Born, raised and residing in Ohio, I'm 881 miles from the edge of the Boundary Waters at Echo Trail Entry Point #16. I've journeyed in there at ages 17, 18 and 19.
On my first voyage in a group of high school students whom teachers transported by van and bus... I would soon disgust McDonald's but adore hot sauce. I remember the northern lights the first night, being so awe struck, so mesmerized. I gazed as loons called across the still Moose Lake and I fell in love with them.
We canoed up the Nina Moose, as tranquil a stream as I'd ever seen. The way each gentle reed bent yielding to the soft current. The sound of the paddle. What I knew of canoe trips on the Little Miami River in Ohio were not like this. Beautiful yes but over-crowded peak-season with beer-drinking screamers and a very fast current. This was totally different. This was worth the bus ride.
Over 2,200 campsites spread across 1,000+ lakes and visited by over 200,000 people a year... it's the most visted wilderness in the United States.
That said, you might only glimpse someone else paddling let alone hear them up here. We paddled across Nina Moose Lake, through to Lake Agnes for camp. My guide sent me out to fetch water and I was stunned that we would drink this untreated from the lake. To know lake water can exist so clean made me wonder. Why not live here?
Huron, Cree, Dakota and Ojibwe (Chippewa) all lived in this area. Soon I would see their handprints and artwork on great rock faces overlooking the water. I was told they made these where the sky, land and the water meet. The Ojibway people call themselves 'Anishinabe' in their own language, which means 'original person.'
I portaged for the first time to reach Iron Lake. This taught me some endurance for pain and mental fortitude I did not know I had. It was worth it to reach a beautiful site with sunsets across the water and scattered boulders on the shore. It was worth it to hear a wolf for the first time in my life close enough to make the hair stand up on my neck. I was peacefully fishing the shore alone when it started low, a sweeping groan, which grew in pitch until it made its presence known to me with a howl. What a world I was in. It seemed, I was in a dream. This is how a person falls in love with the wild of the boundary waters.
There, on Iron Lake I also heard a grouse for the first time as I explored a bit. Very unusual sound which can be frightening if you don't know what it is. I went running back and told my guide "a human is in the woods beating their chest, like an ape. Or, maybe an ape was beating their chest at me?" No... just a secluded, wild fowl flapping their wings to attract a mate.
On my second trip we went into Tiger Bay of Lac La Croix and camped at the site I now regard as the best I've camped, ever. Sunsets were directly across the water and it even had a sandy beach shore scattered with pine cones. They substituted nicely as golf balls in the middle of the day, coupled with a large stick for a golf club. I preferred the northern woods in August than in June because the water is warmer for swimming. And still not too hot for a climb atop Warrior Hill on Lac La Croix.
There I stood and felt so high, so free.
I tasted my first northern pike this return trip... basted in Parkay after being caught in the reeds of Crooked Lake. Yes many bones but it was the best fish I've ever tasted.
For my return trips, my sister loaned me her manual lens camera to capture this place and its wonder. It further connected me to the Boundary Waters, making me ever more curious to find photographs. Such a place awakens the soul, soothes the mind and envigorates the body. When you are one with nature it is hard to leave. I had to convince myself I would return even to endure what I admit was scary... Wind Lake on a stormy day. But, (of course;) there is always calm after a storm.
I am now an online volunteer with the campaign to "Save The Boundary Waters" because it must exist not just as a destination for adventure or serenity but as a reality of wild purity. Few places are left in this developed world; still offering such wonder, such WATER. This wonder would not exist without its pure water. If it were poisoned by careless, avoidable, human error... what a tragedy. For all of us who hold it dear; for whom drank of it, we ask that they stop unnecessary, greedy, dangerous mines from threatening to poison what is so unique about this place (the water). To keep it safe for generations to come is my greatest goal.
I noticed there ARE rules about who can enter the park, specific to limiting numbers of groups in order to reduce impact on the pristine wild. Yet, there are possibly risks of obliteration from new, toxic mine permits? How could the forest service even consider mines so dangerous?? It makes no sense and that is what I want to stress to people. Not here.
Since the Boundary Waters opened up for overnight trips on May 18, many of our supporters have been wondering what a trip to the Boundary Waters looks like during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is a list of the top 10 things to remember when visiting the Boundary Waters in the next few months:
Protect yourself and others by wearing a mask
Maintain a distance of 6 feet when going into any stores or outfitters
Wash/sanitize your hands before and after going into buildings or touching things, especially at gas stations (consider an eco-friendly hand sanitizer like Dr.Bronners!)
