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Roosevelt IV advocates for BWCA

Wednesday, June 24, 2015
Posted by
Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters

This piece, written by Javier Serna, originally ran in the June 12, 2015, issue of Outdoor News and is reprinted here with permission. See below for our photos from the event. Top photo: From left, Ted Roosevelt IV and Collin O'Mara.

Theodore Roosevelt IV, the great grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt, advocated for legislation that would protect both the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageurs National Park by ending mining on federal lands inside the Superior National Forest at a luncheon held at Phoenix on the River last week.

In 1909, President Roosevelt, who is best known for his conversation legacy, established the Superior National Forest, from which the BWCAW was later taken.

Roosevelt IV, managing director in investment banking at Barclays, spoke at a function put on by Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters, a nonprofit group of conservation interest whose partners include the Izaak Walton League of America, Minnesota-based Wildlife Forever, National Wildlife Federation, Minnesota Conservation Federation, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and the American Fly Fishing Trade Association. The group is led by Ely-based Boundary Waters Trust.

“We’re very concerned,” said Douglas Grann, president of Wildlife Forever. “We want to do all we can to protect the Boundary Waters.”

Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the Washington-based National Wildlife Federation, said the group is not opposed to mining, in general. The group is just opposed to mining being done inside the watershed that is shared with the popular wilderness area. He said that the notion that some mining supporters have said that mining should be done in the name of economic development is shortsighted

“There are 18,000 people whose jobs would be at risk if the Boundary Waters are allowed to be ruined for a few hundred short-term mining jobs,” O’Mara said.

O’Mara said the NWF joined the movement because the BWCAW is a national treasure.

“This isn’t a local fight,” O’Mara said. “This is a national issue. But every Minnesotan that cares about hunting and fishing needs to tell their representative that the Boundary Waters are too important to put at risk.”

Roosevelt IV, in an interview with Outdoor News, echoed O’Mara. He said allowing mining inside the watershed would destroy the Boundary Waters.

“We would be trading a lot of jobs for a small number of jobs,” he said. “This would be permanently damage for a very short-term gain.

Roosevelt IV and the group are advocating for changes in policy that would prevent future mining permits from being granted inside the Superior National Forest, just to the south of the BWCAW. Within the drainage area there are currently federal lands with 50-year-old mining leases, according to a letter penned by U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, DFL-Minn. McCollum said these leases are currently held by one of the largest foreign copper mining companies in the world, Antofagasta.

McColum has authored a bill – supported by the Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters—that is intended to prevent mining-related pollution from flowing into both the BWCAW and Voyageurs National Park. The bill would permanently withdraw federal lands in the Rainy River Drainage Basin from the federal mineral leasing program.

“The nation is judicious and preserves its natural beauty for future generations,” Roosevelt IV said.’ Americans don’t want to see an industrial wasteland … We want clean air and clean water. It should be something we bequeath.”

Photos from June 4, 2015, launch of Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters.
Credit: Ellie M. Bayrd




Science Desk: What about the Moose?

Monday, June 15, 2015
Posted by
Rachel Garwin

I remember the first Boundary Waters moose I ever saw. We’d just finished our evening camp chores--washing pots, taking down the clothes drying line, and hanging our food in a tree--when I heard a crash of underbrush across the small lake. Dusk was falling, and with it came the Interstate-loud drone of June mosquitoes. Despite the clouds of bugs, I ran to the rocky canoe landing to investigate the disturbance. As light faded from the spruce bog on the other shore, I saw a dark shadow move, then bolt. It splashed into the water, and I could tell from its gangly height and massive build that it was that iconic animal of the Northwoods: a moose. Over the next six years that I instructed multiweek wilderness canoe expeditions in the Boundary Waters, however, I saw fewer than half a dozen.

Ask most wilderness travelers, and they’ll tell you that a wildlife encounter can take a good experience in nature into the realm of the incredible. In fact, studies conducted of people who visit wilderness areas show that wildlife viewing is a highly desirable outcome during their wilderness experience (Driver et al., 1987). The benefit of these experiences ranges from the mundane (seeing animals is exciting, and they’re cute!) to the sublime. Observing animals as they go about their lives with little interference from human activity is awe inspiring, as the experience can help us connect to something larger than our own lives (Driver et al., 1987). Meeting a black bear or snapping turtle with bare toes can get the heart pumping and adds to the authentic wilderness experience--not only have you survived the perceived danger of the woods, but it makes a great story to tell friends and family.

