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Science Desk: Where Do We Stand, and Where Do We Go From Here?

Friday, December 18, 2015
Posted by
Rachel Garwin

2015 has been a big year for the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. We are grateful to our partners, supporters and canoe country lovers who have worked so hard over the last year towards our goal of permanent protection for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageurs National Park watershed. But where are we now, and where are we going in 2016?

As December draws to a close, we have many reasons to celebrate. Two full years after Twin Metals Minnesota’s federal mineral leases expired, there have been no renewals or issuances of new federal mineral leases within the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs watershed. In March, the Campaign delivered more than 60,000 petitions demanding permanent protection of the watershed to lawmakers and decision makers in Washington, D.C. As a result of these tens of thousands of people speaking up, Rep. Betty McCollum introduced the National Park and Wilderness Waters Protection Forever Act in the U.S. House of Representatives, and it has since gained 30 co-sponsors representing communities from coast to coast. Closer to home, hundreds of volunteers have tabled at local events, educated passerby at the Great Minnesota Get Together, phonebanked, written letters of support and toured officials around Ely and the South Kawishiwi River, where Twin Metals proposes to build its sulfide-ore copper mine.

Strong passion for the Boundary Waters and the surrounding canoe country, plus an underlying understanding of the ecological and economic threats posed by sulfide-ore copper mining, helps explain 2015’s high degree of activism. People from across the country and across the world care about the Boundary Waters, especially since it is so accessible from both technical and distance standpoints. I routinely hear stories from people I meet all across the country how their first meaningful fishing trip, their first extended wilderness trip, or the first time they went camping with their family happened in the Boundary Waters. When they learn that this beloved place is threatened by proposed sulfide-ore copper mines whose pollution would flow downstream into it, it spurs concern and action. To date, more than 100,000 people have taken at least one action demanding permanent protection of this national treasure.

The concern deepens upon reflection on the mechanisms of pollution that would threaten the Boundary Waters. In May, we discussed the longstanding track record of water pollution caused by sulfide-ore copper mines. Routine spills of toxic materials, chemicals and industrial wastewater are common at these types of mines, even in the United States. We watched in horror as the Animas River turned orange [photo: Durango Herald] as it ran through beautiful Durango, Colorado, and shuddered to think what would happen to Birch Lake and the South Kawishiwi River if sulfide-ore copper mining were to be allowed on the edge of the Boundary Waters. Finally, we considered the still great impacts of building an underground mine, including infrastructure footprints, wildlife corridor disruptions, traffic, noise, dust and light. These are only a few of the impacts that the Boundary Waters and the people it supports would experience, of course.

It can be easy to get lost in worrying about the potential impacts, but it is also important to remember why canoe country is such a beloved place. The Boundary Waters is a stunning example of a large, intact ecosystem. It supports charismatic wildlife like bear, wolves and moose, which we discussed in June. The wilderness also supports people, whether they only visit once or have lived alongside the wilderness for years. Generations have visited the Boundary Waters and other wilderness areas in search of healing, self-knowledge, challenge and personal development.

The natural amenities of the wilderness and surrounding Superior National Forest also support hundreds of businesses along its edge, from wilderness outfitters and retailers to manufacturing companies that rely on the high quality of life to attract and retain a skilled workforce. Of course, these lands have sustained people for much longer than the five decades the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness has been designated under the 1964 Wilderness Act. The lands lie within the 1854 Ceded Territory, and as such are supposed to be maintained for hunting, fishing, gathering and other usufructuary rights for members of the Bois Forte, Fond du Lac and Grand Portage Bands, who have relied upon the lands for generations.

We have accomplished much in 2015, and there is still much more work to do in 2016. At some point, the federal agencies will make a decision whether or not to renew Twin Metals’ federal mineral leases. We also hope that the agencies will allow for a broader conversation and decision on whether sulfide-ore copper mining is an appropriate activity adjacent to the nation’s most popular wilderness. Guided by the principles that the Boundary Waters is a special and beloved place, that sulfide-ore copper mining is a toxic and risky industry, and that future generations deserve to inherit a wilderness as healthy and life-giving as it is today, we will push tirelessly for its permanent protection. We hope you join us.


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.

Infographic: Celebrating 2015!