Be patient on portages and spread out (when you are able to)
Consider buying groceries before hand
When possible, send only 1 member of your group into any store/outfitter
Print your permit and/or fishing license at home before traveling
Be patient with outfitting staff and other service workers. We are all trying our best to navigate these tricky times together!
If you choose to pick up a meal on the road, opt for restaurants that offer drive-thru or curbside service.
Watch the USFS “leave no trace” videos at home before you come to ensure you leave the BWCA better than you found it.
Part 1: https://youtu.be/nen7lRqEjm8
Part 2: https://youtu.be/nQ176Q3eMrQ
Part 3: https://youtu.be/Z8msTMqbvoc
We all know that Boundary Waters trips are a highlight of many peoples’ summers; however, safety is a top priority. If you or someone in your group feels sick before your planned travel, stay home except to get medical care and as always, please follow the specific guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/prevention.html.
For up to date information regarding forest closures or restrictions, please visit: www.fs.usda.gov/superior
Thank you to all who participated in our online Save the Boundary Waters Garage Sale June 25th-July 2nd. In total we collected 231 items and raised almost $10,000! Half of the proceeds will be donated to MIGIZI, an incredible local nonprofit that focuses on empowering native youth that we have collaborated with in the past. They were impacted by the civil unrest surrounding the murder of George Floyd, when on Friday, May 29th their building in Minneapolis (one street over from the 3rd precinct) went up in flames. Learn more about their work here.
Thank you again for participating, we hope you can put this gear to good use in the remainder of this summer. Unless otherwise coordinated, all items will be mailed out in the coming week, so keep an eye out for them!
I'm Alex Falconer, the Government Relations Director for the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. My primary role is focused on our federal strategy to achieve permanent protections for the Boundary Waters through legislation like Representative McCollum's HR5598, the Boundary Waters Protection and Pollution Prevention Act. HR5598 would remove the threat of sulfide-ore mining from the watershed of the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs National Park forever.
In my spare time (which admittedly is not a lot with my job and 3 kids) I'm either in the Boundary Waters or running - a lot. I have a side project of actually running all the major back country hiking trails in the Boundary Waters as a way to bring awareness of our fight to our running, and specifically, our trail running community.
Photo by Brendan Davis
Trail runners depend on vast areas of protected public lands to enjoy our passions. Across the country other runners have stepped up to use their running to protect areas like Bears Ears and Grand Escalante, Red Rock Desert, Arctic Wildlife Refuge and other roadless and wild places across the country. I've been particularly inspired by Clare Gallagher, an elite professional trail runner dedicating her running toward fighting climate change and saving our wild places.
A unique aspect of my advocacy is that people see the Boundary Waters - and rightfully so - as canoe country. So it's my idea to collectively run hundreds of miles in a landscape of over 1,100 lakes that also holds 20% of the freshwater in the US Forest Service System to draw a unique perspective to our fight. In addition to world class canoe adventures, are these remote wilderness backcountry trails. Typically they are multi-day hiking and backpack camping routes, and all of them very remote, rugged and wild. There's only one human made bridge on any of these trails - the rest constructed by beaver dams. The trails themselves are cut through the only section of the Canadian boreal forest in the lower 48 and are some of the rockiest and rooted trails I've ever run on. Often times they're flooded (again the beavers) or blocked by downed trees or hard to follow as they wind through recent forest fire areas or...I could go on forever.
I started my project in 2019 intending to run both the Border Route Trail (BRT) and the Kekekabic Trail (the Kek) individually and then combine the two this summer for one long ~ 110 mile run east to west across our cherished canoe country. My two first segments can be read about in my previous blogs hosted here. However this year, with COVID hitting our country and shutting us down in March, the logistics of organizing the trip, support necessary, some awesome athletes who were going to join me to make a big deal about it all started to unravel and I have to delay the full run by another year.
But with lemons, make some backcountry lemonade (the water is so clean you can drink straight from the lakes and rivers afterall).
This summer I'm instead running a series of trails in addition to re-running the BRT and the Kek to keep the drumbeat of trail running advocacy beating. These trails are all 20 miles or more in length (I'm also adding in Eagle Mountain connected with the Brule Lake Trail for another 8 or so miles to climb the summit of Minnesota at a nose-bleed altitude of 2,301 feet!).
Snowbank Lake - Snowbank Lake actually has 3 concentric loop trails of roughly 20, 26 and 31 mile distances by adding extra lake trails to run around. Snowbank Loop itself is 20 miles, Snowbank-Disappointment - which I ran in May and you can read about here - is 26 miles, and Snowbank-Old Pines-Disappointment loop is another extending 31 miles. Each runs along the Kek at the western side where you can choose which route to take in a choose your own adventure run around Snowbank Lake!
