My husband Dave and I skijored to the deepest spot on Wood Lake. Sled dogs Tina and Acorn pulled Dave. I followed with Tank enthusiastically trotting along. The air temperature was 10 degrees below zero—it was cold and the wind out of the northwest made it even colder. We paused near an island to detach ourselves from the dogs and walked the rest of the way to the deep spot. GPS in hand, Dave confirmed our position and kicked snow off the surface of the ice with his ski boot. He assembled our hand-powered ice drill and I pulled out the Hach Meter and clipboard. This was our 61st lake for measurements. The data we collected included dissolved oxygen and water temperatures for every meter—from the surface to the bottom or the end of the 15-meter probe, whichever came first. We also measured conductivity at the surface and when lakes were not ice-covered, turbidity with a secchi disk.
As Dave completed the final cranks of the hand-powered ice drill and pulled it from the hole, I pulled the batteries for the Hach Meter from my warm pocket. If I had left them in the Hach Meter even for our 20-minute ski, they wouldn’t have functioned in the cold. I breathed a sigh of relief as the Hach Meter powered on and I lowered the probe into the hole. Dave did jumping jacks as I wrote down measurements—happy to have mastered the art of wielding the pencil with my mitten on. The dogs watched with curiosity from their spot, nestled in the spruces. Despite the fact that the lake was only 5 meters deep, this was our most challenging spot to measure. I longed for the ice-free season when I simply lowered the probe over the gunwale of the canoe.
Why were we bothering to collect this data? In addition to keeping the beloved Boundary Waters on peoples' minds for an entire year, we also collected water quality data for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), adding measurements from 100 bodies of water to its database. We also collected water samples for Adventure Scientists’ Global Microplastics Initiative.
It will be a while until the data is publicly available on the MPCA and Adventure Scientists websites, but I can share with you a few things we learned during the process. It was expected that most Boundary Waters lakes would have dissolved oxygen greater than 5 mg/L (milligrams per liter) at the surface; we frequently saw dissolved oxygen higher than 7 mg/L—and it was not uncommon for us to find 10 mg/L or higher. In deep lakes, it is normal for dissolved oxygen to drop to near 0 mg/L mid-summer, about 10-20 feet down at the thermocline. Lake trout are cold-water fish and can be found in many of the deep, clear lakes in the Boundary Waters. These fish need dissolved oxygen concentrations greater than about 7 mg/L from the surface all the way to near the bottom to survive and we were happy to confirm that was the case in many of the deep, clear lakes that we measured.
I’ll give Basswood Lake a little more scrutiny, since it has a thriving fishery and is known for excellent fishing opportunities for lake trout, walleye and smallmouth bass—and it happens to be downstream from the proposed Twin Metals mine site. We took our measurements at the deepest part of Basswood, which is 111 feet deep and maxed out our probe. The dissolved oxygen at the surface was 10.29 mg/L, and halfway down (14 meters) it was still a healthy 9.3 mg/L. No wonder Basswood is a world-class fishing destination!
What about the samples for the Global Microplastics Initiative? They are being analyzed now and soon we will find out how many pieces of microplastics were found in each liter of water that we gathered. Microplastics are plastic particles smaller than 5 millimeters in size. They pose a significant environmental and human health risk when they enter our waterways. The Adventure Scientists have found microplastics in the vast majority of samples they have compiled over the last few years. It will be exciting to see the results from the samples we gathered.
Just in the past year, more and more reports are coming out about lakes being un-swimmable or unfishable due to pollution in the southern part of Minnesota. The walleye fishery in Lake Mille Lacs is in decline. Yet we happily drank out of, swam in and handily fished in the wilderness lakes of the Boundary Waters during our year out there. We are fortunate that wilderness advocates have kept the Boundary Waters forests untrammeled and the water unpolluted up until now, but it will take foresight and diligence to keep them that way.
“This is the most beautiful lake country on the continent. We can afford to cherish and protect it. Some places should be preserved from development or exploitation for they satisfy a human need for solace, belonging and perspective. In the end we turn to nature in a frenzied chaotic world, there to find silence—oneness—wholeness—spiritual release.”– Sigurd Olson
Take action today to protect the clean water of the Boundary Waters for future generations.
