensive analysis of the unique ecology of the Boundary Waters region – those very qualities that make the watershed both valuable as the world’s greatest canoe country wilderness and vulnerable to the inevitable and irreparable damage of sulfide-ore copper mining. An EA may not fully document the harm to Wilderness-edge communities, the State of Minnesota, and all people that would result if a large swath of Superior National Forest lands, now ecologically healthy and available for a variety of uses, were converted to a massive industrial mining district. An EA may not fully document the failure of project-specific environmental reviews to accurately predict water pollution generated by hardrock mines near surface and ground waters; those studies are wrong 90% of the time. And an EA may not fully document that all copper mines, including modern copper mines in the United States, pollute water. A full EIS, on the other hand, would document that the only way to protect the Boundary Waters from the ravages of sulfide-ore copper mining is to ban mining on public lands in the watershed of the Boundary Waters.
The Campaign is determined to prevent sulfide-ore copper mining on federal lands in the Boundary Waters watershed. With your help, the Campaign will succeed. Together, this is what we must do:
Together we must fight every effort to damage the Boundary Waters. And together we will prevail.
Snowbank Lake is one of the larger lakes in the Boundary Waters and one of the first points of access to many of the beloved loops in the northernmost sections of the Boundary Waters. The lake itself is a breeze to access at just under 23 miles Northeast of Ely. Boasting a handful of campsites with excellent views of sunrises and sunsets, it is no wonder why Snowbank has also become home to several permanent cabins and lodges that sit on the edge of the Wilderness.
Although longer trips are often undertaken through Snowbank, it’s also an excellent destination for those looking to get maybe no more than a quick day-trip into the Boundary Waters. Snowbank offers ample space to explore and even hosts a few islands. Smallmouth bass, some walleye and the occasional lake trout also make the lake a worthy destination for any fisherman looking to add some remote and for the most part solitary fishing to their summers.
Snowbank is a great lake anyone looking to discover a new entry point or return to a classic Boundary Waters location. Do you have a favorite memory of Snowbank?
Scanning a map of the eastern Boundary Waters, some names stand out because of the sheer size of the lake. Gunflint Lake, on the Canadian border, may not be as massive as Saganaga or Sea Gull, but the variety of opportunities available there put it in the same class of timeless, massive Boundary Waters lakes.
The easy and stunning ninety minute drive from Grand Marais to Gunflint Lake makes it accessible to all. Once there, travelers can stay in one of several different lakeside lodges — a Northwoods tradition and staple of the region’s economy. Day permits can be acquired for entry into the Boundary Waters Wilderness itself, just a short paddle away. The Granite River is a terrific day trip where anglers can fish below rocky swifts and swimmers can find rushing water and boulders to relax on.
Looking for a backcountry adventure deep into the Boundary Waters, or even the Quetico? Gunflint Lake is also a terrific launching point for trips on the Granite River to Saganaga, to the north and west. From Saganaga, the deep wilderness of the Quetico and the central Boundary Waters stretch out before you. Alternatively, begin your trip by paddling the east down Gunflint, taking nearly a day to fully experience Gunflint’s size before dipping your paddle into some of the Boundary Waters’ most impressive lakes like Rose, Mountain, and Watap.
Paddling and portaging can take you to incredible places from Gunflint. But some anglers know that it’s just as good to stay on the huge lake’s friendly waters. The walleye opener — May 12th in 2018 — brings anglers flocking each year to this world-class lake trout and walleye lake.
Whether you’ve spent years enjoying the Boundary Waters, or you’ve always day-dreamed about exploring its clear waters, rocky shores and deep forests, Gunflint Lake is a perfect place to base, begin or end your trip.
Rose Lake is a breathtaking Boundary Waters lake between the Gunflint Trail and the Canadian Border. It is most easily accessed through the Duncan Lake entry point and if you’re up for a longer portage, take the Daniels Lake entry point. From Duncan Lake, paddlers will descend the Stairway Portage, a rare Boundary Waters portage with wooden stairs next to Rose Falls. Along the portage are multiple hiking trails where visitors can hike up the glacial ridges south of Rose and look out across the lake into Canada. A short hike up those ridges offers some of the most expansive views of the Boundary Waters along the Gunflint Trail. Definitely worth the trip.
The end of the Stairway Portage will put paddlers at the mouth of Rose Falls, which makes for a great fishing spot before paddling further onto the lake. Heading northwest leads to South Lake via Rat Lake and a long winding channel in the western edge of Rose. Keep your eyes peeled in that channel for silver pylons that mark the border between the U.S. and Canada!
Whether for a day paddle or a weekend trip, Rose Lake is a classic stop for newcomers and seasoned BWCA travelers alike. On your next trip up the Gunflint Trail stop by Rose Lake for an unforgettable Boundary Waters experience.