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Fly Fishing Through Generations: A Boundary Waters Blog by Joe Steffen

Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Posted by
Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters
Joe Steffen, Wisconsin Chapter Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Board Member, on his annual trip to the BWCA and fly fishing like his grandpa before him


7 years ago I ventured into Boundary Waters Canoe Area for the first time not knowing what to expect.  It didn’t take long for me to realize the BWCA would always be part of my life.  I have hunted and fished since I was a little kid and I have always had a passion for the outdoors, but trips into the BWCA are different.  It allows me to truly unplug from the grind of daily life.  No status updates on social media, no work emails and no unneeded senseless drama that life tends to throw at you.  Just the quiet peacefulness of the beautiful pristine wilderness.

This year I wanted to try something different that I had wanted to do for years but with life and work I was always putting it off. I decided that I really wanted to learn how to fly fish but felt that it was something that would be difficult to pick up on my own so I decided to look into fly fishing lessons.  My wife, Megan, was awesome and agreed to learn with me, so we took the class together.  

My grandpa Joe, who is arguably one of the most influential people in my life, loved fly fishing and I remember standing beside him as a young child as he pulled in bass and bluegills with an old fly rod.  When he passed I kept a few close treasures; old pictures that hang in my home of his ship in the Navy from WWII, a flag  two young sailors folded as they lay my grandfather to rest, and many other sentimental items including two boxes filled with ratty, old used flies that are decades old.  I always romanticized the idea of casting a fly rod and catching fish like I remember Grandpa Joe doing.  So after taking fly fishing lessons and feeling confident I was on the right path to becoming a genuine fly fisherman, I decided I would wait a few months until my annual trip to the BWCA to bust out the skills I had learned.

Fast forward to August 21st, 2018, and I am perched on a rock looking out over a bay on Knife Lake in the BWCA all the while Megan is buried in a book soaking up the sun.  I am casting from our campsite mid-day and after 10-12 casts I see the line pull and feel the tension of a fish.  I quickly pull the line in and land my first fish on a fly rod, an 8 inch small mouth bass.  That day would bring many more small mouth bass on fly tackle.  As we watched the sunset, Megan and I full from our delicious shore lunch, I couldn’t help but think of Grandpa Joe and how happy he would be to see Megan and I in this special place.  As high school sweethearts many friends and family had their doubts about our relationship lasting, but Grandpa Joe always knew we were meant to be.  After 15 years together we both cherish the week a year we spend with each other in such a beautiful place such as the Boundary Waters.   I lay down to go to bed for the evening, rocking slowly in my hammock gazing off at the star filled sky, I am overwhelmed with the tranquility and adventure that the landscape of the BWCA offers.  I cannot put into words how important it is to protect this special place, there just isn’t many places left like the BWCA.

Joe Steffen is a Board Member for the Wisconsin Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and AnglersJoe currently works as a Sergeant for a College Public Safety Department in Madison, WI and works part time as a Police Officer for two local Police Departments. Joe has also been a lead Hunter Safety instructor for the Wisconsin DNR for the last 5 years and volunteers his time for the Learn to Hunt program through the Wisconsin DNR. He is passionate about ensuring public land access for generations to come. 

To ensure generations of hunters and anglers have access to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, sign our petition here. It's up to us to defend our public lands, waters and sporting heritage.

Public Land Up North – A Boundary Waters Update by Spencer Shaver

Friday, August 3, 2018
Posted by
Spencer Shaver
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) is a canoe country Wilderness – over 1,100 lakes here are great habitat for fish and game, full of walleye, lake trout, smallmouth and northern pike. These 1.1 million acres of public lands and waters are where generations of Minnesotans learned to paddle, portage and fish clear, cold water. With over 80 entry points, the Boundary Waters is America’s most visited Wilderness Area attracting more than 150,000 visitors annually.

