Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Posted by
Scott Hed

Save a National Treasure

This article was written by Scott Hed and originally printing in the May/June 2016 issue of Midwest Hunting and Fishing Magazine. It is reprinted here with permission.

Within the vast 1.1 million acres of the Boundary Waters lie forests filled with game and interconnected lakes and rivers swimming with trout, pike, bass and walleye. The experience of canoeing and portaging out into the wild there to fish or hunt draws many sportsmen and women to this northern Minnesota Wilderness

While the Boundary Waters itself is protected, the edge of that wilderness lacks that same security. An international mining company has applied to renew federal mineral leases for sulfide ore mining immediately adjacent to the wilderness, where the water flows directly into the Boundary Waters. Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters was formed by hunters and anglers seeking to conserve this wild space for outdoorsmen and women to enjoy for future generations. Protecting this Wilderness takes the work of all of us as conservationists for the wild lands we enjoy. Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters has been raising the voices of all of those who want to protect the Boundary Waters, and we’re proud to say that some amazing voices for the Wilderness have joined this effort lately. Earlier this month, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton stated his “strong opposition to mining in close proximity to the BWCAW.” In a letter, the governor laid out his grave concerns to the COO of Twin Metals, the company owned by Chilean mining giant Antofagasta, which has proposed the first sulfide ore mine near the Boundary Waters. “As you know the BWCAW is a crown jewel in Minnesota and a national treasure,” said Governor Dayton. “It is the most visited wilderness in the eastern US, and a magnificently unique assemblage of forest and water bodies, an extraordinary legacy of wilderness adventure, and the home to iconic species like moose and wolves.” Former Vice President Walter Mondale has also voiced his support for protecting the Wilderness. “I join Minnesota’s Gov. Mark Dayton and urge the federal land management agencies to continue the work of nearly 100 years and to ensure that the Boundary Waters wilderness remains the place it is today,” he said in an oped to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “We must do what Minnesotans before us have done: defend the wilderness.” Moving forward, our efforts to protect the Boundary Waters will focus on supporting a process that allows for strong science and public input to determine the future of the Wilderness. We already know that there will be time for an environmental review for the expired federal mineral leases owned by Twin Metals and that that review can include the option to deny the leases, according to the Department of the Interior. This is critical, because sulfide ore mining is a risky type of mining and produces the most toxic waste of any industry in America, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Toxic Release Inventory, 2014). A recent peer reviewed hydrologic modeling study by Dr. Tom Myers shows the ability of contaminants to flow into the Boundary Waters from both below and above ground sources. He concludes, “Some areas should not be mined at all due to the risk to downstream resources.”

This type of mining produces giant waste piles that, when exposed to air and water, leach sulfuric acid, heavy metals and sulfates. The proposed mines would be located upstream from the Boundary Waters and would threaten the fishing and hunting areas, harm wildlife and harm the regional economy. Due to the massive amount of interconnected water in the Rainy River Drainage Basin, it’s not hard to imagine sulfide ore mining pollution degrading the Boundary Waters, Voyageurs National Park, and even Quetico Provincial Park in Canada. The voices of the public will be hugely important to this process. A recent poll shows that 67% of Minnesota voters, including a clear majority of Independents and Republicans, oppose sulfide ore mining near the Boundary Waters. Even more impressively, the poll found that 61% of voters in the Eighth Congressional District, which includes the Iron Range, oppose it. When there’s an open comment period, we hope the voices of hunters, anglers, campers and canoers across the country will join in and say that America’s most visited Wilderness is no place for America’s most toxic industry. 

As I travel with Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters across the Midwest talking about this issue, sportsmen and women show clear passion for the Wilderness and express deep concern for the risks it now faces. Many are keen to talk about past trips and share photos, and eagerly recount their experiences hunting and fishing in the Boundary Waters. Jon Nelson, a hunter and angler from Duluth, considers himself lucky to have had the chance for a Boundary Waters moose hunt. “To be able to combine my love of wilderness with the joy and challenge of hunting made for an unforgettable experience,” he says. These are just a few of the growing group of sportsmen and women who have expressed concern over the proposed sulfide ore mines.

The proposed sulfide ore copper mines also put us all at risk of losing the ability create memories like those expressed above. So far, protection for the Boundary Waters is supported by the Pope & Young Club, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, National Wildlife Federation, Izaak Walton League of America, International Federation of Fly Fishers, Wildlife Forever, Orion The Hunter’s Institute, Rapala and a growing list of other groups and businesses. While Governor Dayton’s public statement against mining near the Boundary Waters was a huge step in the right direction, there is still much work to be done. Ultimately, the decision to permanently protect the Boundary Waters lies with the federal government.

We hope Dayton’s strong opposition to risking the health of the Boundary Waters will pave the way for other key decision makers, urging them to carefully consider what is best for the future of this area and the preservation of these wild lands and waters. Tell your friends, family, and fishing and hunting buddies to thank Governor Dayton for taking a stand and urge other decision makers to speak up for Boundary Waters experiences they love. Spread the word about the risks facing this habitat and learn more and sign the pledge at
SportsmenForTheBoundaryWaters. org, Facebook, Twitter: @SportsmenBWCA, and Instagram: @SportsmenBWCA.

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Scott Hed is the sporting outreach director of Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters. He has a degree in economics from St. Olaf College and worked in commercial finance for 10 years before embarking on his career in conservation.  Since 2001, Scott has worked on some of the highest-profile conservation issues in Alaska, including the campaign to protect the world’s most productive wild salmon fishery in Bristol Bay from the proposed Pebble Mine project.  For his work, Scott was recognized as Fly Rod & Reel magazine’s 2014 Angler of the Year.