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 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.
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.
This story first appeared on Keep America Fishing and is reprinted here with permission from the author.
I’ve never been much of a camper. When I think of how I’d like to spend my downtime, “roughing it” doesn’t usually cross my mind. The one thing that will force me willingly into the wilderness is the promise of a good bite at the end of my line.
One of my favorite fishing trips was an adventure through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, memorable for many reasons, but specifically because it was my first multi-day camping trip. When three friends, each experienced in camping and canoeing, suggested it, I made two stipulations: I needed at least two hours of each day to fish, and there would be no grumblings about towing my rods and tackle along. They were in serious need of a fourth – they agreed.
We made our arrangements with one of the many outfitters based in Ely, Minnesota. They supplied us with nearly everything needed for five days in the wilderness – our canoes, tents, sleeping pads and bags, cooking supplies, freeze dried food, water purification devices, and even toilet paper. We simply packed our own clothes, personal toiletries, a few Nalgene bottles filled with vodka (and one of tequila), and an impressively paired down version of what I usually take on a fishing vacation.
The outfitter also provided a waterproof map, pre-drawn with a suggested route to take us through the scenic area. He highlighted the best campsites for impressive views, the tiny islands with the most privacy, and some cool swimming holes. And to my surprise, and at the thoughtful request of one my travel mates, he marked the spots that he knew were great for catching fish.
“SB,” “WE” and “NP” were scribbled in red, waterproof marker all over that map. I don’t know why I would have thought any differently – the Boundary Waters has remained one of the most pristine watersheds in the world. It is managed in a way to encourage recreation, yet minimize human impact. Our footprints don’t tread heavily on this land and extensive system of lakes, and the health of the fishery is clear evidence of that.
I caught my first pike on that trip. I ate my first pike on that trip. It was the first full day on the water and I was casting a big, black woolly bugger fly – trying to mimic the leaches I had extracted from between my toes after the previous evening’s swim. Multiple times I felt a knock on my submerged line and when I brought it up to inspect the fly, it was gone, with only a frayed leader left. Something was definitely interested, but it wasn’t a smallmouth. I had a good look at the teeth on the first fish I was able to land and was very glad that my Boga Grip had made the cut of which gear to bring along.
My friends delighted me in celebrating a successful day on the water. We took two of our MREs – rice and beans, and peas and onions – grilled up the filleted pike, and combined it all with diced kielbasa to make a one-pot camper’s paella. (I had been thinking that packing a kielbasa was strange, but it turned out to be brilliant.)
The rest of the fish I caught didn’t make it in our culinary creations. As much as they would have enhanced our evening meal, releasing them just seemed like the right thing to do at the time.
Those five days in the majestic wilderness of the Boundary Waters watershed were exhilarating. And exhausting. And so hard to leave behind. A trip like that was on the bucket list for my camping enthusiast friends, but had escaped my radar. I’m glad they opened my eyes to one of the most awe-inspiring, wild places I’ve ever seen and had the pleasure to enjoy.
And the map – it survived the trip. It is now framed and hanging on my living room wall, a reminder of the numerous SB, WE and NP holes that I couldn’t get to in a mere five days, and will hopefully return to in the not-so-distant future.
P.S. – The Boundary Waters are currently under threat from sulfide mining. Click here to sign the petition to stop the renewal of the mine’s leases.
Liz Ogilvie is the director of Keep America Fishing.
Stories about fishing have a reputation of being exaggerated over time and depending on the storyteller, the details may change. Fortunately, the Boundary Waters provides world-class angling opportunities and has been an integral part of our favorite fishing memories. This is a true story about two walleye, as told by two friends who caught them last weekend.
I had let out a good 40 or 50 feet of line and loosened the drag as we paddled out from our lunch spot on Red Rock Lake, north toward Saganaga. I hadn't caught a decent sized fish and I was starting to worry that the fish tacos on the menu that night would be less fishy than I'd hoped. I didn't hear the slow clicking of my reel and turned around just before the portage to see a bend at the top of my rod. That’s usually a telltale sign that I'm dragging a salad fish, and I didn't have very high hopes. As soon as I picked up my rod, something dove hard. A few seconds later I saw the golden belly of a walleye flash under my canoe.
After I'd hauled it in, I paddled over to TJ and Charlie, two buddies of mine who I've been fishing with for years, to show them the catch and maybe rub it in that I'd caught the first walleye of the trip. Just as I started to ask where their fish were, I heard a splash in the water and watched as TJ fought a fish to the edge of his boat. I don't know if I've ever seen a better comeback, as he looked me and said, "Right here."
Places like the Boundary Waters, where stories like this are possible, are harder to come by than they once were. We need to ensure they're protected forever. Sign the petition here to stand with Sportsmen and Women all across the country who support permanent protection of the Boundary Waters from dangerous sulfide-ore copper mining in their watershed.
Everything in this story happened over the course of ten minutes. Spencer pulled a walleye out as he was trolling and didn’t even know he had a fish on. He thought he was stuck on something when he saw the belly flash. The fish surfaced and he was all pumped up about it, so we kept going. I was in a different canoe, and when we got to the next lake through a short portage, I caught up to him and said: “Oh man, I’m super excited that you caught that fish. Now we’re going to have a good dinner, and we’re going to be able to have walleye tacos" -- that was our tentative plan before we caught any fish.