 

 

Despite its popularity, the BWCA is not without conflict today. While the Wilderness Act of 1964 and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act of 1978 both granted protections to the Boundary Waters itself, the remainder of the Superior National Forest, which houses 20% of the freshwater in the entire National Forest system, is subject to a forest management plan, including logging and mining operations.

A quarter mile from the BWCA, along the South Kawishiwi River, lie federally managed copper-nickel mineral prospecting leases. These permits have never been developed, partially because of their proximity to the BWCA. Government agencies and mining companies have gone through a series of steps in the first half of 2018 to continue with the leasing, exploratory efforts and permitting process to build an industrial-scale copper nickel mine on the edge of the Wilderness.

This gave hunters, anglers, hikers and paddlers alike pause – copper-nickel mining is responsible for massive stores of polluted water in North America, including Butte, MT, the Gold King Mine in Colorado, and the Mount Polley Mine in British Columbia. By its nature, the removal of minerals from sulfide-bearing ore causes acid mine drainage, where mining tailings laced with heavy metals and acidic runoff into nearby ground and surface water.

The proposed mine sites are especially dangerous because the South Kawishiwi River flows through most of the southern part of the Boundary Waters, briefly out of the Wilderness, then right back into the BWCA. There is no reason to believe a copper-nickel mine here would be any different. The Boundary Waters and Superior National Forest are landscapes covered by interconnected lakes, rivers and streams. If this water were polluted, it would be impossible to contain that pollution.

The leases along the South Kawishiwi lapsed in 2015, allowing the Forest Service and BLM to consider whether or not to renew the leases. In late 2016, the leases in question were denied by the agencies who cited potential harm to the Boundary Waters in their official denial. This triggered a two-year Environmental Review, and after a public input process where over 125,000 people wrote in, spoke at listening sessions and stood up in defense of the Wilderness, the agencies agreed that the leases should not be renewed.

Under the current Department of Interior, however, the agencies reversed their decision to deny the leases. While the Forest Service continues its review of the leases under the same two-year directive, Interior asserts it has complete discretion over whether or not to grant these leases. On June 21st, 2018, eight BWCA outfitters, canoe manufacturers and Minnesota businesses sued Interior and the BLM, citing the direct damage to their businesses that the construction of these mines would cause.

Throughout a long and dizzying mineral leasing process, the Boundary Waters have also been the target of political attacks by Minnesota Congressmen Tom Emmer and Rick Nolan. Between the two of them, they have unsuccessfully attempted to defund the Forest Service’s study of the leases, amend the Antiquities Act and immediately grant the mineral leases on the edge of the BWCA. On July 11th, they introduced an amendment that would have forced the Department of Interior to grant those same mineral leases, regardless of the outcome of the ongoing environmental review. Together we are a force, and with the combined opposition from hunters and hikers alike, Congressmen Emmer and Nolan withdrew their anti–BWCA, anti–public land amendment on the house floor last week.

The ongoing environmental review will end this fall, when the Department of Interior will make a decision on whether or not to continue the leasing process, or issue a mineral withdrawal, like Secretary Ryan Zinke has done in Wyoming and his home state of Montana. Between now and then, Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters is working to spread the word across the country – now is the time to stand in defense of the BWCA.

Take action to defend the Boundary Waters today. The outdoor community is united in defense of America’s most visited Wilderness. Now is the time to speak up in defense of the BWCA to your elected officials. It’s up to us to defend our public lands, waters and sporting heritage.

Spencer Shaver is the Conservation Policy Director at Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters. For more information contact spencer@sportsmenfortheboundarywaters.org

This blog was originially posted on our partner, First Lite's Campfire Blog.

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Photo courtesy of Lukas Leaf

When it comes to the untouched habitat and superior water quality of Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area, a cursory review isn’t enough—we need your help to demand more for the fish and wildlife and regional economy of Northeastern Minnesota


The Boundary Waters Canoe Area is made up of 1.1 million acres of the most visited wilderness area in the country—it is, by all measures, a public land success story here in the northeastern corner of Minnesota.