I successfully ran the Snowbank-Disappointment loop in May this year as my first run in this summer series. Run report here and I set a fastest known time (FKT). I'm planning to run the other two loops this summer, likely in the August timeframe.
Sioux Hustler Trail - This one is coming up this weekend! I'm attempting this trail on the 3rd and I'm currently in the midst of planning for this run. It is going to be a hot run (94 degrees predicted) but there's a lot of access to water and I'm starting out as early as possible to get at least the first half done before the sun is directly overhead. The heat is a serious compounding factor for this run - the last thing I want is another bout of heat exhaustion when so remote and inaccessible. Starting early, carrying plenty of water and electrolytes in addition to enough calories is paramount. The trail runs alongside several lakes and streams for refilling options and campsites are along the way to go for a rest and refill as needed as well. During last year's BRT on the hottest summer of the year I paused for a half hour at one point to jump in Rove Lake - not a bad way to cool down either! Stay tuned for updates, and my main website www.runningforthebwca.com will have a linked gps tracker of my run.
Powwow Trail - Likely also in August, I'll run this trail and from reports it may be the most challenging as it is the least maintained trail according to the US Forest Service site. They haven't updated the trail info since 2016 and there are reports of several trail clearing expeditions. So, I'm researching the trail and it's status as I keep planning for that route. It's a 27 mile loop in the southern central part of the BWCA north of Tofte, MN.
The BRT and Kek - I will re-run both of these probably in September and October. Last summer the BRT won. A mixture of heat exhaustion and a broken toe and I had to pull off at mile 56 after 20 hours on the trail, just 9 miles shy of finishing. The lessons learned however were life changing for how I run these trails. Nutrition, training tempo, weather, and gear have all been re-evaluated and refined. It's a great example of how the wilderness is a classroom for life - pushing to uncomfortable levels with no choice but to keep going and taking those lessons home.
2021 Boundary Waters Traverse: BRT + Kek
I, along with the rest of the world, hope 2021 brings better times. As we await science to catch up to the current health crisis, hopefully we'll have a viable vaccine soon and a chance to regain some normalcy, travel, and mixing among our family, friends and strangers again. These trails mean the world to me and to so many other people. The Wilderness to even more people. I hope 2021 brings a scenario in which I can run the BRT and Kek in one contiguous run but that's a big wait and see. Until then I'll keep planning as we do for all our Wilderness trips - plan as best we can, build in flexibility, adapt as needed, have the time of our lives.
On June 29, the Trump Administration announced they are beginning the official review process of Antofagasta’s Twin Metals sulfide-ore copper mine. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) published a Notice of Intent in the Federal Register to begin reviewing the Twin Metals project, located on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
This notice of intent confirms that the Bureau of Land Management’s highest priority under this Administration – even in the Boundary Waters watershed – is an exploitation of Americans’ public lands for private gain.
Under direction from the Secretary of the Interior, the agency will conduct the most superficial of reviews – at breakneck speed and with arbitrary page limits.
This is a reckless push to build a toxic mine right next to the most popular Wilderness in America. Just a week ago, the state of Minnesota declared this Twin Metals mine plan to be incomplete and some material representations to be false.
Make no mistake – the Trump Administration is gutting our environmental laws. If this mine were built, it would damage the Boundary Waters. Every sulfide-ore copper mine has polluted water, and this one would, too.
The Trump administration has:
All with the goal of handing over America’s most popular Wilderness to be exploited for the benefit of a Chilean mining giant Antofagasta.
America has 24 mines producing copper. There is no shortage of copper, but there is only one Boundary Waters.
Save the Boundary Waters is leading the effort to prevent copper mining on the edge of the Boundary Waters. This approach already includes multiple lawsuits, a permanent protection bill in the U.S. Congress, an intensive expert review of the Mine Plan of Operation to expose the dangers, and much, much more.
December 2016: Twin Metals leases deemed too dangerous by the US Forest Service and not renewed. Mineral withdrawal and study of impacts of sulfide-ore copper mining on Boundary Waters announced.
December 2017: The Trump administration rejects the unanimous view of the Johnson, Obama, and Reagan administrations, instead announces “legal error” in previous Twin Metals’ lease decision.
May 2018: Arbitrary reinstatement of expired Twin Metals leases.
September 2018: Mineral withdrawal and study abruptly canceled just prior to release. The Trump administration has refused countless demands from the public, Congress, and the press to release the study and background reports.