Friday, December 18, 2015
Posted by
Ellie Bayrd

You made it happen! We accomplished a lot in 2015, thanks in large part to our committed partners, tireless supporters and thousands of devoted Boundary Waters lovers like you. Join us as we look back on this amazing year and look forward to an exciting 2016.

Infographic designed by Next Day Animations, which also created our award-winning animation video, Drawn to Save the Boundary Waters. The video won first place for 2015 Outstanding Environmental Video at the State Environmental Leaders Conference this November in Baltimore, Maryland. View all our Campaign videos here and videos from Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters here.

 

Resupply Report: Flashback to October Filming

Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Posted by
Nate Ptacek

It’s a cold, dreary day along the Minnesota-Canadian border. With temperatures hovering in the low 40s, a brisk northwest wind whisks whitecaps across Basswood Lake. Rain drums steadily on the walls of the tent; the titanium woodstove groans and creaks with the heat of perfectly split cedar.

Late October is no time for a canoe trip, but this isn’t just any old canoe trip: We’re here filming the story of my dear friends Amy and Dave Freeman, who recently embarked on A Year in the Wilderness expedition to save the Boundary Waters Canoe Area from the threat of dangerous sulfide-ore copper mining proposals just upstream. Highlighting the unique and wild character of the Boundary Waters, Amy and Dave are using a satellite terminal to share their story as they travel the wilderness by canoe, ski, snowshoe and dogsled, and we’ll be joining them periodically throughout the year to film the experience.

For right now, the experience is hot bannock and tea. While the warmth of the stove feels nice, I remember that we have a job to do, and anxiously peer outside, the jagged horizon of spruce and pines on the Canadian shoreline still barely visible through the steady rain. Despite the dismal weather, it feels good to be back in canoe country. Now a video editor in southern California, I used to live and work as an outfitter on the Gunflint Trail, and in recent years the Boundary Waters has increasingly come to feel like home to me. I wish I could spend a whole year out here too, but a week in the rain in late October will have to suffice.

Finally, a small break in the weather. My partner, Matt, eagerly dons a hooded wetsuit, gloves and booties - and on top of all that, Amy’s bright orange drysuit. An avid alpine climber and outdoor photographer from Washington, this is his first time in the Boundary Waters. He admits that he’s probably more at home on a snowy peak than on the water - or rather, in the water - but that’s exactly where he’s about to go for some critical underwater footage.

As we paddle out to our location in a shallow bay around the point, I can tell that Matt is beginning to understand why the Boundary Waters is such a special place. And I’m enjoying this opportunity to share the nuances of travel by canoe with someone new. What had once seemed so commonplace to me is suddenly new and wonderful again as I explain the history and ecology of the region.

Stories and memories come flooding back, yet I too am beginning to see this place from a fresh perspective. It’s been five years since I moved from Minnesota to southern California, and on each trip back, the traffic, sprawl and drought of my new home contrasts ever more sharply with the abundant wilderness and fresh water we are fighting to protect here in Minnesota. It’s never been more clear to me exactly what’s at stake.

We soon arrive at our location near a swath of wild rice, and Matt dives in with camera in tow, encased safely in a waterproof housing. It takes a few tries to get the shot set up, but Amy and Dave graciously oblige our many requests to paddle past the camera “just one more time.” For a moment it all seems a bit ridiculous - swimming and paddling in circles in a near-freezing wilderness lake in late October - but I know the results will be worth it when the film is finished (see trailer below).

The power of film is unique as a tool for storytelling, allowing the audience to be immersed in the sights and sounds of a place, if only for a moment. I recognize that not everyone may have the desire or ability to come visit the Boundary Waters, but if they can simply take the time to watch a film, they too may understand what’s at risk and be compelled to protect our nation’s most popular Wilderness. And so with that in mind, we dive back in for yet another take … “just one more time!”


Nate Ptacek is a native of Wisconsin and former Minnesota resident. He is based in Ventura, California, where he works full time as a video editor for Patagonia. Nate filmed Dave and Amy Freeman’s Paddle to DC last year for the film, A Quest for Clean Water.

From the Freemans: Transitioning from Water to Ice Travel

Thursday, December 10, 2015
Posted by
Dave Freeman

While we were getting ready to spend a year in the Boundary Waters people often asked us what we would do during "freeze up." Now we are in the middle of freeze up and we want to share with you what it is like to be in the Boundary Waters during this unique time and how we are transitioning from traveling on the water to traveling over the snow and ice.