There are world-class fishing opportunities all over the BWCA, in no small part because of the water quality and abundant habitat. In fact, 20 percent of the freshwater in the entire 193-million-acre national forest system is found in the Superior National Forest, which surrounds the Boundary Waters. The two biggest walleye ever caught in Minnesota were landed off the Gunflint Trail on the eastern edge of the BWCA—one of which, a 17-pound, 8-ounce behemoth, has held the state record for over thirty years.

Unfortunately, all of this is threatened by a proposed sulfide-ore copper mine on the southern edge of the Boundary Waters. A Chilean mining company is working to acquire leases a quarter mile from the edge of the wilderness area. These leases would give the company the right to develop a sulfide-ore copper mine, complete with new roads and mining infrastructure, alongside Birch Lake and the South Kawishiwi River. The proposed mine site sits at the headwaters of the Rainy River watershed that flows into the Boundary Waters, Voyageur’s National Park, and most of the Superior National Forest.

This proposed mine is incredibly contentious, and recent changes to complex land management and leasing policies have given hunters and anglers new cause for concern.

What Happened?

In 2016, the Department of the Interior announced that the Bureau of Land Management had the discretion whether or not to renew these leases, but the U.S. Forest Service had to consent first. When asked, the Forest Service withheld consent to renewal, leading the BLM to reject the mining company’s application. The Forest Service also proposed making 234,000 acres of public land at the edge of the Boundary Waters off limits to federal mineral leasing for 20 years, which triggered a two-year segregation on mining while the agency crafted an Environmental Impact Statement.

In late December 2017, the new administration at DOI reversed the 2016 decision, declaring that the mining leases were entitled to automatic renewal and no longer needed the discretion of the Forest Service to determine if these areas were suitable for development.

Then, on January 26, the Forest Service took a step back from their ongoing efforts to craft an Environmental Impact Statement on their own proposal. Instead of a thorough analysis of how this mine will affect nearby habitat, which an EIS would have provided, they will proceed with an Environmental Assessment typically used for simple, non-controversial projects. The EA will take the agency less than a year, beginning with a comment period that we now have less than a month to engage in.

In comparison, the EIS required to withdraw controversial mineral leases outside the Grand Canyon was given careful consideration, and the agency took the two years it needed to complete the two-volume report and provide multiple opportunities for public input before and after the study was completed. While the potential for serious impact was considered to be low, the risk was too high in such an important a place.

Simply put, the Boundary Waters watershed is Minnesota’s Grand Canyon. It is much an icon of the Midwest as Yellowstone is of the West, especially considering it is the largest continuous tract of public land east of the Rockies and north of the Everglades.

Stop and Study

Leasing this area is anything but simple and non-controversial, and there should be no shortcuts to the assessment or public review process. Hunters and anglers should not only have the right to comment, but also the right to review this controversial proposal after the completion of the environmental assessment. The Boundary Waters, and all Americans who have a stake in their management, deserve the most robust review possible for such a risky mine at the headwaters of some of the best public land to hunt and fish on in Minnesota.

These public lands and waters belong to all of us, and Minnesotans are overwhelmingly in favor of a “stop and study” approach to assessing the effects of sulfide-ore copper mining in the Boundary Waters watershed. A 2017 poll showed that 79 percent of Minnesotans favor the most thorough review possible,and an overwhelming majority agree that the Boundary Waters, as well as the hunting and fishing habitat they encompass, are a unique place that deserves special attention.

We’re making the strongest case we can for our public lands and waters, but we can’t do it alone. It’s up to all of us to defend our public lands, waters, and sporting heritage.

Spencer Shaver is the conservation policy director for Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters and a Minnesota native. He is lifelong hunter and fisherman, a graduate of the University of Minnesota’s environmental science, policy, and management program, and has guided Boundary Waters trips since 2014.