May 2019: After the most superficial of environmental reviews that did not even consider the impact of mining, Twin Metals is granted sweetheart lease renewals granting it use of public lands next to the Boundary Waters in perpetuity.
June 2020: The Trump administration finalizes changes to the Clean Water Act that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) says will prevent Minnesota from protecting the Boundary Waters from a Twin Metals mine.
June 2020: Citing the Coronavirus pandemic, Trump signs an Executive Order instructing federal agencies to waive long-standing environmental laws making it easier to expedite harmful projects.
My husband and I married each other in the Boundary Waters. We both couldn’t think of any better venue considering our first date took place in the same remote wilderness. We read vows to each other in a place that holds significant meaning to us. Our love for the BWCA remains strong and steadfast and we have visited every year since we met. My husband continues to use the metaphor of canoeing being very much like our marriage; whether we are on smooth glass or choppy waters, as long as we communicate the ultimate direction of our goal, we will never be lost.
Corey and I met at an open gym volleyball night in south Minneapolis. The next day I had to move to Missouri for a 6 month nursing travel contract. During that time, Corey and I kept in touch through texting, phone calls, and social media which definitely triggered some chemistry. That same summer while I was still living in Missouri, 2 friends of mine were begging me to take them into the BWCA for their first trip. Since canoe trips (in my opinion) work better with an even number of people, I decided to take a risk and ask Corey if he would be our 4th person. His enthusiastic “yes” was the start of him and I having our first date in BWCA.
Our first date trip was amazing. I got to guide 3 newbies on their first trips. We all got along great and my reservations about Corey quickly were shattered the more time we spent together cooking, pitching tents, slinging up our food pack, and relaxing campfire nights supported with the help of boxed wine.
We entered in Fall Lake and did the windy tour up to Basswood. I assumed since Corey had never paddled before that it would be best if I steered the back of the canoe and he provide the forward momentum. I quickly realized he was way too strong, so we swiftly switched roles. He was now in control of the canoes direction and I had more time to keep an eye on where our ultimate destination would be. I felt comfortable paddling with him. He was a natural paddler and learner and loved hearing little pearls of wisdom I had about paddling and map reading. I quickly realized how easy it was to fall in love with someone as I got to know him on the open water.
That first trip was so much fun. We had bears in our site (eating left over desserts) which we were able to scare off and watch swim away to Washington island. We sipped wine at night at the campfires and interacted with the curious Canadian Grey Jays birds who seemed to enjoy our presence.
Each day on this first date trip I knew I was falling in love with this guy. He was into all things camping and never complained about anything. He showed all of us how to fish and we even had to rescue him from falling into the lake as he was wrestling a large mouth bass from out from the water above a rock cliff. Our trip ended with us both realizing we were meant to start dating. We’ve never been apart since.
Fast forward three years. After getting engaged on a cold starry night on Lake Nokomis, it was wedding planning time. We debated, like most couples, on what our families wanted for our wedding. In the end, we both agreed that the BWCA was the place our hearts wanted to tie the knot. Knowing we couldn’t invite basically anyone, we asked our family and friends to write us intimate letters of encouragement about love and marriage. We took all these letters with us and read them each night around the campfire. In this way our closest supporters were still able to be present with us in spirit. A highlight of our marriage for sure.
Our wedding canoe trip also started in Fall Lake. We were a group of four once again. Our other two companions were our amazing close friend who got ordained for us and her boyfriend who was an enthusiastic photographer. We had no destination set in mind of where we would marry. We decided to paddle and move each day knowing we would both mutually agree on the perfect spot when it revealed itself. We decided to wind our way up through Pipestone Bay and over into Basswood near the famous Basswood Falls. Eventually we found the perfect spot; two separate waterfalls cascading into one forming the start of the long and windy Basswood river - something we both intuitively noted as being symbolic to our soon to be union. I wrote my vows, Corey fished, and our friends decorated the site for our celebration.
The wedding ceremony was magical. We stood on flat rocks along the river with the water flowing through our sandals and the sun shining bright. Our boutonnière corsages were made by hand from the wildflowers abundant in our campsite. We committed ourselves to one another, eagles flying overhead with the Canadian border just behind us. There was a gentle breeze and the sound of cascading water with the majestic falls in the background. After, we celebrated with a playlist of music and drank boxed champagne. We strung a burlap “Just Married” sign on our canoe and spent several more memorable days and starry nights and even got to see the Perseid Meteor shower. The rest is history.