Amy and I are currently camped on Ensign Lake. Ensign Lake is covered with two to five inches of ice. Most of the lake is covered in enough ice for us to safely travel across. The lake is free of snow, so it is easy to walk across the ice.

We are using our canoe like a sled to haul our supplies across the ice when we move from one campsite to another. Once we get the canoe moving, it slides quite easily.

We have mini crampons that slip onto our shoes to help us walk across the ice without slipping and we each have a long rope attached to a harness that is tied to the bow of the canoe. Our ropes are different lengths so that we are spread out as we walk. When the ice is thin, it is important to spread out rather than walking close to each other or the loaded canoe.

Ensign Lake has been frozen for almost three weeks, but shallow lakes like Ensign freeze earlier than deeper lakes. Many of the deeper lakes are partially frozen, or covered in very thin ice that is not thick enough to safely walk across. The largest deepest lakes in the Boundary Waters like Knife Lake are still basically ice-free.

Yesterday we walked across Ensign and Splash Lakes to Newfound Lake. Ensign and Splash were covered in plenty of clear, strong ice, but Newfound Lake is over 40 feet deep. The ice was thinner, and we could see steam rising from the center of the lake signaling that a large portion of the lake is still covered in open water.  We have about 10 days of food left and we are waiting for Newfound Lake and Moose Lake to freeze thick enough so that more food and our winter supplies can be safely brought in to us.

When volunteers bring in our next resupply, we will haul our canoe, paddles, lifejackets, other equipment that we don't need in the winter, and an accumulation of garbage (both our own and stuff we've found) and meet them close to the wilderness border. The volunteers will haul in our food, winter sleeping bags, skis and other winter equipment into the Wilderness on two toboggans made by Black River Sleds.

Over the last month we have not moved around a much as we did before the ice started forming. We have only changed campsites seven times during the last month. We are getting a little antsy and are looking forward to being able to travel more freely once snow and ice grip the Wilderness.

With that said, it has been a real pleasure being forced to slow down and really immerse ourselves in a sliver of the vast Wilderness that surrounds us. We have spent many hours watching the clouds float across the sky, listening to the ice sing, wolves howl and wind sweep over the ridges.

Sigurd Olson said, "Wilderness offers [a] sense of cosmic purpose if we open our hearts and minds to its possibilities."

Slowing down as the seasons change and allowing ourselves to soak in the majesty that surrounds us has allowed for meaningful reflection. A better understanding of who we are, how we fit into the untrammeled Wilderness that surrounds us and the world beyond its borders is perhaps the greatest gift that Wilderness offers us all.

We have spent thousands of days in Wilderness around the world, but being frozen in,  forgetting timelines and schedules, and truly being in the Wilderness with no other agenda than to bear witness to it and fully immerse ourselves in it has allowed us to learn more about ourselves and appreciate the Boundary Waters more than ever.


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.

From the Freemans: Inside a 10-Day Resupply

Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Posted by
Dave Freeman

The wind is howling and big fluffy snowflakes tumble down the steep walls of our Seek Outside tipi tent. The radiant heat from our wood stove and an ample supply of dry, split firewood neatly stacked along the edges of the tent add to our sense of comfort and the homey feel of our surroundings. The strong northwest wind that is churning up Knife Lake blew in colder weather. We're hoping that the lows in the teens and twenties will cause the lakes to start freezing soon.

It is hard to know when exactly the lakes will freeze or how long the tenuous season, when the lakes are covered in ice too thick to paddle through but too thin to walk on, will last. On a shorter trip into the Wilderness this could be a nerve-wracking time to be out, fearing that the forecasted cold nights could freeze the lakes unexpectedly. Luckily for us, we are here for the long haul, with nearly a month's worth of food stock piled in our two 60-liter food barrels. Not to mention we have snowshoes, sleeping bag liners, and winter clothing neatly packed in a Granite Gear pack, tucked under our tarp, waiting for winter to arrive in earnest. 

On November 8, we were especially thankful that a hardy group of volunteers paddled up the snowy Moose Lake chain into the Wilderness to bring us our critical last resupply before freeze-up. Sitting in our tent, we are secure in knowing we have plenty of food and the proper equipment to wait for the lakes to freeze.