This blog was originially posted on our partner's site, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership

May Trout Fishing

Wednesday, June 14, 2017
Posted by
Dodd Cosgrove

It was May 17, the Wednesday following the Minnesota fishing opener.  Rich, Mark and I had rendezvoused the day before at my cabin outside of Ely, Minnesota.  That Wednesday morning we set out on another canoe trip into the Quetico-Superior country.  A spring canoe trip has become a tradition for various friends and me over the last three decades.  As years have passed and we have grown older, our ambitions have been faced with the reality of our physical condition.  The mileage has dwindled, but the enthusiasm has not.  This year our destination was the Quetico side of Basswood Lake. The route included five portages and approximately four hours of paddling.  

I have learned over the years to discuss my canoe trip plans with locals in Ely who are deep in experience concerning routes, campsites and fishing holes.  My reconnaissance this year had identified an excellent base camp on the North Bay of Basswood.  The weather in May is unpredictable and can be punishing.  It’s best to think about the possibility of frigid north winds and also prevalent west winds travelling over 40-degree water before impacting a campsite.  Once at the campsite, one should consider where the fire pit is situated.  Will the fire be exposed to prevailing west winds or north winds?  A campsite can often make the difference between a wonderful experience and an endurance contest.

Our trip began with little fanfare.  We were greeted with light north winds as we left Prairie Portage and headed west down our largest exposure on Basswood Lake, which is notorious for strong westerlies and big rollers.  Paddling on lakes with 40-degree water should not be taken lightly.  Safety is of utmost importance.  We headed north into Bailey Bay and crossed the portage into Burke Lake.  Light rain began to fall.  The temperature was a relatively warm 60 degrees.  I have often felt that traveling in the rain is preferable to staying in camp.  The conditions were quite comfortable.

As we entered North Bay, the north wind stiffened to 15-to 20-miles-per-hour gusts.  Although we did not have a long way to go, our destination had us paddling straight upwind.  The next hour or so was a grind.  All paddlers can relate to this.  If mankind has one common denominator, it is hatred of a headwind.  We arrived at our campsite for a late lunch, thankful that its orientation faced south, protecting us from the north wind.  Friends in Ely had advised us well.  This campsite was perfectly situated for the weather conditions.

We were greeted to a pleasant surprise at the fire pit.  There was a good stack of bucked, but not split, white cedar.  It appeared to be enough wood to get us through a couple of meals.  The only problem was that it was still raining and everything was wet.  North winds meant dropping temperatures.  As the afternoon progressed the temperature steadily declined.  It was going to be a cold night--a good fire was comforting.  After setting up our tents we divided the responsibilities of organizing the cooking area, finding kindling and splitting wood.  

The wet conditions were going to make it challenging to start a fire.  Having seen such circumstances before, we got out our pocketknives and began shaving some of the cedar that Mark and Rich had split.  Patience is extremely important when attempting to start a fire in soggy surroundings.  I always bring some paper towels with me.  I find them very useful when cooking.  In this case, we put a flat rock on top of the wet ashes and placed a crumpled paper towel on the rock.  The dry cedar shavings were placed on the paper towel followed by a layer of very thin, dead branches.  It was not long before we had a good enough fire to begin drying the bark of the split cedar that was to be burned subsequently.

When we were younger these trips were all about how many miles we could paddle.  These days the mileage just isn’t important.  Now we prefer base camping.  This was to be our base camp for the next five days.  By dinner, the rain was diminishing to a light mist.  The weatherman had predicted improving conditions for the next few days with rain returning for our paddle back to Prairie Portage.  The conversation over supper turned to our plans for the next day.  We would stick fairly close to camp, fishing the North Bay.  

Thursday dawned with much cooler temperatures in the upper 30s.  Skies had lightened and most importantly the rain had stopped.  We were confident that we would not see rain with the stiff north winds continuing.  We were anticipating a good day of fishing.

Fishing in May is my favorite time of year in the Quetico-Superior country.  In May it is possible to catch lake trout near the surface. Lake trout are only found in deep, clear, cold, oxygenated oligotrophic lakes.  The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Quetico Provincial Park are famous for its pristine, sky blue waters. The border lakes of Minnesota and Ontario are about as far south as one will find these lakers. Farther south, water temperatures are too high and lakes lack the oxygen to support lake trout.  It is this scarcity value that makes lake trout fishing special. The lake trout represents true wilderness to me.

Thursday morning Rich and I were fishing in my 18-foot Bell Northwinds canoe.  Mark was paddling a Wenonah Canak, a hybrid canoe/kayak suited for solo wilderness tripping.  The three of us are paddlers more than fishermen.  Therefore, our preferred method of fishing is to troll the shorelines with crank baits until we find a hot spot.  Not too long after leaving camp and paddling through a channel, Rich had a solid strike.  As the fish tired, the excitement grew when we saw one near the boat.  It was a substantial laker, and we were eager to get it in the net.  Soon the fish was landed.  It measured 32 inches, suggesting about a 12-pound fish.  The photograph of Rich and his fish says it all.  A lake trout is a beautiful fish.  Catching and releasing such a large aquatic denizen is the essence of a wilderness experience.

As many of you know, a large Chilean mining company named Antofagasta has proposed to develop a mammoth copper mine adjacent to the Kawishiwi River south of Ely.  Hard-rock mining, which includes sulfide-ore copper mining, is considered the most toxic, most polluting industry in the world.  Copper is found in sulfide rock.  If mined, more than 99 percent of the rock will be left on the land's surface as vast piles of sulfide bearing waste-rock.  When this waste-rock is exposed to air and water, it generates sulfuric acid.  This sulfuric acid leaches heavy metals from the wate-rock as it leaks from mine sites into nearby bodies of water. A combination of acid, water and heavy metals is known as acid mine drainage, and it changes the pH of waters it enters by increasing its acidity.  Scientific studies have shown that the lakes of the Boundary Waters have low acid-neutralizing capicity, making them particularly vulnerable to acid mine drainage.  It is predicted that the development of copper mining next the BWCAW will have devastating effects on aquatic life in down stream lakes.  Basswood Lake is downstream from the proposed mining complex and in the path of pollution.  As I look at the fish in this picture and the human response of catching such a magnificent fish, I ask if it is worth the price of polluting this great wilderness for the benefit of a few jobs and a large profit for a foreign mining giant.


Dodd Cosgrove is a board member for Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters. Cosgrove first paddled the Boundary Waters in 1964, one month before it gained official designation as a Wilderness area. Retired after 30 years working as a Chartered Financial Analyst, he has served on multiple boards, including The Quetico-Superior Foundation and Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, at times serving as treasurer for both. For the last 19 years he and his family have owned a cabin on Little Long Lake and all of his children have been campers at a YMCA camp near the Boundary Waters. 

From the Freemans: Water Quality Testing in the BWCA

Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Posted by
Amy Freeman

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.

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Science Desk: Strong Voices in Duluth; Concerns About Antofagasta

Thursday, March 23, 2017
Posted by
Matt Norton

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:

  • Excavated more than 500 boulders bearing 2,000 petroglyphs to make way for a tailings dam, which was the biggest loss of cultural heritage in Chile’s recent history. Antofagasta never followed through on promises to open a museum (source).
  • Was found guilty by the Chilean Supreme Court of harming residents of a community when Antofagasta located its tailings dam nearby, polluting the underground aquifers and blocking a critical source of water on which the community depended. Antofagasta was ordered to remove structures obstructing the water course (source), but that will not solve the pollution already caused.
  • Faced potential closure of one of its mines over the extent of the violations of its environmental permits, including water pollution (source).
  • Oversaw the highest number of toxic spills in the region of Coquimbo, with one spill dumping 13,000 liters of copper concentrate directly into a river (source).
  • Was accused of redirecting the main water source in Caimanes for its own use (source).
  • Closed the largest mine in Chile when copper prices were low, and reopened it when the market rebounding with no regard to project or employment stability (El Mercurio newspaper, January 2009).

More on Antofagasta itself:

  • A Chilean senator brought charges against Antofagasta for tax fraud (source).
  • Is heavily involved in the extreme water privatization occurring in desert areas of Chile, depriving many poor and indigenous families of their human right to water (source, source).
  • The entire corporate structure is dangerously consolidated within the Luksic family (source).

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.

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Polling: Shows Strong Support for the Boundary Waters

Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Posted by
Piper Donlin

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.

For more on this new polling, read our press release and the memo and deck from Fabrizio Ward.

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.

Boundary Waters Rite of Passage

Monday, February 13, 2017
Posted by
Dan Doty

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.


Dan Doty is a producer, director and writer based in Bozeman, Montana.  He grew up idealizing the North Shore and the Boundary Waters, and for many years he led therapeutic and correctional wilderness programs in the north woods.

Speaking Up for Science and Public Opinion

Monday, February 6, 2017
Posted by
Piper Donlin

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.

  1. Rep. Nolan is seeking to stop the most important environmental review - one that looks at the  Boundary Waters and the impact on the Wilderness if sulfide-ore copper mining were allowed in the watershed. This is the environmental review that is now underway, initiated by the U.S. Forest Service based on strong scientific evidence that sulfide-ore copper mining nearby will harm the Wilderness.
  2. Rep. Nolan claims that he is pro-environmental review. What he is not being clear about is that he only supports environmental review after a mining company asks for a permit. Only after the Forest Service has been forced - by raw political threats - to grant a mineral lease.
  3. Rep. Nolan wants to short-circuit the right process now underway. He would allow international copper mining companies to define environmental review the way they want. The mine-by-mine environmental review process that Rep. Nolan favors puts the cart before the horse, and is a recipe for permanent and irreversible contamination of the BWCAW.
  4. If Rep. Nolan gets what he wants then international mining companies will once again be able to apply for new mineral leases in the watershed, and they will re-start their plans to mine sulfide-ore copper... upstream from Minnesota's cleanest water and America's most-visited wilderness area. Minnesota’s Governor and the Forest Service have temporarily halted consideration of sulfide-ore copper mining in the watershed because of overwhelming scientific evidence of harm.

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)

Big News! But What Does It Mean for the BWCA?

Friday, January 20, 2017
Posted by
Matt Norton

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.

  • Short Term: Our short-term goal required that Chilean copper mining giant, Antofagasta, and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Twin Metals, be denied the renewal they requested of their expired mineral leases, which are the only federal minerals leases in the watershed of the Boundary Waters. The announcements in December mean that we have accomplished this short-term goal, though the mining companies are challenging the federal agencies’ denial of the lease renewal request. The case is in federal court, and will play out over the next year or two.
  • Medium Term: Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters’s medium-term goal is a 20-year administrative “withdrawal,” during which no new leases or exploration of federal minerals would occur within the Boundary Waters watershed. The process to create a 20-year withdrawal starts with a two-year pause on new federal mineral activity in the area proposed to be withdrawn, so that federal agencies can do an environmental review of the effects the proposed withdrawal would have on the environment, people, and economy. The announcements from earlier this month have triggered a two-year pause and environmental review, and started the process that should lead to our medium-term goal of a 20-year withdrawal of federal minerals in the watershed of the Boundary Waters.
  • Long Term: After the environmental review is done, it will be up to the new Secretary of the Interior Department to decide whether to announce a 20-year withdrawal for the Boundary Waters watershed. If that happens, then we’ll use those years to build support for the Sportsmen’s ultimate goal: passage by Congress of an act granting permanent withdrawal of federal minerals within the watershed of the Boundary Waters.

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 August 19. 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.

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