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. From September 23, 2015 to September 23, 2016, the Freemans spent A Year in the Wilderness, camping at approximately 120 different sites, exploring 500 lakes, rivers and streams, and traveling more than 2,000 miles by canoe, foot, ski, snowshoe and dog team. They documented their year and will continue to share their stories on social media (@FreemanExplore, #WildernessYear) and in blog posts. A documentary about their journey, Bear Witness, premiered fall 2016. A book about their year will be published by Milkweed Editions in fall 2017.
Last week, the Campaign and partners gathered in Duluth as part of an official public hearing at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, to speak up for the protection of the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining. Just before the hearing, which was part of the scoping process for the two-year environmental review now underway, supporters of saving the Boundary Waters held a rally, complete with We Love the BWCA signs, and rousing speakers who addressed the risks of sulfide-ore copper mining near the Boundary Waters.
During the meeting, the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management heard comments from business owners, Arrowhead residents, citizens from across the state who enjoy wilderness recreation and clean water, and sportsmen and women. They also heard from supporters of sulfide-ore copper mining.
Speakers supporting protection of the Wilderness shared the critical points they believe should be considered during the two-year environmental review, including the economic impact a sulfide-ore copper mine would have on tourism and outdoor recreation economy, the risky history of this type of mining, the damage pollution from sulfide-ore copper mining would do to the ecosystem and human health, and much more.
People spoke 31 to 22 in favor of protecting the Wilderness and continuing the current environmental review on the sensitivity of the Boundary Waters Wilderness watershed, and the risks of sulfide-ore copper mining. We are proud of our supporters who shared comments during the rally and have submitted written comments, as well. If you missed the Duluth public hearing, or you attended but didn’t get a chance to speak, please know that this important public comment meeting will be followed by others. You also should be aware that there has been a 120-day extension of the comment period, which now concludes August 17.
During the remainder of this comment period, it is critical for all supporters of protecting the Boundary Waters to submit comments and raise their voices. We ask that you ask your friends and family members to submit comments as well. We’ll share any information on subsequent comment meetings when they are announced. At the conclusion of the comment period, the U.S. Forest Service will begin drafting the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). Later, likely in early 2019, a Final EIS will be released, and then, perhaps some months later, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will make a decision about whether to protect this watershed for a 20-year period.
This two-year environmental review process runs on public input, and your input absolutely will be required again, not only at the next public hearing (location and date are still to be determined) and in the remainder of this comment period, but again once the U.S. Forest Service has released the DEIS, and finally when the FEIS is published. Your public lands, and the future of the Boundary Waters, are certainly worth it.
As you think about what you want to convey to our federal agencies, consider these excerpts from a sampling of speakers at the Duluth hearing last Thursday, March 16:
"The riskiest place to put a sulfide-ore copper mine is a water-rich environment like the Boundary Waters,” said Jason Zabokrtsky of Ely Outfitting Co. and Boundary Waters Guide Service and Boundary Waters Trust co-chair (pictured).
“The natural landscape is what drives our economy. It’s what makes us different,” said Dave Seaton, owner of Hungry Jack Outfitters on the Gunflint Trail. “Clean water is more valuable than copper.”
"We are looking at jobs for a finite period and pollution that can last over 500 years," said Will Jenkins of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.
The process for this environmental review began late last year, when the Departments of Agriculture and Interior announced an intention to initiate a “withdrawal” of public lands from the federal minerals leasing program, in order to protect the natural assets of the Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters. That announcement of intent was followed in January of this year by formal publication of intent in the Federal Register to do a two-year environmental review on the effects of the proposed withdrawal.
The withdrawal process is one that is provided for in law - specifically in section 204 of the Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA), and in federal regulations promulgated by the Department of the Interior pursuant to FLPMA. The withdrawal process has been used in the past many times, notably to protect the Grand Canyon from increased uranium mining, and to protect Yellowstone National Park from the threat of sulfide-gold mining.
Much of the opposition to the current process, at least as I observed in the Duluth hearing last Thursday, seems to be coming from supporters of the proposal by Twin Metals to mine sulfide-copper ore next to the Boundary Waters. That project can no longer move forward because the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management declined to renew Twin Metals’ expired mineral leases, leases which are now cancelled. Whether because they invested financially in the Twin Metals project, or because they hoped that the project would benefit them in other ways, the supporters tend to see the answer to local or personal needs in the Twin Metals project. Are they seeing the full picture?