Levi Lexvold is the mastermind behind this extremely important aspect of A Year in the Wilderness. Levi runs Sustainable Ely, which is also an important hub of A Year in the Wilderness activity. Part of Levi's job is to purchase and organize all of the food that is brought in with each resupply and organize groups of volunteers who bring in those supplies. He also organizes all of the equipment that is brought in and out with different resupplies as the season change. 

A Year in the Wilderness would not be possible without the critical support that we receive from Levi and the volunteers who physically bring in our resupplies and help in many other ways. Volunteers have sent in honey from their beehives, homemade granola, baked goods, chocolate and other goodies. Several uber-volunteers are busy dehydrating fruits and veggies that are sent in with each resupply. Others are helping to organize A Year in the Wilderness parties, entering the scientific data we are collecting into spreadsheets, and a variety of other supportive tasks. 

Amy and I are physically very alone and isolated out here in the Wilderness as the lakes begin to freeze, but we are comforted and inspired to know that we are a part of a much larger team working towards our shared goal of permanently protecting the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining in the Boundary Waters watershed. 

You may wonder what is packed in those giant blue barrels, brimming with so much food they are hard to lift onto our backs. Levi packed our supplies in 10-day increments so that it is easier for us to manage our food, and we don't use up our chocolate, toilet paper, or other coveted items too quickly. Below is an example of the items packed in a typical 10-day re-supply. We have found that simple foods packed in bulk, like flour, oats, rice, cheese, milk powder, nuts, butter, dehydrated fruits and veggies and olive oil are nutritious, cost effective, pack well and store well. We are also very lucky that several companies have donated some delicious food to supplement our regular supplies. Patagonia Provisions, Trailtopia, Clif Bar, and Kakookies have all donated a wonderful assortment of food, which add nutrition and variety to our diet. We are also very excited to welcome our newest food supporter Stone Creek Coffee, which has offered to donate all the coffee we will drink for the remainder of our year in the Boundary Waters.

Our 10-Day Supply List

1 quart size bag of dehydrated apples
1 lb. grits
1 lb. granola
1 lb. oatmeal
1 lb. hot flax/whole grain cereal
1 lb. carrot cake mix
1 cup egg powder
2 lb.  whole wheat flour
8 oz. Klean Kanteen jar of honey
1 lb. coffee
1 lb. whole milk powder
1 quart size bag of herbal tea
1 lb. walnuts
1 lb. sunflower seeds
1 lb. fruit leather (made by Dave's mom)
4 lbs. Patagonia Provisions bars/Clif Bars
4 lbs. spaghetti
2 lbs. Basmati rice
1 lb. brown rice
2 lbs. lentils
0.5 lbs. tomato sauce powder
3 quart size bags dehydrated veggies
3 lbs. cheese
1 small container of olive oil
0.25 lb. butter
1 container parmesan cheese
1 lb. peanut butter
2 packets Patagonia Provisions salmon
1 lb. coconut oil
3 chocolate bars
2 Trailtopia ramen
6 Patagonia Tsampa soups
1 lb. turkey lunchmeat
2 packets of tortillas
8 oz. Klean Kanteen jar pesto
2 rolls of toilet paper
1 pack Sea to Summit Wilderness Wipes

Note: Before sending out our supplies, Levi removes any excess packaging and repackages anything that comes in a glass container or can into a durable, reusable container. He also reuses plastic bags and other containers whenever possible to help reduce the amount of waste we are producing. We send out all trash, recyclables, bags and containers to be reused, recycled or disposed of properly.


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: Sampling Water Quality to Protect the Boundary Waters

Monday, November 23, 2015
Posted by
Rachel Garwin

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is Minnesota’s crown jewel, and we cannot risk degrading it. Fortunately, Dave and Amy Freeman are helping characterize the water quality of the Boundary Waters. They are using their A Year in the Wilderness expedition to sample water clarity, dissolved oxygen, and conductivity in as many of the Boundary Waters’ 1,175 lakes as they can reach. I recently had the opportunity to meet up with them as they took samples on Rog Lake, and I came away with an appreciation for how hard (and important!) it is to collect data in such remote places.

 

Sunday’s sunshine and warm temperatures were a shock for mid-November, but we basked in the mild conditions. A sapphire mirror stretched away from the landing when we first dipped our paddles in Seagull Lake. We’d driven to the end of the Gunflint Trail the night before and camped at the Trail’s End Campground, where cold stars transfixed us. We had little sense for the rolling hills, exposed rock outcroppings, and remnants of the Ham Lake Fire that surrounded us until the morning broke clear and bright. After being away from canoe country for a little while, it was a perfect reminder of the breathtaking beauty of water, sky, and rock.