We continue to go to the BWCA each year. Some years we go alone to reflect on ourselves and our marriage, and other years we bring friends who have never been to help guide them on their first trips to our favorite place. Our story of marriage is special to us and we continue to spread the word and advocate for the most amazing place on planet earth, the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness.
Minnesota’s 27-year old rules for sulfide-ore copper mining (“nonferrous mining rules”) prohibit mining within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness but fail to ban mining on lands next to the Wilderness and along waters that flow directly into it. Peer-reviewed science tells us that if sulfide-ore copper mining were permitted upstream from and near the Wilderness, industrial mining pollution would degrade water that flows directly into the Wilderness, air that flows everywhere, and thousands of acres of terrestrial habitat outside the Wilderness that is seamlessly-connected to—indeed, is part of—the Boundary Waters ecosystem. Obviously this would violate Minnesota’s commitment to protect the Boundary Waters.
On Wednesday, June 24, 2020, Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness (NMW), the lead organization for the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, filed a lawsuit asking a Minnesota state district court judge to direct the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to amend state rules to protect the Boundary Waters from the damage that would inevitably result from nearby sulfide-ore copper mining. Specifically, NMW requests that the rules be amended to ban sulfide-ore copper mining in the entirety of the Rainy River-Headwaters. See the map below.
The northern portion of the Rainy River-Headwaters is protected as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Indeed, most of the Wilderness - 80% - is within this watershed. National Wilderness Areas have the highest protected designation under federal law. The Wilderness Act of 1964 mandates the preservation of the wild character of National Wilderness Areas: untrammeled, natural, undeveloped, and providing outstanding opportunities for solitude and primitive recreation. In addition to having federal protection as a National Wilderness Area, the Boundary Waters is Minnesota’s only state Wilderness. But the southern portion of the Rainy River-Headwaters - 46% - is unprotected and is not within the national or state Wilderness System. All of these waters in the Rainy River-Headwaters flow north through the Boundary Waters, Quetico Provincial Park, and Voyageurs National Park. By amending the nonferrous mining rules to expand the mining prohibition to the entirety of the Rainy River-Headwaters, including the currently unprotected southern portion, the DNR would ensure that the Boundary Waters would be fully protected from damage by sulfide-ore copper mining.
The Rainy River-Headwaters is no place for a sulfide-ore copper mine. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency concluded in 2017 that “[t]he majority of the water bodies within this watershed [have] exceptional biological, chemical, and physical characteristics that are worthy of additional protection.” Fifty-four percent of the Rainy River-Headwaters is protected as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The southern 46% of the watershed contains very popular recreational lakes, such as Burntside Lake. In the area proposed for mining, the Birch Lake-South Kawishiwi shoreline is listed by the U.S. Forest Service as a “Recreation Use in a Scenic Landscape” Management Area. Birch Lake-South Kawishiwi is one of the most popular recreational lake areas in the Superior National Forest. Thirty businesses are located in the immediate area of proposed sulfide-ore copper mining. Thousands of homes and cabins are located in the southern portion of the watershed.
Current Minnesota nonferrous mining rules were not intended or designed to protect a world-class water-intensive Wilderness Area such as the Boundary Waters from the major damage that sulfide-ore copper mining always causes. The rules establish standards for mining districts, places where significant changes to ecosystems and landscapes are permitted and where degradation of air and water is acceptable. The rules purport to limit but not prohibit pollution of the environment; this is unacceptable in the Boundary Waters and its headwaters. If sulfide-ore copper mining were developed in the southern portion of the Rainy River-Headwaters, such degradation and pollution would inevitably damage the Boundary Waters.
These critical shortcomings compelled NMW to file a lawsuit in Ramsey County District Court under Section 10 of the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (“MERA”) to challenge the non-ferrous mining rules.
Section 10 of MERA gives citizens and organizations the right to challenge rules and regulations that are inadequate to protect the air, water, land, or other natural resources in the state from pollution, impairment, or destruction. In the lawsuit, NMW is seeking a decision and order from the Court that Minnesota’s nonferrous mining rules are inadequate to protect the Boundary Waters because they fail to ban sulfide-ore copper mining in the headwaters of the Wilderness (the southern portion of the Rainy River-Headwaters). NMW will prove to the court the inadequacy of the rules and ask the court to require the DNR to institute administrative proceedings to take evidence and make findings regarding NMW’s claims. The DNR will be asked to protect the Boundary Waters by prohibiting sulfide-ore copper mining on lands in the entire Rainy River-Headwaters.