Wildlife contribute more than just exciting or spiritual encounters. Animal behaviors can actually physically impact the environment, and they play a major role in creating a functional ecological system. In landmark studies conducted on Michigan’s Isle Royale National Park in the 1980s, ecologists found that moose’s food preferences played an important role in determining the types of shrubs and small trees present in the forest understory. “Selective browsing,” as it is called, in turn affected the types of leaves on the forest floor, which in turn influenced the types of microbes present in the soil. Thus moose likely played an important role in the cycling of nutrients in Isle Royale’s boreal forest, which is similar in a lot of ways to the forest in and around the Boundary Waters (Pastor et al., 1988).

It is just such complex relationships among ecological processes that are significantly threatened by industrial activity, such as those involved in sulfide-ore copper mining. Minnesota’s moose are already facing the struggle of their lives. Climate change, disease, parasites and the increased abundance of winter ticks are all implicated in the decline of Minnesota’s moose population in recent years, which led their listing as a state species of special concern. Moose are rare enough now on the Mesabi Iron Range that recent sightings of two young moose near Cherry, Minnesota, drew crowds of spectators. Though they are not as common as they once were, moose are still present in the area where Twin Metals proposes its sulfide-ore copper mine near the Boundary Waters. I’ve seen moose on the Little Isabella River, Rice Lake, and along Highway 1 between the Birch Lake and S. Kawishiwi River bridges. A hiker recently reported seeing fresh moose pellets in the area where Twin Metals proposes to build its 1,000-acre concentrator facility on the shore of Birch Lake.

What, then, would happen to the moose that divide their time between the Boundary Waters and the rich Superior National Forest that surrounds it if sulfide-ore copper mining is allowed to proceed along the Wilderness’s border? Large amounts of traffic from commuters and heavy supply trucks would increase the risk of moose-vehicle collisions, a danger not only to moose but also to the people in the vehicles. Twenty-four-hour noise, lights and dust pollution could make the National Forest on the edge of the Boundary Waters inhospitable for moose. Additionally, Research at the Natural Resources Research Institute suggests that cow moose seem to choose sites for giving birth and hunkering down for the first handful of weeks afterward with preference for “conifer swamps and riparian areas near beaver ponds or small rivers,” which the area near the proposed Twin Metals site has in abundance. Added to the existing difficulties that moose face, these stresses might tip northeastern Minnesota’s moose population over the edge.

Should moose suffer this fate, wildlife watchers, wilderness travelers and hunters would lose the opportunities to experience such incredible creatures. Northeastern Minnesota’s boreal forest may also lose a crucial actor that helps govern the makeup of tree and shrub species, as well as the microbe and nutrient cycling processes in the soil. Are we willing to take that risk?

Driver, B., Nash, R., & Haas, G. (1987). Wilderness Benefits: A State-of-Knowledge Review. In R. C. Lucas (Ed.), Proceedings--National Wilderness Research Conference: Issues, State-of-Knowledge, Future Directions. Paper 78. (pp. 294–319). Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station

Pastor, J., Naiman, R. J., Dewey, B., & McInnes, P. F. (1988). Moose, microbes, and the boreal forest. BioScience, 38(11), 770–777.

[PHOTO: Mark Carlson]

Rachel Garwin 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.

Science Desk: How Sulfide-Ore Copper Mines Pollute

Friday, May 8, 2015
Posted by
Rachel Garwin

Have you ever wondered just how sulfide-ore copper mines pollute their surrounding environments? It’s a good question, because in order to understand the environmental impacts to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageurs National Park, we must first understand all of the ways sulfide-ore copper mining can cause harm to the surrounding lakes, streams, wetlands and forests. Independent studies show many vectors of pollution, and combined they create a significant risk of contaminating the Boundary Waters.

Sulfide-ore copper mining is a risky type of mining that has never been done before in Minnesota. No matter the method, sulfide-ore copper mines proposed near the Boundary Waters would extract trace amounts of metals from large volumes of rock. Rock is blasted from pit walls, crushed to maximize surface area, and then sorted by economic value. Ninety-nine percent of the rock mined turns out to be waste rock with insignificant amounts of economically value metals; however, it can still contain sulfide minerals. The 1% of rock deemed economically valuable is subjected to chemical processes to extract the metals of interest. No metal recovery method is 100% efficient, and metals and sulfides are left behind in the tailings. Tailings also contain residue from the explosives used to blast the pit wall, chemicals used to separate metals from sulfide minerals, and other ore components with little economic value.