We paddled southwest along Three Mile Island and headed for the 20-rod portage into Rog Lake, where I’d arranged to meet Dave and Amy. A light tailwind ruffled the perfect reflection of bare birch and burnt pines. We fell into a rhythm of swinging paddles, quiet conversation, and darting eyes. A bald eagle perched atop a tall wooden spire caught my eye, and I appreciated for the thousandth time the critical role that environmental regulation played in bringing back America’s iconic bird.

Any student of environmental science will tell you that we can’t protect what we don’t understand. When eagles, osprey, and other birds began disappearing across the country, it took a scientist named Rachel Carson to connect the dots between industrial pesticide use, bioaccumulation of toxins up the food chain, and bird declines. Restrictions on pesticide use, the Endangered Species Act, and a whole host of curbs on industrial destruction of the environment followed in subsequent decades.

But what happens when a threatened landscape such as the Boundary Waters is too remote to be studied extensively, especially with limited time, money, and personnel? Without this complete understanding of the Boundary Waters ecosystem’s value -- especially the value of its clean water -- land management agencies would not be able to make a decision that best protects this incredible place. That’s why Dave and Amy Freeman are working so hard to collect water quality data for lakes that the Forest Service and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) simply do not have the time or resources to sample.

When conditions allow, Dave and Amy paddle to the deepest part of the middle of a lake and prepare their instruments. On Rog Lake, they paddled to a point their maps said was 40 feet deep and clocked the position on their GPS device. Dave held the canoe in position while Amy carefully lowered a Secchi disk to measure the water’s clarity, a metric called “turbidity.” The amount of light that penetrates the water is important to track since it influences how well submerged aquatic plants can grow, as well as reflects the amount of sediment, nutrients, and other pollution present in aquatic environments. After the Secchi disk, which was weighted by rocks, disappeared from view underwater, Amy pulled it back up until she could see it again and marked the depth. It was the 56th lake they’d sampled, and the clearest by far.

After pulling the Secchi disk back to the surface, Amy prepared a more complex instrument with a probe at the end of a 15-meter cable. She lowered the probe meter by meter and recorded the temperature and dissolved oxygen meter at each stop. As most trout anglers know, cold water can hold more dissolved oxygen than warm water. The oxygen content and temperature can vary with depth, however, and these layers change on both daily and seasonal cycles. By collecting data at varying depths over the course of a whole year, including spring thaw and winter freeze-up, Dave and Amy will able to provide the Forest Service and MPCA with lake mixing data they wouldn’t otherwise be able to collect.

Amy finally hit bottom with the probe and pulled it back into the boat, coiling the electrical cord carefully. The final step was to dip a handheld electrical conductivity meter into the surface of the lake. The reading was higher than other lakes they’d sampled, suggesting that there was a higher concentration of total dissolved ions in Rog Lake than in others they’d tested. Electrical conductivity is an important water quality metric, especially when it comes to considering the impacts of sulfide-ore copper mining, because it reflects the amount of metals present in the ecosystem. Increased electrical conductivity in waters downstream of sulfide-ore copper mines would indicate that they were leaching metals into the surrounding waters, with potentially devastating impacts to aquatic life and human health.

While Amy recorded the electrical conductivity data and put their sampling gear away, I couldn’t help but feel immensely grateful to her and Dave for taking the time to systematically sample the water across the Boundary Waters. Its vast remoteness draws hundreds of thousands of people every year, but prevents researchers from comprehensively documenting the Boundary Waters’ outstanding water quality. By filling in these data gaps, Amy and Dave are ensuring that we have the information necessary to protect the Boundary Waters for this and future generations.


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: Preparing for the Shoulder Season

Friday, November 20, 2015
Posted by
Brad Carlson

On a cold, snowy Saturday morning in November, our group of paddlers set off from the Moose Lake BWCAW entry point on a mission to resupply Dave and Amy Freeman. Distributed in our canoes were various portage packs brimming with food, gear, clothing and other essentials—Including two pair of snow shoes, intended to see Dave and Amy through the critical ice-in period expected some time in the near future. A period when they will be cut off from resupply for an extended period of time when the danger of thin ice will prevent travel by either watercraft, ski, sled or snowshoe. Our course was set for a rendezvous at the Splash Lake portage.