I threw a cast out, and he said: “Oh yeah, I bet you wish you could catch a fish like this," and in the middle of that sentence, I hooked into a walleye that was almost identical to his. We now had two pretty big walleye. I got it in the boat and we ate both of them for dinner -- it was pretty awesome.
Photos: Courtesy of Lauren Bren
Listen to Scott Hed, Outreach Director of Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters, discuss the effects of the U.S. Forest Service announcement early last week on Dan Small Outdoors Radio. Raise your voice and urge the Forest Service to protect this pristine hunting and fishing habitat.
Since 2001, Scott Hed 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. Scott is excited to be involved with the creation of Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters and to bring anglers and hunters into this important campaign.
Dan Small is the face and voice of MPTV's Outdoor Wisconsin and the weekly voice of Dan Small Outdoors Radio: Wisconsin's #1 Outdoor Radio Show.
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.
The forecast for the evening called for storms and wind, not uncommon for this time of the year in the BWCA. Joe Friedrichs from WTIP North Shore Community Radio and I were set to leave the afternoon of Friday, June 3, to portage into Rush Lake for an evening with the Dave and Amy Freeman, our leaders in the advocacy for our pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The plan was simple: Hang out, do a short interview and have dinner with the Freemans. The Freemans are spending a Year in the Wilderness to protect the Boundary Waters.
The night before the trip in, Joe and I had made it a point to go and catch some walleye for the dinner I would cook for Dave and Amy during our evening in camp. We came out successful. I also hit the co-op in Grand Marais for some fresh vegetables and some ingredients for a wonderfully tangy sauce called Putanesca, which would accompany the walleye shore lunch. Packed and ready, Joe and I cast off from Rockwood Lodge and Outfitters on Poplar Lake.
We arrived at Dave and Amy’s camp around 3 o'clock with a greeting from their dog, Tank. They had only just arrived at our meeting spot but already seemed to be settled in. I could immediately tell how comfortable they were in the Wilderness. After settling in, we all sat down and enjoyed some hot coffee that Dave made and some donuts that Joe brought for them. After coffee, Dave and Amy informed us they had to do some writing before dinner. Joe and I smiled at each other knowing we were thinking the same thing. Being fishing junkies, we could not just pass up a chance to smack into some early season top water action for Smallies. So we did.
We returned to camp around six and I began to prep for dinner. We had realized earlier that we only had two small pots that before a little contemplation, was creating a bit of a pickle in my dinner game. That’s what happens when I assume that there would be multiple pans in camp when I got there, but this was just a one night temporary stay for all of us. Oops. I landed on cleaning the grill grate that accompanies each designated campsite to grill the veggies. I made a pan out of tinfoil to fry the fish in and we were in business.
I made the Putanesca over my MSR pocket rocket. Everything went great and dinner was served. I plated everyone up and we had a wonderful time enjoying dinner together. Some good noises were made and stomachs were filled. It was such a privilege to make dinner for two amazing people who are fighting for such an important cause. They play such a huge role in raising awareness of the damage that sulfide-ore copper mining could do to our indescribably beautiful Boundary Waters.
Our evening concluded with everyone warm, dry and full. We chatted around the fire, set high above the waves bouncing into camp, with the wind and rain blowing in our faces. Standing there in front of the blazing fire I could not think of a better way to end my stay up the Gunflint, than spending that evening with Dave and Amy Freeman.
Lukas Leaf is a passionate chef and outdoorsman. He spends his free time fishing, foraging, hunting, camping and cooking his way through the great Minnesota outdoors with friends and family. Read his first Backcountry Chef post.
The U.S. Forest Service announced on June 13 that it is "considering withholding consent for lease renewal" of Twin Metals' request to renew two 50-year-old, expired federal mineral leases on the edge of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. The Forest Service said a final decision will be made after a public input period.
“The Boundary Waters Wilderness is a world-class fishing, hunting and all-around outdoors destination,” said Scott Hed, outreach director for Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters. “Its water is some of the cleanest on this earth and the Wilderness is a major driver in the economy of Northern Minnesota. The Forest Service’s announcement recognizes the significance of the Boundary Waters as a unique and pristine ecosystem and acknowledges the serious dangers posed by sulfide-ore copper mining.” Read our full press release.
If the Forest Service denies renewal of these expired mineral leases held by Twin Metals (owned by Chilean mining giant Antofogasta), it would be a huge step forward in our efforts to permanently protect this beloved canoe country from risky sulfide-ore copper mining. These two expired mineral leases are located right next to the Wilderness, along waterways that flow into the Boundary Waters. They expired more than two years ago on December 31, 2013, and the federal government has the legal right to grant or withhold consent to renew them.
In the Forest Service announcement, they said, "A final determination on consent has not been made. However, the Forest Service is deeply concerned by the location of the leases within the same watershed as the BWCAW, and by the inherent risks associated with potential copper, nickel and other sulfide mining operations within that watershed. Those risks exist during all phases of mine development, implementation and long-term closure and remediation. Potential impacts to water resources include changes in water quantity and quality, contamination from acid mine drainage, and seepage of tailings water, tailings basin failures and waste rock treatment locations. Based on these concerns, the Forest Service is considering withholding consent for lease renewal."
Your incredible support and hard work across the country has brought us to this critical moment. Take action today to make sure we win permanent protection for this beloved, one-of-a-kind Wilderness. And stay tuned for details about the listening session hosted by the Forest Service to be held at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center on July 13.