When sulfide minerals in ore, tailings or waste rock are exposed to air and water, acid mine drainage develops. Oxidation and hydrolysis reactions turn otherwise benign minerals into toxic materials, including acid, metals (e.g., mercury, copper, nickel, lead and zinc) and sulfates (Jennings et al. 2008). Acidic conditions further catalyze these reactions, making them proceed at faster rates than would otherwise occur (Jennings et al. 2008).

The sulfide-ore copper mining industry has a disastrous track record. A peer-reviewed report prepared by Earthworks studied fourteen sulfide-ore copper mines representing 89% of current U.S. copper production. Of those fourteen mines, all had experienced some sort of pipeline spill or other accidental release. Thirteen of the fourteen (92%) had experienced water collection and treatment failures that resulted in significant impacts to water quality. The tailings dam failure at the Mount Polley Mine in British Columbia in August 2014 shows the catastrophic potential for such failures (Earthworks 2012).

Run-of-the-mill pipeline leaks and seepage from underground mine sites are also serious vectors for contamination as shown by Dr. Tom Myers, a hydrology consultant who has studied the preliminary plans for mines proposed near the Boundary Waters. The Twin Metals pre-feasibility study calls for a massive network of pipelines to dispose of sulfide-, metal- and chemical- laden tailings. Half of the tailings would be piped from the 1,000-acre concentrator facility on the shore of Birch Lake; the other half would be piped back underground. Based on industry history (Earthworks 2012) and the danger of northeastern Minnesota’s extreme cold freezing and blocking pipes, this pipeline network carries a high risk of failure.

In addition to tailings dam failures and pipeline leaks, sulfide-ore copper mines can pollute through seepage from underground pits and surface waste rock and sulfide-bearing ore. These pollution vectors are hard to detect and difficult to fix. By exposing sulfides minerals in the pit walls to oxygen and water, they are able to produce acid mine drainage. Cracks in the bedrock connecting the underground mine to groundwater can then transmit the generated acid mine drainage to streams, lakes, and some wetlands. It is reasonable to expect that underground seepage of pollutants from the Spruce Road deposit owned by Twin Metals would eventually penetrate the Boundary Waters, according to modeling conducted by Dr. Myers. Any surface storage of waste rock, tailings and sulfide-bearing ore also creates the opportunity for water bearing acid, heavy metals, or sulfates to seep into groundwater despite engineered liners designed to contain them. All liners leak to some extent, and no liner has been tested over the decades and centuries required to permanently protect the Boundary Waters from pollution from sulfide-ore copper mining.

In light of the combined facts that sulfide-ore copper mining on the edge of the Boundary Waters would likely contaminate the Boundary Waters and surrounding lakes, rivers and streams, and that the industry has a poor track record of preventing water quality impacts, it is clear that sulfide-ore copper mining would be too risky for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageurs National Park.

Earthworks. 2012. "U.S. Copper Porphyry Mines Report: The Track Record of Water Quality Impacts Resulting from Pipeline Spills, Tailings Failures and Water Collection and Treatment Failures." Earthworks, Washington, DC.

Jennings, S.R., Neuman, D.R. and Blicker, P.S. 2008. "Acid Mine Drainage and Effects on Fish Health and Ecology: A Review." Reclamation Research Group Publication, Bozeman, MT.

[TOP PHOTO: Carol Stoker, NASA; BOTTOM PHOTO: Mount Polley Tailings Pond Breach—Jonathan Hayward / The Canadian Press]

Rachel Garwin 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.

We Must Protect the Boundary Waters

Thursday, May 7, 2015
Posted by
Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters

The following first appeared in the January 23, 2015,
issue of Outdoor News.

Commentary by Joe Hoffman
There aren’t many unspoiled places left in this country, and for many Americans, access to pure wilderness is a rarity, something that happens once a year, if that. But Minnesotans are blessed with the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, more than a million miles of pristine wilderness set aside for protection 50 years ago. It is America’s most visited wilderness, and is accessible to sportsmen and women from all walks of life, from avid anglers and hunters to novice campers.