Mining proponents assert that Minnesota has strong environmental protection standards relative to other states. That is not completely false. For example, Minnesota has a unique water quality standard—the wild rice sulfate standard—that prohibits industrial discharge of wastewater that exceeds 10 parts per million (ppm) of sulfate into lakes and rivers that produce wild rice. Research has shown that exceeding 10 ppm can kill native wild rice. No other state is so protective. However, although Minnesota has this protective standard, it has failed to enforce it.
But the real question is “Do Minnesota’s state environmental regulations sufficiently protect the Boundary Waters?” The answer clearly is “no.” For example, if the sulfide-ore copper mine proposed by Antofagasta’s Twin Metals discharged sulfate at the allowable level of 10 ppm, that is between 300% and 600% more than the current level of sulfate in the waters of the South Kawishiwi River and Birch Lake, which flow into the Boundary Waters. Thus, the existing state rule ALLOWS water quality degradation—it doesn’t require that water quality be maintained. Any change in chemical composition—for example, increasing the sulfate level in the water—can have multiple negative effects; for example, an increase in sulfates not only harms wild rice, but also it starts a process that results in fish taking up more mercury in their bodies.
The policy of Minnesota has long been to protect the water quality in the Boundary Waters. Waters in and around the Boundary Waters are among the cleanest in the United States. The waters of the Wilderness are designated as Prohibited Outstanding Resource Value Waters under Minn. R. 7050.0335, subp. 3. These waters are afforded the highest level of protection under state and federal law. No degradation of these waters is allowed (Minn. R. 7050.0265, subp.7). Applying Minnesota’s existing nonferrous mining rules to proposals for sulfide-ore copper mining in the headwaters of the Boundary Waters would make a mockery of the Prohibited Outstanding Resource Value Waters designation.
Moreover, Minnesotans cannot rely on federal laws and regulations. Bedrock federal environmental regulations, such as the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, are being eviscerated by the Trump administration. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency says that changes to Section 401 regulations of the Clean Water Act kneecap its ability to protect the Boundary Waters from a sulfide-ore copper mine in the Rainy River-Headwaters.
State agencies have authority to make rules as prescribed in laws passed by the Minnesota legislature. Laws state the goals or policy of the state. Rules are the roadmap to implementation of the goals or policy. If the rules don’t achieve the goal, then there is a major disconnect. If you intend to go to Ely but the roadmap instead takes you to Rochester, you need to get a new map. Such is the case with rules related to sulfide-ore copper mining near the Boundary Waters. The current Minnesota DNR nonferrous mining rules simply will not protect the Wilderness in the way the legislature has intended. Minnesota’s 1976 statutory ban on mining within the Boundary Waters is meaningless if state rules allow mining in the Wilderness headwaters that will degrade the waters of the Wilderness and the ecosystem of which the Wilderness is a part.
NMW’s lawsuit under MERA utilizes that crucial state law to challenge the nonferrous mining rules that fail to protect the Boundary Waters. MERA (Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 116B) says that the goal of Minnesota is that “present and future generations may enjoy clean air and water, productive land, and other natural resources with which this state has been endowed.” MERA provides the backbone for the enforcement of many of Minnesota’s environmental protections by allowing citizens and organizations to bring civil actions in court. NMW’s lawsuit is filed under Section 10 of MERA, which allows a legal challenge to rules that are inadequate to protect air, water, land, or other natural resources within Minnesota from pollution, impairment, or destruction.
Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that Minnesota DNR Rule 6132 is inadequate to protect the Boundary Waters. Minn. R. 6132, which was adopted in 1993, regulates how nonferrous mining (i.e., not iron mining but including sulfide-ore copper mining) can be conducted in the state. It provides direction for how nonferrous mines should be constructed—including buffers, tailings basin design, dust suppression, and other physical considerations. The rules prohibit nonferrous mining within the Boundary Waters but do not prohibit siting such mines in the headwaters of the Boundary Waters. The rules don’t meet the goal of the legislature’s policy because they would allow this uniquely toxic and accident-prone form of mining to occur in the southern portion of the Rainy River-Headwaters—the source of waters that flow into the Wilderness. Sulfide-ore copper mining in the headwaters would threaten the water, air, land, vegetation, and wildlife of this unique and irreplaceable Wilderness Area owned by the American people.