At the time of this writing, Dave and Amy Freeman have been out living and working in the Boundary Waters Wilderness for more than seven weeks. Their work will keep them there for a full year. They are educating school children, taking water quality samples, contributing to science, photographing and filming and acting as the standard bearers for tens of thousands of people with whom they are in solidarity. The goal of this solidarity is simple: to keep the place undisturbed. We on this resupply trip felt proud and privileged to be participating in this effort.

We found Dave and Amy waiting at the portage, backdropped by snow-covered evergreens and a gurgling stream teaming with spawning whitefish. Eagles were circling overhead. I'm happy to report they both look healthy and happy, upbeat and at ease in the woods. We spent part of the morning with them visiting and repacking, organizing and loading their fresh supplies. On the portage trail there was an abundance of fresh wolf scat. Amy told us how they had heard and seen wolves the last few days. They've heard splashing as the wolves take advantage of the white fish in the shallows. Amy described the beauty of being camped near a pack that has been howling just a short distance from their tent. Dave told us how they too have been enjoying eating the fresh fish that are schooling. They recently met up with friends in the area out netting the fish.

In the early afternoon we hugged one another goodbye. Darkness comes early this time of year. Amy and Dave climbed aboard their heavily ladened canoe and paddled north toward Knife Lake and our group headed south toward the take out and our respective homes. A slate grey sky and light winds reminded us of the coming winter. Though we were parting ways, our goal is the same.


Brad Carlson is a native of Virgina, MN, and lives with his wife in a small cabin on the Kawishiwi Trail, eight miles outside of Ely. They split their time between Ely and Austin, TX. Carlson is a retired deaf blind specialist in the field of vocational rehabilitation. Carlson spent his childhood growing up in proximity to the Wilderness and Superior National Forest. He and his wife love paddling the waters of the Wilderness and exploring the back country. They feel strongly that this place should be left undisturbed—forever.

Autumn Paddle

Wednesday, November 18, 2015
Posted by
Ellen Hawkins

The sun broke through between dark cloud layers and shone with a warm brilliance on bronzed sedges and grasses and the cedar fringe beyond. We were in a sheltered bay, hoping for another glimpse of a moose couple we’d inadvertently alarmed back at our lunch spot. Something about the moment--the subtle fall colors in the golden light, the fresh tang of the bog edges, the deep stillness, the sense of anticipation--called to mind another October paddle of many years ago.

We were paddling the shore of Cap Lake, just past the outlet of a little stream that runs down from a beaver pond, when an odd movement caught my eye. It was at the low crown of a rock ledge that sloped up from the water. Camouflaged by a screen of hazel and dogwood, a pair of great moose antlers jerked upright … and then began to droop. Even though this was happening no more than 20 feet back from shore, it took a moment for the startling big picture to come together. A bull moose, no doubt exhausted from the rut, was dozing. Every time the end of his long nose sunk into the lush lichen garden he lay in, his head jerked up and his eyes almost cracked open ... but then sleepiness overtook him, and head and antlers sank again. 

Silently we pulled the canoe tight against the shore and settled in to soak up the peaceful scene. Late fall colors, the dark moose against pale lichen behind the brown and red brushy screen, a passing breeze tossing a handful of old gold tamarack needles, the warmth of sun on back and cold of water on dipped fingers. A dark crimson bunchberry grew so close to shore that, low as it was to the ground, its four leaves cast a perfect reflection on the narrow gap of still, clear water between canoe and shore.

Suddenly a tiny least chipmunk ran down the rock to water’s edge and took a drink, so close I might have touched it, making ripples that obscured the red reflection. A drink, a long look around, then it raced back up and disappeared into an old gray root wad. We had to laugh (though silently!) and the spell was broken; we paddled on and left the bull dozing. Or maybe that’s when the spell was cast, the spell that makes that memory so fresh after nearly 30 years.

One part of that long ago event that I don’t recall is what I was thinking. The feeling of it, the sensory impressions, yes, but not the thoughts. I’m positive, though, that I wouldn’t have been thinking that someday there would be plans for sulfide-ore copper mining operations that would devastate these Boundary Waters. I would have innocently assumed myself to be in the middle of a vast wilderness protected in perpetuity by the Wilderness Act and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act. 