Recently, I traveled to Washington D.C., where I met with members of the Minnesota congressional delegation and federal administration to discuss the BWCA and how to protect it.

I didn’t do this alone. I was part of a group of 40-plus Minnesotans who welcomed Dave and Amy Freeman, of Ely, back to land from their Paddle to DC, a 100-day, 2,000-mile canoe/sail trip from Ely to protect the Boundary Waters from proposed sulfide-ore copper mines.

I was honored to be a part of this Minnesota delegation. Dave and Amy canoed on their “floating petition,” which attracted more than 2,000 physical signatures (and more than 10,000 online), and delivered it personally to the U.S. Forest Service. The canoe, nicknamed Sig, is now on permanent display at the U.S. Forestry Service.

Seeing that canoe, covered top to bottom in signatures, was a powerful reminder not only of Dave and Amy’s dedication to the BWCA, but also of the impact this untamed wilderness has had on so many of us.

The BWCA isn’t just heaven for canoers like Dave and Amy (although it certainly is home to some of the best canoeing locations in the country), it also boasts world-renowned fishing and extreme hunting experiences, scenic backpacking, miles of dogsledding in the winter, and is the ideal wilderness retreat. It attracts more than 250,000 visitors a year, supporting some 18,000 jobs in Northern Minnesota.

It is clear that the BWCA is an invaluable treasure to Minnesota, the nation, and the world -- which is why they were one of the very first locations set aside by the Wilderness Protection Act in 1964. Unfortunately, modern threats can wreak havoc on the BWCA from just outside the Wilderness Protection Zone. Some of the proposed sulfide-ore copper mines in Minnesota would be upstream of the BWCA, and any contamination would flow downstream directly into it.

We all understand the priceless value of unspoiled wilderness, not only for us, but also for future generations. If we want to leave true wilderness behind, with all of the native bears, wolves, moose, bald eagles, and beloved Minnesota loons, we must protect these purest of lands and waters.

The author is a member of the Minnesota Conservation Federation from Clear Lake.

An Ally

Thursday, May 7, 2015
Posted by
Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters

The following first appeared in the April 26, 2015, issue of the Pioneer Press.

Sportsmen who care about the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageurs National Park have an ally in Congresswoman Betty McCollum. She introduced the National Park and Wilderness Waters Protection Act last week.

While Minnesota may have a history with mining, we've never pondered the significant risks posed by sulfide-ore mining. This type of mining has a legacy of toxic leaks and spills, and to risk the waters and lands of the BWCAW and VNP to promises given by those only interested in taking what they want and leaving us to deal with the consequences is short-sighted, to put it mildly.

It makes a lot more sense to permanently protect the watershed of the BWCAW and VNP, so this place can continue to draw anglers, hunters and other outdoor lovers season after season, year after year, as it has for generations. I encourage everyone to support this bill.

-- Bob White, Marine on St. Croix

A place of solace for veterans is threatened

Thursday, May 7, 2015
Posted by
Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters

The following first appeared in the April 23, 2015, issue of the Star Tribune.

When I returned from Iraq, I was home, but I wasn’t at peace. For years I felt like I was still at war. It was the peace and quiet of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area that helped me begin the healing process. Other veterans also have found peace there on trips with Voyageur Outward Bound School. Out in the wilderness, we felt that the poison that had infected us was pulled out and that we were able to start living again. Now that peace and quiet is threatened (“Mining bill splits votes in Congress,” April 22).

The mining proposed near the Boundary Waters would forever alter and destroy that wilderness peace. Already the noise of exploratory mining activity is disrupting experiences there. Veterans who fought for their country were not able to have the same peaceful experience, because of foreign mining interests.

The National Park and Wilderness Waters Protection Act would help ensure that veterans like me can escape into the wild and recover. The Boundary Waters and places like it are one of the reasons I pledged my life to this country. Wild places are a rare commodity in this world, and we should avoid the risk of pollution to the BWCA and Voyageurs National Park.

Erik Packard, Rosemount
Facebook: Save the Boundary Waters Veterans Group

Understanding the Bill

Thursday, April 16, 2015
Posted by
Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters

Congresswoman Betty McCollum introduced the National Park and Wilderness Waters Protection Act, HR 1796, on Wednesday, April 15. This bill takes a historic step toward completing permanent protection of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and enhancing protection for Voyageurs National Park by ensuring that risky mining operations are not permitted in places where they might pollute the areas' priceless lakes, rivers and forests.

"This Act is crucial to protecting large portions of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageurs National Park from acid mine drainage," said Becky Rom, third-generation Ely resident and chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. "Sulfide-ore copper mining would do more harm than good to this beloved region. Allowing industrialized mining on the edge of the Boundary Waters would not only pollute water, it would also destroy National Forest lands in areas now used for hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, dogsledding, hiking, skiing, canoeing, logging and other activities."

Leaders from groups like the National Wildlife Federation have also supported the bill.

To understand more about this bill, and what it could do to help the Boundary Waters and Voyageur's National Park, here's a helpful infographic.

Science Desk: Why Watersheds Matter

Wednesday, April 8, 2015
Posted by
Rachel Garwin

When we talk about this issue, we have a tight focus on the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageurs National Park watershed. A watershed can be a difficult concept to grasp, as the boundaries aren’t searchable in Google Maps, let alone marked on a traditional highway map. Understanding the watershed boundary--and what it means for the direction of water flow--is crucial to understanding the risks posed to the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs from sulfide-ore copper mining.

What is a watershed?

A watershed is defined as all of the land that drains to a specific point, like the drain of a bathtub. At a more complex level, an urban sewer grate’s watershed is comprised of all of the gutters, sidewalk, streets, driveways and grass strips that flow into it. Small streams tend to have small watersheds that build upon each other as small streams combine to form larger streams and rivers. Thus the whole state of Minnesota can be seen as layered watersheds of different sizes, much like neighborhoods combine to form towns, which form counties, which form the state. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) defines 81 major watersheds in the state, and it recently released a great interactive map of them.

How is the Boundary Waters & Voyageurs watershed defined?

Three major watersheds flow into the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs National Park, according to the MPCA’s map: Rainy River - Headwaters, Vermilion River and Rainy River - Rainy Lake. The Campaign calls the three major watersheds that flow into the Boundary Waters the “Rainy River Drainage Basin.” To delineate these watersheds, hydrologists rely on advanced mapping software and digital elevation models to predict in which direction a drop of rain will flow at any given point. These maps and models form the basis of the MPCA’s 81 major watersheds, which agree with the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Hydrography Dataset (though the names differ slightly). These authoritative maps provide clear boundaries within which acid mine drainage would flow toward the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs, threatening their interconnected lakes, rivers and wetlands.

Why do the watersheds matter?

One of the primary risks from sulfide-ore copper mining is the leaking or spill of acid mine drainage--which can include sulfuric acid, toxic heavy metals and sulfates--into the rivers and streams around the mine, as well as into the groundwater which then connects to surface water. Some of the contaminants present in acid mine drainage can travel large distances downstream from their original source. Simulations of realistic contaminant releases show that the contaminants could reach the Boundary Waters from the proposed Twin Metals mine site, on the shores of Birch Lake. Pollutants from proposed sulfide-ore mines near Eagles Nest, Minnesota, could also reach Voyageurs by flowing through Lake Vermilion and down the Vermilion River.

Mines located among headwaters also have a larger regional impact than previously thought. By comparing indicators of fish health in streams in the Southeast, Midwest and Northeast with the density of mines in their headwaters, a team of researchers from Michigan State University, Oregon State University and the U.S. Geological Society found that the presence of even one mine was a source of regional stress whose impacts to fish health are felt much farther down the watershed than sampling immediately around the mine site would indicate.

From this perspective, then, the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs watersheds must be kept free of potential sources of acid mine drainage in order to prevent the potential for harm to their beloved lakes, streams and wetlands.

Rachel Garwin 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.

Book Excerpt: Dirty Shirt by Jim Landwehr

Thursday, March 19, 2015
Posted by
Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters

Author Jim Landwehr grew up in Minnesota and took his first trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in 1979. That trip during high school was a disaster. “We did pretty much everything wrong,” says Landwehr, “but the area was captivatingly beautiful and serene. The following year a friend and I repeated the same exact trip with a much better outcome. I was hooked and have been taking trips up there on and off over the last 25 years.”

Landwehr’s book, Dirty Shirt: A Boundary Waters Memoir splits his Boundary Waters memories into three parts. He first shares his early trips with friends and then chronicles adventures with his brothers and friends in the 1980s and 1990s. Finally, he takes a look at how, 25 years later, he’s now taking his kids up there and passing on his love of the area to the next generation. He’s already got a trip on the books for this June. “The last time we went up, it was refreshing to see the kids with no access to phones, tablets or technology,” he says. “They had a blast creating their own fun while fishing, paddling and even playing card games in the tent during a rainstorm. These trips have instilled a love and respect for the area in them that I hope they then pass on to their children.”

The Boundary Waters is one of America’s greatest untouched wilderness areas,” says Landwehr. “It is a place of beauty, serenity and restoration. The lack of technology, noise and people make it one of the best refuges from the frantic pace of the world that I can think of. When I’m there, it grounds me.” Landwehr feels so strongly about the value of the area that he donated part of his book sales to a Minnesota nonprofit dedicated to protecting the Boundary Waters. He appreciates the importance of advocating for keeping the “wild” in wilderness.

Below is an excerpt from Dirty Shirt: A Boundary Waters Memoir.

The Portaging

Part of the beauty of the Boundary Waters is that in the more remote areas, you can paddle for days without seeing another soul. Getting to those areas requires portaging between water bodies. This involves transporting your boat and gear across short, and sometimes not so short, stretches of land. The terrain, trail conditions and how well you packed often determine your experience. For the most part though, it is not for whiners or slackers. Having participated in enough portages, I’ve drafted my own definition of portaging you won’t find in Webster’s dictionary and it goes as follows:

Portaging (pōr-tij-ing)

  1. A voluntary death march crossing over godforsaken terrain in the name of transporting a boat from one body of water to another, exceedingly similar body of water.
  1. A self-inflicted hardship involving back-breaking labor, often producing random hallucinations and coarse language.

It is hard, sweaty, thankless work.

The portaging experience begins with you and your canoe buddy deciding who gets to hoist the canoe overhead and carry it to the other side. Because we usually went three or four portages deep on each trip, we alternated who would take the canoe and who would take the packs and other gear.

The process of loading the canoe ranges from a thing of beauty and grace to one of an Olympic sport gone bad. The canoe hauler began his hoist by centering himself on one side of the canoe where the shoulder padded yoke was. He grabbed the yoke at the opposite side from where he stood, took a deep breath and lifted the canoe so that the near-side gunwale rested on his thighs. From there, using a turn and bench-press type motion, he lifted the yoke over his head and set the pads on his shoulders. This sometimes resulted in the stern or bow banging on the ground as the handler struggled for control. What was intended as a one-two-three step motion often turned into a four-five-need some help here-six motion. Eventually though, liftoff was achieved and the canoe-bearing Sherpa began his trek.

While loading the canoe on our shoulders was always a treat, walking the actual portage trail was when the real fun began. It wasn’t so bad when we were moving the canoe across those short, flat, straight stretches we rarely encountered. It was those hilly, rocky portages strewn with ankle-turning roots that made us question our use of vacation time. Portages which we swore were cut by drunken, practical joking Forest Service employees designed to weed out the weak and uncommitted.

Some of the longer portages even had two or three canoe “rests” along their length. These were locations where some merciful worker fashioned an overhead hook where people could set the canoe to regain the feeling in their shoulders and perhaps receive CPR or stress counseling. There were a couple of these rests where, by the time we got to them, we were seeing visions of the Virgin Mary, Jerry Garcia and Elvis. Trails like these were life changing.

Hilly portages required a great deal of strength, grace, and balance. A third lung helped too. Walking up or downhill with a sixteen-foot aluminum teeter-totter on your shoulders is not for clods or the weak. Occasionally, as we descended a hill, we forgot to watch our stern, and the back end would bang on the rocky trail. If you were the second or third canoe in a train, you just followed the noise in front of you and traveled by sound alone, kind of like portage foghorns, or audible GPS. It also tipped you off as to where to lift your back end so as to not look as inept as the guy making all the noise in front of you.

There’s an unspoken understanding among the portaging brotherhood that whoever’s wearing the canoe is King of the Trail. If you’re packing anything less, yield or suffer the righteous tongue-lashing of the guy with the canoe. When you’re carrying the canoe, your field of vision consists of your boots and about ten feet in front of them. At this point, you're a visually-impaired, oxygen sucking, one-man right-of-way.

Watch the Book Trailer here

Jim Landwehr enjoys writing creative non-fiction, fiction, and poetry. His poetry collection, Written Life, will be released by eLectio Publishing on March 31, 2015. His first book, Dirty Shirt: A Boundary Waters Memoir was published by eLectio Publishing in June of 2014. He has non-fiction stories published in Neutrons/Protons, Parody Magazine, Boundary Waters Journal, Forge Journal and MidWest Outdoors Magazine. His poetry has been featured in Verse Wisconsin, Torrid Literature Journal, Echoes Poetry Journal, Wisconsin People and Ideas Magazine, the Wisconsin Poets Calendar, Off the Coast Poetry Journal, and many others. Jim lives and works in Waukesha, Wisconsin, with his wife Donna, and their two children, Sarah and Ben. Jim works as a geographic information systems analyst for the Waukesha County Department of Parks and Land Use. Find out more about his writing at

We are humbled and inspired by the passion shown here by Joseph Goldstein. It’s amazing to see how the Boundary Waters has impacted his life and inspired him to make it his mission to protect the wilderness. The following is a letter Joseph drafted and sent to decision makers in D.C., which he shared with us.

My name is Joseph Goldstein. I am 13 years old, I live in Springfield, Illinois, and in October of 2014 I was diagnosed with leukemia (ALL). I’m writing today to request the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the protection of one of America’s most beautiful and pristine wildernesses: The Boundary Waters Canoe Area. This very special place is at risk from sulfide-ore copper mining, and I have made it my Wish to permanently protect the BWCA from this danger.

When the Make A Wish foundation first came to me, I was pretty surprised and didn’t really know what to say to their offer. The idea of having a wish granted was...uncomfortable. They talked to me a lot about all the Wishes they grant every year – trips and swimming pools and ponies.
I’ll admit that I did like the idea of asking for a trip to the North Pole, something my dad and brother and I have talked about doing with our friend and explorer, Paul Schurke, but it just didn’t feel right – it didn’t feel BIG enough.

After we left the hospital, I kept thinking that a wish is an important thing. I think it should be about more than just me. It should be about my brothers and my friends and my parents and all of us – a wish for my generation and everyone after. I have been exploring the Boundary Waters since I was 5 years old, both summers and winters. I know what an important, beautiful place it is, and I know how much my friends and teachers all want to hear more about where we went and what we did. I want them to have the chance to be there and love it, too. I want them all to know what it feels like to pull a huge Pike from the lake, to clean and cook it over a fire they built, and to be able to drink straight from the lake (I know I’m not supposed to but the point is I CAN). Everyone I know is interested, even if they haven’t yet had the chance to experience it, and I want to protect that opportunity for everyone, forever.

Because of my experiences in the BWCA and the friends we have made there, I’ve had the chance to travel to and learn from a lot of other wild places. I have seen, first hand, that a lot of damage has been done because of short sightedness, and I know that there is no “safe” way for the area around the BWCA to be mined. Water and runoff won’t understand man’s boundaries, and sulfide-ore mining for copper and nickel will create destructive pollutants that will poison the water, and kill the fish, the animals and the forests of the Boundary Waters. This type of mining is just shortsighted destruction for temporary gain. I know that there are people who call this job creation, but I hope we can come up with something better.   

Goldstein photo set 1 
Wilderness is important. It is important for its own sake. It is also important for the sake of all of us. My dad says that wilderness is a place to learn and grow and be challenged to be more. My mom says it’s a place that can heal who we already are. I think they both are right. I know that the BWCA is a place I want all my friends to see and experience. It is a place I want my brothers to grow up with, too. It is a place I want my kids to know and love someday. It is a place that can change who we are, for the better. It also is a place that can’t protect itself – wilderness relies on us to understand its importance in our lives and guard it for the future.

Nearly 100 years ago, President Theodore Roosevelt understood the need to guard our beautiful, natural resources and began protection of the Boundary Waters. Fifty years ago, the Wilderness Act made those protections stronger. Today, we have a chance to permanently save this special place for everyone, forever. Edward Abby once said, “Wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders.” I am proud to use my Wish as a defender of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, asking you and all our leaders to please, permanently protect this beautiful, important wilderness.

Cancer doesn’t make any sense at all, and my mom says there’s no use trying - we can’t choose what happens to us, we can only choose how we respond. My choice, my Wish, is to try to make things better. I’m very grateful that I have a lot of friends who were already working on this, and I truly hope you will join us in this, too.

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