Scientific reports and studies of sulfide-ore mines in other places have taught us a lot about the environment and sulfide-ore mining in the 27 years since Rule 6132 was adopted. The Minnesota rules need to be updated to incorporate that knowledge. We now know that protecting water quality of Outstanding Resource Value Waters requires among other things protecting the watershed. Runoff from the proposed Antofagasta/Twin Metals mine would enter Birch Lake and flow into the Boundary Waters—that is a certainty. Even small changes in concentration of pollutants will affect the ecosystem. The clean waters of the area have virtually no calcium carbonate, and thus will not buffer or moderate acid mine drainage pollutants. Keeping pollution out is the only feasible protection. Further, water quality degradation would make the Boundary Waters susceptible to an army of invasive species—both aquatic and terrestrial. These don’t respect boundaries, and a mine operation of this type and magnitude would facilitate the introduction of scores of species into the Boundary Waters that are not native and that would disrupt the functioning ecosystem. Noise, light, and air pollution would be carried for miles into the Wilderness, and the massively ugly tailings pile would be there forever.
Part of Minn. R. 6132.2000 deals to some extent with the siting of nonferrous mining operations. Subpart two lists locations within the state where no such mining may occur, including the Boundary Waters. This is consistent with state policy to protect the Wilderness from the negative impacts that inevitably flow from mining. We know from a host of high-quality scientific studies and from simple observation that water, air, land, and wildlife degradation would be severe. The human experience of the Boundary Waters would be negatively impacted by nonferrous mining outside the Wilderness perimeter itself but in its headwaters. NMW’s lawsuit asks that the entire Rainy River-Headwaters be added to the list of locations that are off-limit to nonferrous mining.
Subpart 3 of the current rule establishes “buffer areas.” The goal of that section is, in part to “... minimize adverse impacts on natural resources and the public. Separations shall be maintained between mining areas and adjacent conflicting land uses.” The rule goes on to define a buffer between the Boundary Waters and any nonferrous mining surface disturbance. In some places, the buffer is only ¼ mile in width. Clearly, the drafters of the rule knew that mining activity near the Boundary Waters would be detrimental. Unfortunately, they didn’t have today’s science that proves that mining anywhere in the watershed would be detrimental to the Wilderness. That disconnect between state policy and rules is the essence of NMW’s legal challenge.
The lawsuit asks that the existing DNR rule be updated to reflect modern scientific knowledge. The DNR needs to acknowledge the 27 years of scientific advancement and study since the rule was adopted and recognize that, in order to protect the extensively interconnected hydrology of the Boundary Waters, we must protect the whole watershed. The entire Rainy River-Headwaters must be off-limits to sulfide-ore mining. It is unrealistic to think that a rule that provides a small buffer but that continues to allow nonferrous mining in the headwaters of the Boundary Waters will provide adequate protection. In fact, it is a roadmap to disaster.
The lawsuit was filed in Ramsey County District Court. If the judge agrees that our case has merit, the judge will order the DNR to initiate a new rulemaking process. This is a 2-year, public process that would incorporate current knowledge to develop a new rule to guide future projects. The DNR would submit a draft rule, and the judge would take evidence to determine whether the rule is adequate. If it is not, the agency will be compelled to revise; if it is, it becomes the new rule.
NMW is fortunate to be represented by Ciresi Conlin LLP. The firm’s attorneys have experience with MERA, and are bringing great expertise, knowledge, and skill to the table. We are extremely grateful for their help!
The existing rule falls far short of achieving the stated policy of the State of Minnesota to protect the Boundary Waters. We know that 70% of Minnesotans oppose sulfide-ore copper mining in the watershed of the Boundary Waters. The policies and the rules of the state should reflect current science and the public interest in preserving the nation’s most popular Wilderness. Here is a chance to make that true!
Bob Tammen is a retired miner who lives in Northeastern Minnesota, and wrote a great letter in this week’s Star Tribune responding to the Editorial Board’s recent editorial “DNR sends 'totally wrong signal' on access to secret copper mining study.” This strong editorial questions the DNR’s unacceptable decision to authorize temporary access to 680 acres of state land to Twin Metals Minnesota.
Read Bob Tammen’s letter here:
As a retiree with mining experience in several different states, I appreciate the conclusion of the June 21 editorial.
However, the editorial contains an error that is as common as it is damaging to the debate. It refers to the copper nickel ore body as being “rich.” It states that Antofagasta is “one of several companies aiming to eventually mine the rich deposits of copper, nickel and other precious metals in northeast Minnesota.”
It’s safe to say that Minnesota no longer has “rich” ore bodies. Admittedly, the Duluth copper nickel complex is huge, but it averages less than 1% mineralization. It will never be competitive on a global scale without subsidies and gutted environmental regulations by the Legislature, Department of Natural Resources and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
Our iron mining industry exhausted our rich natural ore and now survives on low-grade taconite operations and the bankruptcy courts. Mining professionals have a saying that “grade is king.” There are no kings in Minnesota.
Our existing iron mines and proposed copper mines are unlikely to ever provide a net benefit to the state of Minnesota. According to the Department of Commerce, mining is less than 1% of Minnesota’s economy. When you deduct the cost of assets stripped, waters degraded and tribal resources diminished, hard rock mining is a liability to the state of Minnesota.
BOB TAMMEN, SOUDAN, MINN.
You can find the full Star Tribune letter here.
Many Northern businesses rely on and thrive off of the Boundary Waters. As you head North this summer, please remember to support these champion businesses that oppose mining on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness!
Amidst two national crises - the COVID-19 pandemic and demands for racial and social justice - the Trump Administration has aggressively moved to gut environmental protections that put America’s public lands, including the Boundary Waters, at grave risk.
On June 4, 2020, President Trump signed a sweeping Executive Order declaring an “economic emergency” that allows agencies to bypass bedrock environmental laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act, and could hasten dangerous projects, such as Antofagasta’s Twin Metals mine. These laws provide for a robust environmental review of large projects and standards and mechanisms to minimize environmental damage. Without them, project developers have free rein to devastate the environment to the detriment of the American people.
On June 12, 2020, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue ordered the U.S. Forest Service to expedite environmental reviews for projects. This will severely hurt efforts to fully vet and study the impacts of dangerous projects, including sulfide-ore copper mining right next to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It will also minimize the opportunity for the public - including organizations like ours - to review and comment on environmental issues.
The Trump Administration in the last few weeks also finalized a rule undermining the Clean Water Act by blocking state and tribal governments’ ability to protect their own natural resources.
These actions could make it easier to greenlight projects like the Twin Metals mine, located adjacent to the Boundary Waters, and push them toward completion without the necessary vetting.
Read on for more details on each of the Trump Administration orders:
President Trump signed a sweeping Executive Order seeking to exploit the coronavirus crisis to circumvent public input and responsible review of the environmental and public health impacts of federal projects under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Order allows agencies to bypass other bedrock environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act. This Presidential Order could hasten dangerous projects, such as Antofagasta’s Twin Metals mine adjacent to the Boundary Waters, and drive them toward completion without the necessary vetting.
“This Executive Order is another appalling attack on government transparency and accountability, and could significantly impact the environmental review process for dangerous sulfide-ore copper mining near the Boundary Waters,” said Becky Rom, National Chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. “The use of a national emergency declaration to grant favors to extractive industries by forcing through risky projects is yet another example of the current Administration’s disdain for protecting America’s outstanding natural places.”
NEPA is one of America’s bedrock environmental laws. It requires federal agencies to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions prior to making decisions. The range of actions covered by NEPA is broad and includes:
making decisions on permit applications,
adopting federal land management actions,
reviewing environmental impacts of proposed hardrock mines, especially in sensitive areas, and
constructing highways and other publicly-owned facilities.
Using the NEPA process, agencies evaluate the environmental and related social and economic effects of their proposed actions. Agencies also provide opportunities for public review and comment on those evaluations.
This Executive Order is just the latest attack on our environmental laws that significantly heightens the risk for the Boundary Waters and surrounding communities.
On June 12, 2020 Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue ordered the US Forest Service, which his department oversees, to expedite environmental reviews of projects to hasten them towards completion. Among the changes announced are the setting of time and page limits on the completion of environmental documents, including environmental assessments and environmental impact statements, and expanding categorical exclusions from NEPA review. This will severely hamstring efforts to fully vet the impacts of particularly dangerous projects, such as proposed sulfide-ore copper mining right next to the Boundary Waters Wilderness.
“The systematic shredding of the environmental protection fabric of this country is appalling,” said Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters Executive Director Tom Landwehr. “By limiting the size and scope of environmental review of complex and risky projects like Twin Metals the Federal government is guaranteeing a greenlight for the destruction of the Boundary Waters and the thousands of jobs in surrounding businesses that depend upon a healthy Wilderness.”
Since taking office in 2017 the Trump Administration has systematically shredded protections for the Boundary Waters, America’s most popular Wilderness. From arbitrarily reinstating dangerous mineral leases to canceling studies on the impact of sulfide ore mining on the Boundary Waters Wilderness to now changing the rules to make it easier for mining companies to pollute and harder for states and tribes to regulate, this Administration is doing everything it can to pave the way for this toxic project to move forward. This is why we need your support now more than ever. Donate now.