I know better now, but I want the next generations to have the luxury of that happy innocence. I want us--you and me, today--to be tenacious, taking this hard won chance we have to permanently protect the Boundary Waters watershed from proposed sulfide-ore copper mining. These days, while I’m soaking up the pleasures of an autumn paddle, I’m also vowing to myself  “We have to make it happen, and we will!” 


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

Fish Out Of Water - Episode 1

Tuesday, November 17, 2015
Posted by
Ellie Bayrd

Today, we're excited to share the first episode of Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters' three-part series, Fish Out of Water. We were there to help as Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters debuted this series last night at Steel Toe Brewing in St. Louis Park in partnership with Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. The event featured music from The Boomchucks and appetizers from the three chefs featured in the film. We're grateful for the help of AVEX and those who donated to the auction: Rapala, W.R. Case & Sons, Frost River, The General Store of Minnetonka, Full Curl, Far Out Fly Fishing and Derek DeYoung.

In October, three Minnesota chefs journeyed into the Boundary Waters to fish and cook. Fish Out of Water follows Boundary Waters novices, Lachelle Cunningham of Breaking Bread Café and Amanda Cowette of Wise Acre Eatery, as they join experienced sportsman Lukas Leaf of Al Vento and their guide, Dave Seaton of Hungry Jack Outfitters. Their adventure showcases the beauty of this fishing and hunting destination threatened by Twin Metals and other companies’ proposed sulfide-ore copper mines.

Episode one starts the same way many Boundary Waters trips start, with a road trip up north. Enjoy!

Episode Two - Release Date: Nov. 24
Episode Three - Release Date: Dec. 1

To view the next two videos in this series NOW, please take action to show your support for
protecting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from proposed sulfide-ore copper mining.

No Other Place Like It in the World

Thursday, November 12, 2015
Posted by
Becky Rom

Today is Give to the Max Day, an unparalleled day of giving across the state of Minnesota. The Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters has received an outpouring of generosity from supporters. One of the most passionate wilderness warriors in this Campaign is National Campaign Chair Becky Rom, a third-generation Ely resident. An avid outdoorswoman, Becky has unique insight into the politics of the Boundary Waters. Becky’s father, Bill Rom, studied under conservationist and wilderness advocate, Sigurd Olson, and worked as an outfitter in Ely for nearly 30 years. She began guiding trips in the Boundary Waters at the age of 14. Learn more about Becky's passion for protecting the Boundary Waters in her own words below or in her recent interview with Great Old Broads for Wilderness, in which Becky reflected on her history in Ely and connection to the Northwoods. Please give today to support our efforts to protect the wilderness.


I have loved the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness since I was a child. Growing up in Ely, Minnesota, I took my first canoe trip at the age of two (pictured right). As I grew older, I worked alongside my father, Bill Rom, in his outfitting business Canoe Country Outfitters (pictured left, below), often guiding visitors on Boundary Waters trips to experience the wonder and natural beauty of canoe country. No matter where I have lived and traveled, I have always returned here. You can canoe in spectacular wild country and catch great fish, or have an extraordinary winter adventure by dogsled. You can tell stories around the fire while the loons and wolves call and the stars pave the sky. There is no other place like it in the world.

That’s why, when I learned that a South American mining company had plans to develop sulfide-ore copper mines right in the heart of the Superior National Forest—in an area stretching for many miles, involving thousands of acres of woods and wetlands along the edge of and upstream from the Boundary Waters—I knew that we must take action.

If we allow this risky type of mining to happen along the streams and wetlands that flow into the Boundary Waters, this canoe country will never recover. The water would be polluted, large areas of woods and wetlands would be destroyed, wildlife and fish would suffer, and this would no longer be a place for families to enjoy.

Together, our voices are powerful. Whether you’ve volunteered at the Minnesota State Fair or elsewhere, traveled to Washington, D.C. with us, or simply signed a petition asking for the Boundary Waters to be protected, thank you.

If you haven't yet, please schedule your Give to the Max Day gift to Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness and the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters today.

With NMW’s leadership and the tireless work of fantastic volunteers and staff, the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters has grown with pro-bono legal support from excellent law firms and advice from some of the best and most experienced public lands defenders in the country. We are making progress every day. None of this would be possible without the financial support of people like you. We promise to spend your money wisely.

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