(Editor’s note: Garage Grown Gear is among the more than 350 businesses and brands that have joined the Boundary Waters Business Coalition to work for permanent protection for the Boundary Waters from copper mining. We invited Samantha Chadwick, the Deputy Campaign Manager for Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, the non-profit organization behind the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, to share more about why this ecosystem is so important, the imminent threats it faces, and what each of us can do to help.)
The Boundary Waters Wilderness is utterly unique — a valuable and cherished place — and right now it is under grave threat from proposed sulfide-ore copper mining.
Let me tell you about the Boundary Waters!
My connection to the wilderness starts with my grandpa Ray, who passed away in 2020 after contracting Covid-19. He worked for many years as a pastor and he started taking church youth groups on canoe trips in the Boundary Waters. This was both before and after it was designated a federal Wilderness Area in 1978.
Grandpa Ray brought his kids, my parents brought me, and now I’m bringing my young kids to the Boundary Waters. There is no other place quite like this on earth.
Just like my family, millions of people have ventured through this glorious lakeland wilderness. In fact, the Boundary Waters is the most popular wilderness area in the country, offering brilliant camping, fishing, paddling, dogsledding, hunting and hiking experiences.
The Boundary Waters is the largest National Wilderness Area east of the Rockies and north of the Everglades, covering more than 1.1 million acres within the 3-million-acre Superior National Forest. This ecosystem contains 20 percent of all the freshwater in the entire National Forest System.
The Boundary Waters forms the heart of a trans-national protected area that includes Voyageurs National Park and Quetico Provincial Park, the latter of which is in Canada. The Boundary Waters was recently designated a Dark Sky Sanctuary — one of only 13 in the world.
This wildland refuge is crucial to the planet’s ability to sustain biodiversity in the face of a changing climate, and is critical habitat for fish and wildlife, like walleye, northern pike, lake trout, smallmouth bass, wolves, lynx, moose, bears, loons, river otters, bald eagles and osprey.
Anishinaabe people (also known in this region as Chippewa or Ojibwe) have lived in the area for countless generations and have a deep traditional and cultural relationship to these lands and waters. Indigenous people continue to harvest wild rice in the Boundary Waters region, maintain treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather on these lands, and have called for the protection of this important landscape.
The Wilderness Powers a Sustainable Regional Economy
The Boundary Waters also powers a strong and enduring outdoor recreation economy in northeastern Minnesota. It supports 17,000 jobs and $913 million in sales annually, and powers businesses, resorts, lodges, outfitters, campgrounds, homes and more.
Proposals to transform the headwaters of the Boundary Waters into an industrial mining district would displace local residents and many businesses.
That’s why more than 350 local, regional, and national businesses and brands, including Garage Grown Gear, have joined the Boundary Waters Business Coalition to work for permanent protection for the Boundary Waters from copper mining.
Not this mine. Not this place.
Twin Metals, owned by Chilean mining company Antofagasta, seeks copper and other metals along waterways that flow into and through the heart of the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs. History shows sulfide-ore mining always pollutes. The clean water and rich ecosystem of the Boundary Waters watershed are particularly sensitive to the acid drainage from this type of mining.
Mining infrastructure near the edge of the Wilderness would seriously damage and disrupt thousands of surface acres in the Superior National Forest, with cascading effects on the ecosystem outside and within the Boundary Waters. Peer-reviewed science shows pollution from copper mining in the headwaters of the Boundary Waters would permanently damage downstream lakes, rivers, and groundwater, which are extensively interconnected.
We can protect the Boundary Waters forever
Since 2012, Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, a grassroots organization based in the Boundary Waters gateway town of Ely, Minnesota, has been leading and building the national movement to permanently protect the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore mining.
The Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters now includes more than 400 businesses, conservation organizations, hunting and angling groups and other allies, and reaches millions of people across the country.
We’ve gained national attention for the Boundary Waters through countless citizen advocacy trips to Washington DC, and through films, news coverage, and creative projects (examples: Year in the Wilderness and Running for the Boundary Waters.)
Path to Permanent Protection
Important protections for the Boundary Waters were underway during the Obama administration. Unfortunately, the Trump administration unwound protections to benefit a foreign mining conglomerate, while ignoring science, facts and the law, as well as the will of the American people.
Now we have a new opportunity to finally protect this place.
The Biden-Harris administration should revisit and reverse dubious decisions made during the Trump administration. The U.S. Secretary of the Interior (as a Congresswoman, Deb Haaland was a cosponsor of the Boundary Waters protection legislation) can re-initiate the process to consider a 20-year ban on mining on public lands in the watershed, starting with a two-year pause to study the risks of sulfide-ore copper mining in this location.
The resurrected mineral leases on the edge of the Boundary Waters should be terminated once-and-for-all, either by federal agencies or through pending lawsuits brought by conservation groups and businesses.
Congress must also pass Representative Betty McCollum’s bill to permanently ban copper mining on Superior National Forest lands in the Boundary Waters watershed. This bill, the Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution Prevention Act, was passed by the House Natural Resources Committee in September 2020 and was recently reintroduced in the 117th Congress on Earth Day.
You can help!
Sign and share the petition asking the Biden-Harris administration to permanently protect the Boundary Waters: https://www.savetheboundarywaters.org/2021-petition
Ask your members of Congress to support and work to pass the Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution Prevention Act: https://www.savetheboundarywaters.org/April-2021-Bill
About the Author
Samantha Chadwick is the Deputy Campaign Manager for Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, the non-profit organization behind the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. www.SavetheBoundaryWaters.org