Twin Metals Minnesota, of course, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Antofagasta, the Chilean copper mining giant and eighth largest copper producer in the world. Antofagasta Minerals runs numerous mines in Chile. Antofagasta’s environmental and social track record raises a number of red flags that should concern anyone looking favorably on the Twin Metals project or sulfide-ore copper mining generally. Here are some of the problems Antofagasta has brought upon itself, its employees, and its neighbors, and why this international mining company should never be entrusted with the long-term health and safety of Boundary Waters watershed.
Antofagasta, in Chile:
More on Antofagasta itself:
Antofagasta Minerals’ history has been marked by missteps. The Luksic family, owners of Antofagasta, show such little regard for the land and people of their own country, the best interests of Minnesotans are clearly not on their minds.
In fact, the Luksics have shown they are willing to take the government to court when it has stood in the way of their dangerous mines. In addition, recent actions by the Luksics businesses have created an alarming appearance of attempts to buy influence with members of the First Family, who also happen to be advisors to President Donald Trump. Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner’s new landlord just happens to be Andrónico Luksic, who is currently suing the U.S. government over mining in Minnesota. A business owned by Luksic bought a Washington D.C. mansion for $5.5 million on December 22, 2016, and l2 days later it was announced that Ivanka and Jared had inked a deal to rent the mansion from him.
While both parties claim they were unaware of the identity of the other, this situation appears to be a way for the Luksics to curry favor with an administration already friendly to mining. Minnesota’s Wilderness has never been at a more important tipping point, and Antofagasta is trying to tip the scales.
While Andronico Luksic has tweeted that Ivanka and Jared are paying market rate rent - and perhaps they are - that misses the point. The real cause for concern is the appearance that Luksic spent $5.5 million in order to make a beautiful mansion available, on very short notice, to these two family members and advisors to President Trump. That was a tremendous favor to do for two of the most powerful people in the nation.
We hope that Luksic’s apparent efforts to curry favor and attention from the First Family bear no fruit; that the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Interior maintain a steady course and complete the environmental review already underway; and that two years from now the Honorable Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Department of the Interior, sees the merit in, and orders, the proposed withdrawal.
You can help our efforts to protect the Wilderness. Submit a comment today and support the environmental review process.
Matt Norton is the Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters' policy director. He previously worked as campaign director with Minnesota Environmental Partnership, and as forestry and wildlife advocate and staff attorney for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.
In a poll of Minnesota voters released today, conducted by President Donald Trump's chief polling firm Fabrizio Ward for our sister organization Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, results show continued support for protecting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and its watershed. This holds with our polling from March of last year, which also showed strong support for protecting the watershed of the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs National Park. The recent polling looked at views toward sulfide-ore copper mining in Minnesota and near the Boundary Waters, as well as how voters view the review process and "two-year pause" in place.
The polling shows that while Minnesotans generally support sulfide-ore copper mining in the state, nearly 60% oppose it near the Boundary Waters and less than 30% support it. In Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District, which contains the Iron Range, opposition to sulfide-ore copper mining near the Boundary Waters exceeds support by double digit margins. Nearly 8 in 10 Minnesotans support the thorough ongoing environmental review happening now, including 70% of eighth congressional district residents. When compared with a process that first allows a mine company to present a mine plan, a whopping 70% of voters statewide favored the direction federal land managers are currently taking, including 61% in the eighth congressional district. This support crosses all party lines. Add your comment today and attend the March 16 public comment meeting if you can.
Among Key Results:
The Boundary Waters Wilderness is a special place to Minnesota voters, and they want to protect it from sulfide ore copper mining. By a 32-point margin, Minnesota voters are decisively against sulfide-ore copper mining in the areas near the Boundary Waters Wilderness. In fact, more voters strongly oppose mining near the Boundary Waters than the total of those in favor of it. Even half of the voters in CD-08 are against sulfide ore copper mining there.
Most Minnesotans are not anti-mining. Indeed, the industry’s image is more positive than negative. However, Minnesotans are passionate about the Boundary Waters. Their love for the area is both broad and deep. Overall, 78% have a favorable opinion of the area, with an eye-popping 58% viewing it very favorably. The love for the Boundary Waters area is not surprising given that two-thirds of voters have been there, with about one in five making the trip every year.
Though there has been public opposition to the process from Representative Nolan, voters believe the federal land management agencies made the correct decision in December. There is strong support for the current two-year pause to gather scientific information and public input about the potential impacts of sulfide ore copper mining near the Boundary Waters. This holds true among voters of all parties and in Rep. Nolan's Distrct, CD-08.
