This year has been one of the most significant in the Campaign’s history - and it happens to be our 10th year in action. This confluence has us reflecting on the decade of hard work behind us, and what is yet to come in the effort to protect the Boundary Waters watershed and all of the life it supports.
The Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters began ten years ago - organizations turned us away, deeming the dream of achieving a federal ban on copper mining in this watershed ‘impossible.’ But Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness did not. NMW has been a steady beacon of local wilderness advocacy since 1996, thus seamlessly fitting this locally-led effort.
Although we began fighting to protect the Boundary Waters from Chilean mining conglomerate Antofagasta ten years ago, we have been protecting the Wilderness region for much longer: we stand on the shoulders of giants who fought to defend Public Lands. We're continuing the century-long legacy to protect this embattled Wilderness, and we won't let up.
Following in the footsteps of Sigurd Olson, Bud Heinselman, Ernest Oberholtzer, and many more, our movement of fierce Wilderness advocates has been protecting the Quetico Superior region for over 120 years.
Led by NMW and many Northeastern Minnesota folks, this effort has grown and expanded to become a nationally recognized and lauded Public Lands movement (or perhaps international - we were invited to present at the Hague this year!) NMW leads a strong coalition of over 400 businesses, conservation groups and hunting and fishing groups called the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. The Campaign is the voice of the Boundary Waters in Washington, D.C., St. Paul, and around the country.
When we began in 2013, NMW had no staff, and a budget of $7,000. Today, we’re proud to host a staff of 14 incredible and passionate individuals, assisted by talented contractors, legal support, scientists, community activists, and political minds, and we’re fortunate to have the financial support of folks like you. Your support enables us to spend the dollars needed to protect America’s canoe country - it is a massive effort, and this year our budget surpassed $2.6 million dollars.
All of these individuals, groups, and dollars have allowed the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters to do and achieve incredible things over the past ten years - like help execute Dave and Amy Freeman’s headline-grabbing feats of adventure advocacy, such as Year in the Wilderness; develop and execute a water quality monitoring program that the Environmental Protection Agency recently described as the most outstanding water quality monitoring program by any nonprofit in the Great Lakes region; mobilize hundreds of thousands of Wilderness advocates everywhere to submit comments on proposed copper mining in the Boundary Waters watershed; attend over 1,000 meetings in Washington, D.C. and so much more.
And this year, we saw what our National Campaign Chair, Becky Rom, calls our “polite persistence” pay off. We celebrated our biggest achievement yet – the most significant conservation measure for the Boundary Waters since the 1978 Boundary Waters Act, and the very thing that, in our early days, we were told wasn’t possible: On January 26th, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland signed a Public Land Order banning mining on all federal lands and minerals in the Boundary Waters watershed for 20 years.
We are grateful to the Biden Administration, to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, and to the agencies that worked so hard to amass the science, listen to the will of the people, and make the correct determination, the only determination: that the watershed of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is the WRONG place for America’s most toxic industry.
We are also grateful to all of you for the role you have played over the past decade - this movement would truly be nothing without the power of vocal advocates and champions like you. But the work is not yet done - as we look to the next decade of the Campaign, we recognize three things: we stand on the shoulders of giants who achieved incredible things for Boundary Waters protections; that we have achieved historic things ourselves; and that we all must remain committed to this cause.
Despite our wins, the mining companies and their political allies haven’t backed down, and the Boundary Waters landscape remains threatened. Next year brings a focus on defending federal protections from those who wish to see them reversed and emphasizing the need for state action to protect state-managed lands in the Boundary Waters watershed. We hope you’ll join us in speaking loudly for this quiet place, whether in support of protective state legislation or against reckless federal efforts to revive and reinstate the Twin Metals mineral leases.
The effort to protect Canoe Country, we will admit, has gone on longer than we thought it would, but we have learned so much along the way. The challenges we have weathered have made us stronger, and the success and support make us all the more committed to protecting the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining.
No matter how long this effort takes, we must always be there to protect this landscape - whether through addressing the impacts of climate change, working with the Forest Service as it navigates complex Wilderness management questions, or ensuring that folks from all walks of life are able to experience the magic of this life-changing wilderness and become lifelong advocates. Long story long, we’re in this for the long haul, until we protect the Boundary Waters forever, for everyone – and we hope you are, too.
For the Wilderness,
Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness
The Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters