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Governor Dayton Voices Strong Opposition to Mining Near BWCA

Tuesday, March 8, 2016
Posted by
Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters

Yesterday, Governor Mark Dayton released a letter he sent to Twin Metals Minnesota, owned by international mining company Antofagasta, about the need to protect the Boundary Waters. The letter outlines his “grave concerns” about Twin Metals’ proposed massive sulfide-ore mining operation in the Boundary Waters Wilderness watershed.

“... my concern is for the inherent risks associated with any mining operation in close proximity to the BWCAW,” says Governor Dayton. “... I have an obligation to ensure [the Boundary Waters] is not diminished in any way. Its uniqueness and fragility require that we exercise special care when we evaluate significant land use changes in the area, and I am unwilling to take risks with that Minnesota environmental icon.” 

In the letter, Dayton calls the Boundary Waters "a magnificently unique assemblage of forest and waterbodies, an extraordinary legacy of wilderness adventure, and the home to iconic species like moose and wolves" and said he is "unwilling to take risks with that Minnesota environmental icon." Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters has been working tirelessly to help decision makers like Governor Dayton recognize that America’s most visited wilderness is not the place for what the EPA calls the most toxic industry in America and take action to ensure its protection for future generations.

“The Rainy River Drainage Basin which includes the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, is a world-class fishing and hunting destination,” said Outreach Director Scott Hed, Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters. “This pristine habitat is too special to put at risk.  I’d like to praise the Governor for his strong leadership on this issue.”

The Governor has also reached out to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). “I apprised the Director of my strong opposition to mining in close proximity to the BWCAW,” he says in his letter. “I was informed that the BLM is in the process of making a determination pertaining to the renewal of Twin Metals' federal lease holdings. I believe that the BLM decision will offer further guidance on the future of mining in the area.”

Let’s thank Governor Dayton for his leadership and urge him to do everything in his powers to support permanent protection for the Boundary Waters Wilderness watershed.

Memories as Inspiration

Tuesday, February 16, 2016
Posted by
Scott Hed

This post was originally written for Fishpond USA's, "The Pond." 

I’ve worked on Alaska conservation for going on 15 years now. This career fell right into my lap, when the finance company I was working for was sold twice in twelve months resulting in my small satellite office shutting its doors. That summer I spent a month and a half in Alaska on vacation, and ended up meeting some people that would change the course of my working life.

Before thatturn of events (talk about turning lemons into lemonade!), I had been disengaged to a large degree from the outdoors. The ten years I spent working in a cubicle and eventually my own office (that’s a big deal in the corporate world) were focused on career advancement, bigger paychecks, and not so much on fishing, hunting, camping, or the other things I enjoyed in my younger days.

So, this post is a bit of a flashback. But it’s also something that’s totally relevant today. In the late 1970’s, my parents began taking my brother and me to Ely – the town at the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) in northeastern Minnesota. Being a baseball junkie, I was always a little ticked off that our vacations interfered with playoff games. But, with three and a half decades gone by, I can now fully realize that trading a few baseball games for the weeks that we spent together as a family in the wild north woods was a steal of a deal.

We’d head north from our home amidst the farms and fields of southern Minnesota in our station wagon, pulling our Lund fishing boat that was packed full with a monstrous (and heavy) canvas tent, all our food, clothes, fishing gear, and probably a bunch of stuff we never used. Upon arrival in Ely, we’d stop to see our friends who lived in a cabin in the woods outside town. Paul was a fishing guide extraordinaire and his wife did housekeeping at a few resorts in the area. He’d give us the fishing report, and we’d check in at the same resort we always stayed at – to prepare for our weeklong adventure in the BWCAW. In advance of seven days away from the conveniences of what was then the “modern world,” my brother and I would enjoy some ice cream sandwiches, and I’d spend some of my lawn mowing money on playing some video games (the stand-up console kind, not Xbox) and music from the jukebox in the game room at the resort. My brother, ever the more passionate angler, would spend his money on bait and lures.

Early the next morning, Paul would load us all into his enormous old Chevy Suburban and we’d drive down a stretch of highway that eventually turned into a gravel road before sometimes finishing as a two track path with tree branches scraping each side of the rig. Over the years, we visited several different lake systems. Some of the most memorable trips were to Jackfish Bay on Basswood Lake – a large lake on the Canada border. It took many hours by boat to travel the 30+ miles through Moose, Newfound, and Sucker Lakes before traversing Prairie Portage on the Canada border and continuing in Basswood Lake through a maze of islands to reach our campsite in Jackfish Bay. We’d set up camp and get to fishing as fast as possible. Walleye were our primary target, but we caught lots of pike and bass as well. If the weather was hot, we’d swim. If the fish weren’t biting, we’d pull to shore and pick blueberries. If the weather turned nasty, we’d ride out the storm under the tent while thunderstorms rolled through. Once, lightning struck right across the small bay from our camp site. When it was clear, we paddled across to find a pine tree that had been blown to bits by the strike. We’d see eagles, ducks, deer, and even moose. And in the evenings, around a camp fire, we’d listen for the call of the loons or the howl of wolves. We’d have fish fries, and we’d drink water straight from the lake (with Kool Aid, of course). At the end of the week, Paul would show up and we’d take the long boat ride in reverse, back to civilization. We’d take proper showers at the resort, and head to Paul’s house for “attitude adjustment hour,” which meant we kids enjoyed some Pepsi while the adults enjoyed some age-appropriate beverages. Stories were told of the fish landed and lost, and we’d pledge to return the next summer to do it all again. Which we did – every year until I finished high school.

Those memories came back to me recently as I was approached to lend a hand in a campaign to protect the Boundary Waters from the threat of copper mining on its southern boundary. Together with a team of passionate and talented people I’ve had the privilege of working for many years to protect Bristol Bay, Alaska from the proposed Pebble Mine (the battle’s not over, by the way). This time, it’s personal. When asked to help bring anglers and hunters into the fight for the Boundary Waters, it was impossible to say “no.” Don’t mess with my family’s personal memories or the place that in hindsight gave me my first experiences with true wilderness and eventually my view toward public lands that now provides my career. 

The thing is, my experience in the Boundary Waters is unique to me – but it’s far from unique. The BWCA is the most-visited Wilderness in the country, with over 250,000 people enjoying its clean waters and healthy forests annually. If you’ve been there, you know how special it is. If you’ve not been there, what are you waiting for? In the meantime, help protect the BWCA. There are some places that are simply too valuable to risk.

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.  

Fish Out of Water: Winner of the Spirit of Film Award

Tuesday, February 9, 2016
Posted by
Piper Hawkins-Donlin


We are pleased to announce that Fish Out of Water won the Spirit of Film Award at the Frozen Film Festival on February 7. The Spirit of Film award embodies the spirit of independent filmmaking while advocating for a cause.

The Frozen Film Festival was a 2016 addition to the Saint Paul Winter Carnival and the winter version of the St. Paul Film Festival. It showcased over 30 independent films from around the world; from documentary shorts, to feature length films.  

 Accepting the award were Mark Norquist, owner of Green Head Productions and executive producer of the Fish Out of Water, and Phil Aarrestad, story developer and second camera operator for the film. “We are proud that the film was recognized by the Frozen Film Festival. We hope the film will help raise awareness of the risky sulfide-ore copper mines proposed near the edge of this beautiful wilderness,” Norquist said during the acceptance speech. 

The three-part film series brings you into the Boundary Waters with three Minnesota chefs;  Lachelle Cunningham of Breaking Bread Café, Amanda Cowette of Wise Acre Eatery, and experienced sportsman Lukas Leaf, executive chef at Al Vento, for an expedition into the wilderness to fish, cook and showcase the beauty of this fishing and hunting destination threatened by Twin Metals and other companies’ proposed sulfide-ore copper mines.

The film, which was shown in the documentary shorts category, was attended by the several members of the crew, along with the film's stars, Amanda Cowette and Lukas Leaf.

Watch all three episodes of Fish Out of Water today and relive the excitement as our three chefs venture into the wilderness to fish and cook. 

Minnesotans are accustomed to difficult winters, and so are its animals. While a person might don an extra coat or retreat to a heated house, animals rely on adaptations and changes in behavior to survive cold temperatures, deep snows and frozen lakes found in the Northwoods, including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Though these animals have evolved to survive these harsh conditions, winter is demanding and puts extra stress on wildlife that are constantly trying to survive. Placing massive industrial facilities associated with sulfide-ore copper mining on the edge of the Boundary Waters would heighten the existing stressors and end badly for these year-round residents.

In some ways, animal's winter adaptations parallel humans’ responses to winter. In 2014, Doug Smith of the Star Tribune shared a nice roundup of how animals survive Minnesota’s brutal winters. Whitetail deer, for instance, grow a winter coat with hollow hairs that has more insulating power than their summer coat. Likewise, a person might choose to wear a fleece or down coat that traps more warm air near her body, creating better insulation between her and the cold surroundings. Smith goes on to describe chickadees and other birds pulling a similar move by “puff[ing] out their feathers to increase insulation.” Chickadees can also “pull one foot up into their feathers,” much like a skier pulling cold fingers out of a glove to warm them in his palm.

Unlike humans, many animals, especially birds that don’t migrate, must constantly consume calories to survive winter conditions. Deep snow and ice can make it difficult for birds to forage because their normal foods are covered. Waterfowl can collect around open water, creating a high concentration of prey for predators to attack. Grouse also stick around during the winter, and expose themselves to predator attack while digging through deep snow for food. Rabbits and snowshoe hares must also frequently forage for food, relying on woody plant stems, balsam fir twigs and other hardy vegetation that lasts throughout the winter.

Moose, which are extremely well adapted to winter with their long legs and heavy winter coats, appear to be increasingly stressed during winter for counterintuitive reasons. The decline is likely spurred by a variety of factors acting together, and recent information from the Minnesota moose study suggests that winter warming plays an important role in moose mortality. Moose are prone to heat stress in winter if temperatures rise since they can’t cool down in ponds and their dark fur acts as a heat sink in the midst of a snow-covered landscape. Warmer winters also allow the explosion of winter ticks, which attach to moose in the late fall and terrorize the animals well into the winter. Moose in New Hampshire and Maine scrape themselves raw to rid themselves of the blood-sucking parasites, which exposes them to cold temperatures when they finally come. These stresses reduces the ability of many moose to forage and exposes them to higher levels of predation or other diseases.

We’ve discussed on this blog how sulfide-ore copper mining proposed in the Boundary Waters watershed would affect moose specifically, and the impacts would likely be worse in winter since it is an already stressful time. This is true for other animals, as well. We discussed the interference noise and traffic would cause in birds and other animals’ ability to look for food while also watching for predators when we investigated the above-ground footprint of an underground mine. All day, year-round noise, light and traffic from the proposed mine would keep waterfowl, deer, grouse, snowshoe hare and other hardy winter creatures from hearing predators approaching from the sky or through the woods.

The more time put into listening for and hiding from predators, the less food they can collect. If they prioritize foraging, the animals are more exposed to being eaten. The more time spent foraging, wading through deep snow, or keeping warm in adverse conditions, the more food is necessary. Industrializing the landscape around the Boundary Waters will accentuate these winter tradeoffs, with potentially dire results for animals that have otherwise figured out how to survive in harsh conditions.

Rachel Garwin is the Campaign's policy director. She holds an M.S. in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont. Every month, Science Desk will include our latest scientific support and share a deeper understanding of the potential environmental impact from sulfide-ore copper mining near the Boundary Waters.

American Angler: Risk vs. Reward

Thursday, January 28, 2016
Posted by
Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters

The American Angler article "Risk vs. Reward," written by Morgan Lyle, originally ran in the January/February 2016 issue of American Angler and is reprinted here with permission. The following is an excerpt. You can read the full article as a PDF.

More than one million acres of water and woods, one hundred fifty miles long with thousands of lakes, and streams full of smallmouth bass and northern pike. Protected since 1926, made part of the National Wilderness Preservation System in 1964, and today the nation's most-visited wilderness area.

And now, possibly, a next-door neighbor to huge copper and nickel mines which, opponents say, are all but guaranteed to wreak environmental havoc.

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) in northeastern Minnesota sits adjacent to a massive deposit of precious minerals of the kind Americans consume voraciously. Four mining companies, including a Chilean mining company called Twin Metals, owned by Antofogasta, want to dig large mines there that will produce 50,000 tons of mineralized ore per day for 30 years. This type of mining has never been done before in Minnesota.

Compounding the issue is the fact sulfide-bearing ore produces sulfuric acid when in contact with water or snow, and leaches toxic heavy metals and sulfates. In the history of mining, there's never been an open-pit or underground mine that hasn't generated this catastrophic brew, and there's no new technology, nor has there ever been technology, to make the mixture safe.

The quality of material from the proposed mines is also considered "low grade;” with less than one-percent of the ore containing copper. The remainder is simply waste Twin Metals says it plans to either pipe out or stock in tailings (with no lining).

Neither are benign treatments. The tailings will leach for centuries into the ground water that eventually reaches the Boundary Waters watershed. There's nothing a mining company can do to control that.

But some mining jobs pay more than $80,000 per year, and mined elements produce materials vital to everything from cell phones to catalytic converters to wind turbines.

"People try to justify all this by saying, 'Well, we need the jobs,' and yeah, it will bring jobs-well paying jobs; but only for engineers and the like, not for local kids. There aren't many positions, they don't last for very long, and they can actually displace many more jobs," Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters Campaign Chair Rebecca Rom said. "Communities that turn to mining because of jobs actually suffer from persistent poverty because of the environmental degradation and the undesirability of the place. Is this all worth risking our wilderness and national forests? Remember, the ramifications aren't just affecting those in northern Minnesota. As U.S. residents, we all have an ownership stake in these areas.”

"If you want the mine, you have to say 'I accept the risks of leaks and seeps. I accept the loss of our forest land where we hunt, fish, and hike.' I can't do that," Rom says. "We're asking the forest service and the BLM to withdraw the federally-owned minerals from the leasing program. The Secretary of the Interior has the authority to decide which lands are 'in' and 'out' of the program. It's an accepted practice, and it can happen."

“The BWCA has some of the highest water quality anywhere,” said Jason Zabokrtsky [owner of Ely Outfitting Company, a canoe trip outfitter]. “It’s the very top of a watershed flowing north to Hudson Bay. These are pristine drinking water lakes, where you can dip your cup right over the side of the boat and take a sit. They also are extremely good fishing waters. If you like a world-class fishery and you like clean water, you don’t want these types of mines to be there. It’s just a really risky place to put this type of mining.”

Read the full article

Fish Out of Water: Official Selection Frozen Film Festival

Wednesday, January 6, 2016
Posted by
Piper Hawkins-Donlin

It is our great pleasure to announce that Fish Out of Water has been chosen as an Official Selection for the Frozen Film Festival in St. Paul. The Frozen Film Festival is a 2016 addition to the Saint Paul Winter Carnival and the winter version of the St. Paul Film Festival. Frozen Film Festival is a celebration of independent film created by filmmakers from around the world. The Festival runs Feb. 5-7 during the Saint Paul Winter Carnival.

The three-part film series brings you into the Boundary Waters with three Minnesota chefs;  Lachelle Cunningham of Breaking Bread Café, Amanda Cowette of Wise Acre Eatery, and experienced sportsman Lukas Leaf, executive chef at Al Vento, for an expedition into the wilderness to fish, cook and showcase the beauty of this fishing and hunting destination threatened by Twin Metals and other companies’ proposed sulfide-ore copper mines.

Watch all three episodes of Fish Out of Water today and relive the excitement as our three chefs venture into the wilderness to fish and cook. Join us at the Frozen Film Festival to celebrate! 

Science Desk: Where do we stand, and where do we go from here?

Monday, December 21, 2015
Posted by
Rachel Garwin

2015 has been a big year for Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters.  In fact, it’s the year this group was launched - with an endorsement from Theodore Roosevelt IV no less!  We are grateful to our partners, supporters, and canoe country lovers who have worked so hard over the last year towards our goal of permanent protection for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageurs National Park watershed. But where are we now, and where are we going in 2016? 

As December draws to a close, we have many reasons to celebrate. Two full years after Twin Metals Minnesota’s federal mineral leases expired, there have been no renewals or issuances of new federal mineral leases within the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs watershed. In March, the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters delivered more than 60,000 petitions demanding permanent protection of the watershed to lawmakers and decision makers in Washington, D.C. As a result of these tens of thousands of people speaking up, Rep. Betty McCollum introduced the National Park and Wilderness Waters Protection Forever Act in the U.S. House of Representatives, and it has since gained 30 co-sponsors representing communities from coast to coast. Closer to home, hundreds of volunteers have tabled at local events, educated attendees at the Minnesota State Fair, the Great Waters Fly Fishing Expo and the Hard Water Ice Fishing Expo, phone banked, written letters of support and toured officials around Ely and the South Kawishiwi River, where Twin Metals proposes to build its sulfide-ore copper mine. [Photo Credit: Steve Piragis]

Strong passion for the Boundary Waters and the surrounding canoe country, plus an underlying understanding of the ecological and economic threats posed by sulfide-ore copper mining, helps explain 2015’s high degree of activism. Anglers and hunters from across the country and across the world care about the Boundary Waters, especially since it is so accessible from both technical and distance standpoints. I routinely hear stories from people I meet all across the country how their first meaningful fishing trip, their first extended wilderness trip, or the first time they went camping with their family happened in the Boundary Waters. When they learn that this beloved place is threatened by proposed sulfide-ore copper mines whose pollution would flow downstream into it, many people simply cannot believe it.  Once they are assured that the threat is, unfortunately, all too real, it spurs concern and action. To date, more than 100,000 people have taken at least one action demanding permanent protection of this national treasure.

The concern deepens upon reflection on the mechanisms of pollution that would threaten the Boundary Waters. In May, we discussed the longstanding track record of water pollution caused by sulfide-ore copper mines. Routine spills of toxic materials, chemicals and industrial wastewater are common at these types of mines, even in the United States. We watched in horror as the Animas River turned orange [photo: Durango Herald] as it ran through beautiful Durango, Colorado, and shuddered to think what would happen to Birch Lake and the South Kawishiwi River if sulfide-ore copper mining were to be allowed on the edge of the Boundary Waters. Finally, we considered the still great impacts of building an underground mine, including infrastructure footprints, wildlife corridor disruptions, traffic, noise, dust and light. These are only a few of the impacts that the Boundary Waters and the people it supports would experience, of course.

It can be easy to get lost in worrying about the potential impacts, but it is also important to remember why canoe country is such a beloved place. The Boundary Waters is a stunning example of a large, intact ecosystem. It supports charismatic wildlife like bear, wolves and moose, which we discussed in June. The wilderness also supports people, whether they only visit once or have lived alongside the wilderness for years. Generations have visited the Boundary Waters and other wilderness areas in search of healing, self-knowledge, challenge and personal development.  One major project for Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters this year was the Fish Out of Water video series, that documented a trip taken by a pair of Twin Cities chefs with absolutely no Boundary Waters experience.  Make sure you watch and share it!

The natural amenities of the wilderness and surrounding Superior National Forest also support hundreds of businesses along its edge, from wilderness outfitters and retailers to manufacturing companies that rely on the high quality of life to attract and retain a skilled workforce. Of course, these lands have sustained people for much longer than the five decades the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness has been designated under the 1964 Wilderness Act. The lands lie within the 1854 Ceded Territory, and as such are supposed to be maintained for hunting, fishing, gathering and other usufructuary rights for members of the Bois Forte, Fond du Lac and Grand Portage Bands, who have relied upon the lands for generations.

We have accomplished much in 2015, and there is still much more work to do in 2016. At some point, the federal agencies will make a decision whether or not to renew Twin Metals’ federal mineral leases. We also hope that the agencies will allow for a broader conversation and decision on whether sulfide-ore copper mining is an appropriate activity adjacent to the nation’s most popular wilderness. Guided by the principles that the Boundary Waters is a special and beloved place, that sulfide-ore copper mining is a toxic and risky industry, and that future generations deserve to inherit a wilderness as healthy and life-giving as it is today, we will push tirelessly for its permanent protection. We hope you join us.  [Photo Credit: Mark Norquist]

Rachel Garwin is the policy director for the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. She holds an M.S. in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont. Every month, Science Desk will include the latest scientific support and share a deeper understanding of the potential environmental impact from sulfide-ore copper mining near the Boundary Waters.

Fish Out of Water - Episode 1

Tuesday, November 17, 2015
Posted by
Ellie Bayrd

Today, we're excited to share the first episode of our three-part series, Fish Out of Water. We debuted this series last night at Steel Toe Brewing in St. Louis Park in partnership with Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. The event featured music from The Boomchucks and appetizers from the three chefs featured in the film. We're grateful for the help of AVEX and those who donated to the auction: Rapala, W.R. Case & Sons, Frost River, The General Store of Minnetonka, Full Curl, Far Out Fly Fishing and Derek DeYoung.

In October, three Minnesota chefs journeyed into the Boundary Waters to fish and cook. Fish Out of Water follows Boundary Waters novices, Lachelle Cunningham of Breaking Bread Café and Amanda Cowette of Wise Acre Eatery, as they join experienced sportsman Lukas Leaf of Al Vento and their guide, Dave Seaton of Hungry Jack Outfitters. Their adventure showcases the beauty of this fishing and hunting destination threatened by Twin Metals and other companies’ proposed sulfide-ore copper mines.

Episode one starts the same way many Boundary Waters trips start, with a road trip up north. Enjoy!

Episode Two - Release Date: Nov. 24
Episode Three - Release Date: Dec. 1

To view the next two videos in this series NOW, please take action to show your support for
protecting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from proposed sulfide-ore copper mining.

Veterans Day Buck Hunt

Wednesday, November 11, 2015
Posted by
David Lien

 “Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better.”
–Albert Camus

Saturday, November 9, 2013
The 2013 rifle deer season in northern Minnesota’s Superior National Forest dawned with a fresh coat of wet, heavy snow that turned the expansive public lands panorama into a soggy, dripping winter wonderland. With winds gusting up to 30 mph in some locales, it seemed many of the deer across Minnesota’s northern tier decided to sit out opening day.

Northeastern Minnesota saw a 19 percent drop in deer registered during the first three days of the season. Not a whitetail was seen or heard by this hunter that first day while sitting deep in a Northwoods swamp waiting, watching and listening. But a dearth of deer allows for plenty of time to think, ponder and to give thanks for the unequaled public lands heritage we all enjoy in this country.

While I silently scanned the surrounding woods for the telltale movement of brown fur, I remembered that it was a hunter-conservationist, and veteran, Theodore Roosevelt, who was most responsible for protecting public lands in northern Minnesota and across the country.  During his tenure as U.S. president, Roosevelt protected some 230 million acres of public lands, about 84,000 acres per day.1

Sunday, November 10, 2013
I settled into the “swamp stand” Sunday morning amidst Roosevelt’s Superior National Forest with a feeling of anticipation only hunters know. Within an hour, shortly after sunup, I heard the unmistakable sounds of several whitetails breaking brush. They circled around the swamp while occasionally revealing fleeting flashes of brown as they noisily crunched their way through the crusted snow and tangled terrain.

A forkhorn maneuvered through a mess of downed, scraggly pines about seventy yards out, angling away and presenting an awkward, but makeable, shot opportunity. I missed but the young buck froze in place, not sure of where the shot came from. I took a deep breath to refocus before pulling the trigger again. “Click,” my 1970s vintage semiautomatic had misfired. After manually ejecting the shell, a few minutes later another deer was in the crosshairs and I pulled the trigger again, clicking through yet another misfire.

Adding insult to injury, the forkhorn circled all the way around my stand and passed by in clear view about 50 feet away before fading away into the surrounding swamp, leaving me to ponder the ying and yang intangibles of bad luck, three trigger pulls with one missed shot and two misfires, intertwined with good luck, hunting amid several million acres of wild public lands habitat.

In 1909, President Roosevelt signed Presidential Proclamation No. 848 establishing the Superior National Forest. While the move didn’t make headlines in Washington, during the Roosevelt administration forest reserves nationwide would increase from approximately 43 million acres to nearly 200 million acres.2

Monday (Veterans Day), November 11, 2013
The temperature dropped precipitously during the night. The camp woodstove had to be fed periodically just to keep the interior temperature in the low 50s, while outside it was clear and pushing single digits. Before sunup the Big Dipper was visible overhead and a fresh layer of frost covered the hushed landscape as I crunched noisily over the now frozen swamp eagerly anticipating the Veterans Day sunrise and deer hunt.

It was cold, but on the stand I was warm and the rifle felt good across my lap. The sun broke the horizon and yellow-red light brightened the swamp. A red squirrel leaped out of a pine onto frozen leaves and chickadees flittered about. Then, just after sunup at 7:15 a.m., the unmistakable sounds of several deer noisily approached, at a trot. From somewhere behind my swamp stand they interrupted the morning silence and stillness. When it sounded like they were almost within spitting distance, I swing around and spotted a doe no more than 50 feet away. One shot and she was down, but the buck trailing her kept going, and at 50 yards turned broadside.

I half expected another click and misfire but the .308 roared when I pulled the trigger. I followed that with another shot; the husky swamp buck absorbed the hits like a prized fighter. Staggering, but still on his feet, I finished him with one more shot. It was over. The heavy-beamed 8-pointer, the only true monarch amid these wild public lands, reluctantly succumbed to his fatal wounds. The swamp returned to a hushed silence, as if in prayer.

Once more I give thanks, for the sacrifices made by both the buck and those Americans who have given so much to protect the U.S. and our public lands heritage. Since this great nation was formed, these lands have been jointly owned by every citizen. They would not be ours, nor in such relative good health, if not for the sacrifices and commitment of our servicemen and women and many other American patriots from all walks of life.

David Lien is a former Air Force officer, life member of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, founder/co-chair of the Minnesota Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and author of “Hunting for Experience: Tales of Hunting & Habitat Conservation.”

[1] Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP).  “Annual Report.”  TRCP: 2012.

[2] James M. Strock.  Theodore Roosevelt on Leadership: Executive Lessons from the Bully Pulpit.  New York: Three Rivers Press, 2001, p. 243.

Boundary Waters Healing for Veterans and Families

Wednesday, November 11, 2015
Posted by
Ben Putnam

While many think of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the Ely area as a summer destination for canoeing and camping, there is much more to this part of the Superior National Forest that takes place throughout the year. In a milder November than recent years, locals and visitors alike are enjoying the warmer trend while hunting, fishing and taking the canoe out for one last paddle before the ice arrives. Instead of walking across the frozen water, this Veteran’s Day we are walking around flowing streams and across the boggy marshes that feed into the Wilderness while soaking in the tranquil music of the water flowing over rocks.

As a child, this Wilderness played an enormous role in the outcome of my future. I remember peeling the bark off dead-fallen and rotting birch trees to help aid our efforts to start a fire after a rainy night not far from one of our favorite campsites on Lake Two. I remember walking the short portages from Lake One that felt miles long to my little feet while contributing to the effort by carrying a paddle or a few fishing poles to the other side.  Our family trips were often in June and July, so the Kawishiwi River typically had a decent flow in the rapids that we would portage around between the two lakes. I learned at a young age how to pronounce Kawishiwi, because in Ely the name shows up almost everywhere you go—much like the river itself—as it weaves and flows through dozens upon dozens of the connected wilderness lakes.

As an infantry Marine Veteran of the war in Iraq, I have set foot in the murky and polluted waters of both the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. While the palms lining their banks made for a welcoming view after drudging through the desert for several weeks, the waters themselves left me yearning for something clean to swim and drink from. Despite all the purification technology used by the U.S. Military to make these waters “safe” to drink, we managed to get sick routinely from the negligently managed, over polluted rivers of Iraq. The first thing I did after returning to Minnesota after the war was to walk straight to the kitchen sink, turn on the faucet, and drink the clean water that flowed out. I realized over the period of a decade spent across the world and the United States that there was only one place I had been where I trusted not only drinking water from the faucet, but also straight from the lake itself.

I would be lying if I said I hadn’t gone through much suffering after my medical discharge from the Marine Corps. I spent the first few years of my reintegrated civilian life living alone in San Antonio, TX, where I studied business management. In 2009, six years after returning from Iraq, I moved back to Minnesota to pursue a hopeful lifetime in Ely amongst the wilderness lakes, rivers, trees and fish. The more time I spent away from the sounds of civilization, in the woods or on the water, the more I began to heal from my own grief. Being able to share this with others became a passion of mine that I pray never dies.

This month marks the close of my fifth season as an outfitting manager and guide. Back in September I had the opportunity to share my favorite childhood campsites with a nonprofit group I was guiding called Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). TAPS came to us for help in planning a healing retreat for those who lost loved ones in the service. It was my honor to serve them on this trip and it was humbling to hear them openly discuss the greatest pains and the happiest memories they had endured, while stoking the fire with balsam branches. Unlike a majority of the trips TAPS takes its members on,  the Boundary Waters regulations of 9 or fewer people to a group had them splitting up into smaller, more intimate parties. 

There aren’t many places in the country where you can embark on this kind of journey; there is a measure of healing one can find here that a lifetime of therapy may not be able to achieve. With the threat of introducing sulfide-ore copper mining, a process labeled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as the most toxic industry in the country, into the Boundary Waters watershed; there is a level of risk too great to overlook. No one can ensure that sulfuric acid waste will not leak into this colossal connection of lakes, rivers, streams and marshes. I couldn’t imagine a Boundary Waters canoe trip where one has to bring in their own water because a mining incident made the water unsafe for consumption. With any likelihood of polluting these pure waters, is it worth the risk? 

As Veterans, we are not strangers of fighting to protect the land we love. Today, let us remember all of those who gave life and limb to defend our freedoms, let us honor them for their sacrifices. For those of us who are still able, let us stand up together and do what we know is right. It is clear that this Wilderness will not be able to protect itself from our own doing. For those who value the blessed serenity of this Wilderness, let us continue to stand up to defend her against all threats, foreign and domestic.  

St. Paul native Ben Putnam is an outfitting manager and guide at Boundary Waters Outfitters in Ely, MN. He served with the Marine Corps and was deployed to Iraq as a machinery gunner in the Third Battalion of the Fifth Marine Regiment during Operation Iraqi Freedom.