Minnesota voters recognize that the Boundary Waters Wilderness area is special and that the usual mining review practices are inadequate for this treasured area. Some have argued that the areas near the Boundary Waters Wilderness should not be categorically ruled off-limits, that mine safety review plans are enough to guarantee a process that would ensure the safety of the BWW or wherever the mine was located. We tested that sentiment against the “pause and study” process the federal government set in motion in December. By a 40-point margin, Minnesotans want the current “pause and study” process to play out to see if a long-term moratorium on sulfide ore copper mining should be placed near the Boundary Waters Wilderness. Clear support for staying on the current path to finish the review holds among all party affiliations and in CD-08.
When I was a kid we lived in the flat, sparsely treed farmland of northeastern North Dakota. Except for in the river bottom, the trees that were around had been put there by man. The lakes where we fished for perch were put there by men, and the mighty Red River of the North was dammed almost everywhere you looked. From as early as I can remember, I hungered to get outside, and my fondest memories were “hikes” my mom would take me on. The one I remember most involved walking two shelterbelts down to the bank of the Red River, and following it back to the car. I absolutely loved it, but that was the wildest stuff we had going.
I have had two unending passions in my life, one I’m comfortable sharing and one I’m slightly embarrassed by, more for my wife’s sake than mine. These two obsessions have been wilderness and women. When I was 12 my cousin invited me along on his church group summer wilderness trip, a week-long excursion in the Boundary Waters. I fell wildly in love with the woods, the water, the rocks and the saturated wild air of that incredible place, and I also fell head over heels in love with my first crush. Her name was May, the adopted daughter of the seemingly ancient pastor who led our trip.
My cousin Eric and I were closest in age with each other out of a gaggle of 25-or-so cousins. We grew up very close, and most of what we did together involved fishing poles or .22’s—along with my brother, he was my first hunting buddy. We both lived in different little towns in North Dakota, so our wilderness haunts were actually just small lots of trees and muddy rivers cutting through the prairie. So at the age of 12 and my first Boundary Waters trip, I didn’t really have much of an idea of what wilderness really was.
My memories from that trip are still accessible. On our long car ride there we camped out for a night in a big empty church in central Minnesota, and one of the older kids crashed into a ceramic drinking fountain and busted it clean off. That’s all I remember of the trip there, but I do remember putting our canoe in. Eric and I shared a boat, just the two of us, with our packs tucked on the floor between us. We had both paddled before but probably only with adults, and it took us a while to be able to track a straight line. I remember the brief, overwhelming feeling of working hard for 10 or 15 minutes and not seeing the other end of the first lake come any closer.
I’m not sure exactly where we put in that trip, but I believe it was from the Ely side of things, and it may have been somewhere along the Kawishiwi River chain. I don’t remember how far we went, and I don’t remember the total number of days we put in. Here’s what I do remember: I remember seeing the old pastor’s naked ass as he skinny dipped right in front of boy’s camp. Don’t read this wrong, he was a good dude as far as I can tell, but he liked to be naked. I remember feeling strong and superior when the two oldest boys on the trip complained nonstop for days. One of them was overweight and looked like a rat terrier, and he wouldn’t shut up, ever. I remember the loons and the stars at night and I remember the deep smells of water and rainclouds and campfires. I remember my first taste of true outdoor living, real wilderness, where there were no cars or noises or anything else. It was complete, utter, overwhelming pure bliss. And I remember May.
Actually I don’t remember May all that clearly, but I do remember what it felt like to be in love. She was the younger of two sisters the old pastor had adopted, I believe they had been born in Vietnam--I apologize if that’s incorrect. I think she was either my age or a year older, and I remember how the entire front of my body felt like it was going to fly away when she was nearby. Our camps were split between guys and girls, so I didn’t get to see her all that much. There’s one moment that I either remember or I totally made up: it was evening and we had either already had dinner or it was cooking on the fire. We were in a campsite on a peninsula that reached out into a lake, and the sun was beginning to set. May was out there and I walked up to her, slowly and terrified. I had in my head to either tell her I loved her or to ask her if I could kiss her. . .
Neither happened and I don’t know if that memory is even real, but I can still get the impression of how alive it felt to want to be close to someone that intensely. There’s no great romance story here, nothing happened, but I fell in love over and over on that trip. I was an awkward, unabashedly excited preteen with thick glasses. I fell madly in love with the woods, those northern, dark, quiet woods that I miss every single night I’m not in them. I fell in love with May, this unsuspecting girl that played an important role in my life, and I think I fell in love with life itself at the same time.
I’ve been back dozens of times, on many personal trips and then later as a guide. For years I worked to offer young people a similar experience with the Wilderness as I had myself. There are few better ways than a long canoe trip to build character, grapple with life and learn to be yourself. I feel that place deeply in my bones and in my heart, it’s a part of me and I’m a part of it. In our culture we’re lucky if we happen into a bona fide rite of passage, and this northern border Wilderness is where I took a clear step into growing up and into who I was meant to become. Everything must be done to conserve and protect our public lands, and there’s no single place I would rally around more powerfully than the Boundary Waters. Rally with me today by signing the petition to protect the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining.
This week we faced our opposition head on when Congressman Rick Nolan urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture “to reverse the agency’s decision to withdraw more than 234,000 acres out of multiple-use purpose from the Superior National Forest." We did not take that news lightly and organized supporters like you in response.
His statement comes in response to the exciting news of earlier this year when the United States Forest Service officially announced a two-year pause on mining activities and initiated an environmental review of 234,328 acres of Superior National Forest in the Boundary Waters watershed. Read how this all fits into our short, medium and long term goals.
That Forest Service decision came about thanks to the more than 74,000 of you who petitioned for the denial of Twin Metals leases and asked for an environmental review of the entire watershed. Following the lease denial, the environmental review and comment period commenced in January and you can take action now to add a comment.
Rep. Nolan's action to halt this existing environmental review is anti-Boundary Waters, anti-science, and anti-citizen and benefits a Chilean mining company at the risk of permanent major damage to the Boundary Waters and at the expense of many home-grown businesses.
In response, this week we asked supporters like you to speak up, to call the congressman’s office (202-225-6211) and to show up in Duluth to speak up for the value of this environmental review and using science and public input to guide decisions about the future of the Boundary Waters. Thank you to all of you who have taken action at this critical time. If you want to know more about how you can help in moments like this or take action today, become a Wilderness Warrior.
Multiple media outlets covered our impromtu rally outside the Congressman’s office, including TV stations from Duluth like KBJR, WDIO and Fox 21 plus news outlets like MPR and the Duluth News Tribune
We’re grateful to Rep. Betty McCollum for backing up our efforts this week. The congresswoman stated, “Representative Nolan’s assault on this natural treasure is misguided. Minnesotans can count on me to stay the course and keep fighting everyday to protect our Boundary Waters from polluters, the Trump administration, and politicians who stand with it.” And for the continued support of Governor Dayton, who this week restated his support, saying, "protecting the waters of the BWCA is one of our generation's sacred responsibilities."
With so much back and forth between the representatives and Rep. Nolan’s own confusing defensive statementsabout protecting the Boundary Waters and supporting an environmental review, we wanted to take a minute to explain some more details about the process as it stands, Representative Nolan’s stance and why it’s important to speak up to keep this environmental review moving forward.
Join us in telling Rep. Nolan (202-225-6211) you oppose his attempt to shut down the established environmental review process, and shut Minnesotans and Americans out of the process.
Our Rally In the News:
KDAL: Interview with Becky Rom and Steve Piragis (February 2, 2017)
Fox 21: Protesters Oppose Mining in National Forest (February 2, 2017)
Duluth News Tribune: Boundary Waters supporters rally against U.S. Rep. Nolan (February 2, 2017)
WDIO: Nolan Outreach to Trump Administration on Mining Draws Fire, Protest Held in Duluth(February 2, 2017)
MPR: Debate over copper mining near Boundary Waters heats up again (February 2, 2017)
KBJR: Anti-copper-nickel mining protest targets Congressman Nolan (February 2, 2017)
Several amazing announcements at the end of last year and the beginning of this year mean big news for the Boundary Waters – specifically, Twin Metals’ request to renew its mineral leases was denied, and a watershed-wide environmental review was initiated. We're proud of our efforts and the great strides we’ve taken to protect the Boundary Waters Wilderness, and we know we couldn't have done it without you or our Sporting partners. You need to know, however, that even though one mining company lost its leases, the fight to protect the Boundary Waters is not over.
More work is ahead for us and for you. There will be critical moments when we will need you to comment on behalf of the Boundary Waters. It is very important that you take action at each opportunity. Right now is one of those times --comment here!
First, let's back up and break down what happened in December 2016 and the beginning of this year.
What Just Happened?
What Does It Mean?
In a nutshell, it means that Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters has met our short-term goal and is on track to, but has not yet, achieved our medium-term and long-term goals for protecting the Boundary Waters. Let’s review our short, medium, and long-term goals for protection for the Boundary Waters and its watershed from sulfide-ore copper mining.
To get the best environmental review possible, your comments on this environmental review are needed now! Your engagement in the environmental review process, and your continued support for the coalition, are critical. The environmental review process has started with a 90-day public comment period. As someone who loves the Boundary Waters, your comment should be sent in as soon as possible, and definitely before April 13. You should also consider attending and speaking up at an agency-hosted public meeting.
So yes, we’ve seen some great forward steps taken in the last several weeks, but we’re not there yet. Luckily, we have a plan for how to get from here to our long-term goal: permanent protection for the Boundary Waters and its watershed ... And luckily, we have you. Our citizen members, volunteers, and partner organizations are essential. We have only gotten to this stage, and we will only achieve the greater victory of permanent protection, with your continued involvement and support. So please sign and share the petition to keep this momentum moving forward. Thank you!
Policy Director Matt Norton previously worked as campaign director with Minnesota Environmental Partnership, and as forestry and wildlife advocate and staff attorney for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.
I find it amazing that I woke up at 5:00 a.m. with no alarm clock--it just happened. The Wilderness started to come alive; bright bulbs in the sky faded away as the sun started its trek around Snowbank Lake for the 209th time this year. My accomplice on this trip, fellow intern Levi, was still sleeping as the second day of our five-day trip began. As I sat on the shoreline eating a Clif Bar, I watched the lake start to burn; red-orange ripples calmly came and went across its surface. The flames were topped by a uniform blanket of fog rising from the water. The sun’s rays struggled their way through the tree line to the east. Quickly realizing I would rather be paddling than sitting on land, I gathered my tackle and gear. With a swift push of the canoe, I was off into the burning water.
With my jig bouncing along the the rocky bottom, the choir of loons on the lake crescendoed as I floated without a care in the world. Two members of the choir decided to give me a wake-up call by surfacing right in front of the canoe. They were at ease: stretching their wings, shaking their heads and taking turns dunking themselves in the flames. Without fear of me, the loons slowly moved on making only the slightest ripples in the burning water. Just as quickly as they arrived, they left.
In the time that the loons had come and gone, I realized how relaxing it was to not be in the concrete jungle we call civilization. Without the sounds of the city constantly ringing in my ears, the serenity of the Wilderness allowed me to sit back and ponder what an amazing experience I have had while in the Boundary Waters. In that moment, it hit me that I was there. I was enveloped in what I was working so hard to save with Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters. The sounds, the sights, the smells; they were all so real.
Mother Nature had let loose a couple of weeks prior to our arrival on Snowbank Lake. Wind gusts of 100 plus miles per hour had transformed the dense forest into channels of trees either snapped in half or uprooted completely. The shoreline was littered with fallen Jack Pines that still held their green needles—and my curiosity as to how many Smallmouth Bass were under each of them. The biggest issue I faced the rest of the day, and the trip for that matter, was deciding what lure to fish with.
“Should I use a Dare Devil, jointed Rapala or a Mepps spinner?” I asked Levi.
“Use whatever you … want!” Levi said with a jerking sound in his voice. “Yee-yee!”
I spun around to check out what was going on, and there he was with an exhilarating bend in his pole.
The line shot under the boat, and line screamed from his drag. Making sure that the line wasn’t going to break, Levi slowly muscled the fish to the surface.
As quick as we saw the flash of its belly, the smallmouth took its second run to the bottom. A tug of the line bought a look of serendipity and excitement to Levi’s face. The sun was high in the sky now, and the red-hot-coal-colored water of the morning had transitioned to flickers of bright yellow flames off the waves. Slowly bringing his prize back to the surface and into the net, we celebrated accordingly with picture taking and way too many handshakes.
Our afternoon transitioned into evening, and it was decided that the night bite would be best spent on Flash Lake. The flickers of bright yellow flames followed us along the 140-rod portage which seemed effortless as we were both too eager to get our lines back in the water. Our goal was simple: catch walleyes to cook over the fire for dinner.
My chartreuse jig hadn’t been in the flames of Flash Lake for more than a minute, and my dinner was nibbling on what they thought was theirs.
In the couple minutes that I spent reeling in my dinner, Levi and I spattered out nonsense terms that took the place of the name “walleye.” That jibberish sounded something like this:
“Wall-frys tonight for dinner baby!”
“Mr. Wall Senior!”
“Cricky, it’s a Wallapalooza!”
The fish we caught weren’t what made this evening bite so memorable for me, it was absorbing the moment. Baby loons trying to hoot just like mom and dad, a hen wood duck buzzing over our heads on her way back to the nest full of hatchlings and the occasional conversation about anything under the moon.
Our afternoon quickly turned into evening, and the flames changed color. Slivers of deep blue, purple and pink sliced the surface of the burning water. The woods were silent, and so were we. Halfway across Snowbank Lake, our paddles went still. I now knew why some 250,000 people visit and come back to the Boundary Waters; I felt like I was in a picture that you would see on someone’s laptop background.
The bright bulbs in the sky returned, and the burning water dwindled away.
The explosion of a ruffed grouse catches me off guard more often that not, snapping me out of whatever place I happened to be at in that moment. My over-under stays cradled in my arm as I watch the bird banging and crashing its way through the thick aspen. I wonder how he doesn’t knock himself out and do the job for me in the first few seconds. The walk continues through the crisp autumn air as I do my best not to make too much noise, enjoying the sights and sounds of my favorite season of the year. There is nothing like October in Minnesota.
One can easily get lost in their thoughts while enjoying a walk in the woods. That’s one of the reasons I love grouse hunting so much. More often than not, it’s about the opportunity to be there in that moment, than to take a grouse. Don’t get me wrong, being able to leave that day after bagging a couple is always an added bonus. If I’m so fortunate, they rarely make it to my freezer, ending up the centerpiece of a great meal accompanied by wild mushrooms and root vegetables from the garden.
Grouse hunting in and around the BWCA, from my experience, tends to be a little easier than the Crosby, MN area I’ve been so used to walking. The times I’ve been up the Gunflint the birds have tended to stay on the ground longer, giving me a better opportunity to coax the bird into flight. Down at my normal stomping grounds the grouse explode without given notice, sometimes from a great distance, as if much more leery of my presence and leaves crunching beneath my boots. Both experiences are always fulfilling. I plan on taking some long, contemplative strolls in both areas this year. Weather I bag a few birds or not the drive is always worth it.
Walking in the woods on a search for grouse comes with added bonuses as well, especially if you have knack for foraging and a keen eye. The beginning of small game season is accompanied by a pleather of wild mushrooms including Hen of the Woods, Lobster and Chanterelle. These three are the most easily identifiable but there are quite a few others as well. Consulting a mushroom identification book is a necessity, especially if you are a novice. Always make sure that you are absolutely certain of what you are picking. Wild mushrooms are a wonderful compliment to any grouse meal. There also is the possibility of bagging a rabbit or timberdoodle aka the American woodcock. The multiple options for harvestable success are another reason that grouse hunting is so much fun.
Minnesota is widely considered on of the best Grouse hunting states in the nation. An estimated 11.5 million acres of the state’s 16.3 million acres of forest are grouse habitat. According to the MN MNR there are 49 Ruffed Grouse Management Areas (RGMAs) that cover over 100,000 acres and contain 184 miles of hunter walking trails. RGMAs are located in areas that have great potential for producing grouse and woodcock and are managed to promote suitable habitat for these upland species. There also are thousands of acres of state forest and WMA land that, although not designated as RGMAs, have ongoing timber management that provides excellent ruffed grouse habitat.
Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters presents The Backcountry Chef, a regular blog written by avid outdoorsman and Chef Lukas Leaf that details his experiences hunting, fishing, cooking, foraging and exploring in the Boundary Waters Wilderness. It’s late summer and the gardens are ready to be harvested. Backcountry Chef Lukas Leaf, provides ideas for how to use all that produce while getting an extra energy kick on your next BWCA trip.
Eating healthy has always been on the back burner during my BWCA trips. We always eat well, but there is never a focus on healthy ingredients besides the amazing fresh fish we have for an occasional meal. The main focus of the meals is on fuel and energy for everyone in camp. Fresh ingredients tend to take a back seat to the freeze- dried/dehydrated craze, and in our case; rice, beans, pastas and packaged sides like Stove Top. Fresh ingredients and perishables tend to weigh more and usually are left out of the menu except for the first couple of meals into the trip. That extra weight can become quite a burden on trips that involve more traveling than leisure. Over the years I’ve had to become a mad scientist of sorts with the ingredients that we bring and thankfully, everyone has generally been happy with the outcome.
As a rule of thumb on my BWCA trips there is always bacon sizzling before meals. It gives an extra tasty snack for everyone in camp and yields amazing grease to fry our fresh catch in. This year however, my good friend Joe Hansen and I are opting for a new direction for our camp meals. Joe is now a Pescatarian, meaning he is a vegetarian who eats fish, eggs and some dairy. This gives us a new opportunity to reevaluate the way we eat on our camping trips. Our focus is to create a healthy menu that accommodates his restrictions (frankly something I am looking forward too) while providing us with the carbs and fats that we need.
Last week Joe and I had a great brainstorming session and came up with some great stuff. Coconut oil and ghee (clarified butter) will replace the notorious bacon grease. We will be bringing more fresh vegetables like broccoli, spinach, baby bok choy, onion, garlic and sweet potato. Most of the veggies will be pre cut and ready to add to dishes. Healthy grains like quinoa, whole grain couscous and wild rice will replace the processed stuff of trips past. We will also bee bringing fruits, both fresh and dried, as well as an ample supply of great trail mixes with plenty of assorted nuts.
Another great addition to our food arsenal is going to be kimchi. Kimchi is a traditional fermented Korean side dish usually made from cabbage. The process of making kimchi involves lacto-fermentation which is the same process involved in making sauerkraut. I purchased a couple pounds of mini bok choy from my local Asian market and started ours for the trip today. Naturally fermented foods are said to have great health benefits so the kimchi should be a great addition to the trip.
I always bring a pleathora of spices with me on these BWCA trips. Having these spices is an absolute necessity and will allow Joe and I to do some pretty awesome thing with what we are bringing. We plan on making fish curry, stews and soups all from scratch – perfect for cool late summer nights. Every meal is a new adventure, which is what is so exciting about cooking. Add the amazing scenery and wildlife of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area & Wilderness and you can’t ask for anything better.
Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters presents The Backcountry Chef, a regular blog written by avid outdoorsman and Chef Lukas Leaf that details his experiences hunting, fishing, cooking, foraging and exploring in the Boundary Waters Wilderness. On Friday, July 16, a small group of supporters gathered at the Hawkins Family Conservation Farm to enjoy a Foraged Feast, prepared by Lukas Leaf. Read more about the event below.
I woke up in the morning to the family rooster, Richard, sounding the alarm. The sun was shining and it seemed as if it would be a perfect day for our outdoor Foraged Feast dinner. After a little coffee and some fresh lavender lemonade courtesy of the wonderful Amy Donlin, I went to work preparing the dinner for a line-up of special guests that evening. This group comprised members of partner organizations such as Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and the Izaak Walton League. In addition, the group included members of the business community including Modern Carnivore, Mighty Axe Hops, Full Curl Brand, and Greenhead Strategies. This combined group of wonderful people made for many interesting discussions and perspectives, all coalescing over their love of the BWCA.
Deb Gallop and I had a blast foraging, fishing and raiding our personal stocks to bring the essence of this dinner together. That idea was to create a meal that was completely from the land. That land which we all cherish dearly and want future generations to experience as we have. From foraging wild berries and mushrooms, taking a fishing trip with my father, to hand rolling fresh pasta, we provided everything we needed to make this dinner happen for a group of great people that support our efforts to protect the amazing Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. This dinner, however, was not so much a victory lap, but a thank you for those that have gotten us this far. We have come a long way but still have a lot of big steps ahead of us.
With the help of our partner organizations, we've delivered 74,061 signatures to the Forest Service, in support of permanently protecting the Boundary Waters watershed from sulfide-ore copper mining. Now that the public input period is over, we are waiting to hear from the Forest Service on whether they will give consent to deny the leases. Thank you!
Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters and the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters are leading the effort to ensure permanent protection for the Boundary Waters Wilderness, America's most visited Wilderness and Minnesota's crown jewel, from proposed sulfide-ore copper mining.
Read more about this event in The Heavy Table.