5 Wins for the Boundary Waters – A Year in Review


Canoe paddling a pristine lake in front of a distant horizon in the Boundary Waters
Photo by Hanna Anderson

Thanks to you, Friends of the Boundary Waters brought together a community of paddlers and clean water advocates to achieve five crucial wins for the Boundary Waters in 2022.

With your continued support, we’ll build on these victories and ensure permanent protection for our beloved wilderness.

A Legacy of Championing the BWCA

On a May morning in 1976, a group of dedicated paddlers and wilderness lovers met for coffee. They had realized that if they were going to protect the Boundary Waters from timber interests and keep it free of motorboats, they would need to organize at a grassroots level. If the Boundary Waters would ever be truly protected, they would need to build a community. This was the founding of Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness.

A lot has changed since then, but for over 45 years one thing has remained the same: The Boundary Waters needs people. We, as an organization, need you to keep this national treasure wild and protected.

And this has never been more true than now. The past twelve months will be remembered as one of the most important years in the history of the BWCA. As you may know, the fight against the two proposed copper-sulfide mines has taken a major turn, and we are hopeful for both Lake Superior and the Boundary Waters.

This is because of the passion and conviction of our members and supporters.

Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness has grown significantly in the past several years. Along with our litigation, political organizing, conservation efforts, and education programs designed to reach the next generation of wilderness stewards, we are focused on celebrating the Boundary Waters. We are inspired by the work of our members and try to live up to the lakes, the granite shorelines, the swaying trees, the everyday magic that so many cherish in this maze of clean water.

As we look back at 2022, we celebrate five victories we have achieved in the past year. They are your victories. When you read of these milestones, I hope you take pride in having been part of a movement that has kept those northern lakes and forests so pristine.

One of Twin Metals’ exploratory drill sites before the leases were canceled.

1. The Cancellation of Twin Metals’ Leases

Where were you on January 26, 2022? If you’re reading this, chances are you were reserving permits for your summer canoe trip to the Boundary Waters. After all, this was the day that permits opened; and, as the Forest Service cut permits by 13% this year, many of us were eager to lock in our summer plans.

Then what started as a good day turned great when news broke that the Department of Interior had canceled Twin Metals’ mineral leases. No leases. No mine. No pollution. This was monumental news that was — and is — worth celebrating.

The recent, dramatic history of these leases goes back to 2016, when the Forest Service concluded that the risks copper-sulfide mining posed to this water-rich environment were too great, and did not consent to renew the mineral leases. Twin Metals’ leases expired and the dangerous project was all but finished.

However, after Trump was elected, Antofagasta, the Chilean mining company that own Twin Metals, began to lobby the administration, going so far as to rent a mansion to Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. In turn, the industry-friendly administration bowed to this foreign mining company and illegally revived then renewed the leases.

With your support, we fought to reverse this illegal move. Needless to say, we were ecstatic when the Department of Interior announced that the decision to renew the leases violated laws and regulatory standards, and so, canceled the leases.

Without the leases, Twin Metals cannot put a shovel in the ground.

Over the past several years, there have been some dark times when the future of the Boundary Waters was, at best, uncertain. Unwavering support from thousands of passionate supporters led to this momentous victory. We are beyond grateful.

Photos courtesy of Jesse Roesler

2. Partnering with Emily Ford

People protect the wilderness because of the memories and connections they form in the wild, because something about their experiences in the wild touches something deep inside of them. To ensure the future of the Boundary Waters, we need to introduce more people to the wonders of this special place.

This means we need to actively open doors and invite people to get to know the wilderness for themselves.

Emily Ford made national headlines after she hiked the entire 1,200-mile Ice Age Trail in winter.  That’s quite the accomplishment! As a Black woman, this journey was even more important because it served as inspiration for People of Color and others who might not see themselves in the wilderness. This was amplified by Emily’s simple message: The Outdoors is for everyone.

Excited by Emily’s trip and message, we reached out to her, eager to partner with her and sponsor her next expedition. It so happened that Emily’s next trip would be a winter journey across the Boundary Waters via the storied “Voyageur’s Highway.” We proudly sponsored her on this incredible journey and were moved by how her spirit and determination can inspire people from all backgrounds to get outside and explore and protect the Boundary Waters.

For 29 days, Emily and her sled dog Diggins pulled a 150-pound sled, faced -30 bellow temperatures, steep portage trails with snow up to her waste, and much more. These challenges were complemented by an unreal sense of solitude, of peace and gratitude for being able to experience such a beautiful place.

If you meet her, you notice right way that Emily beams with confidence and can tell a great story. She has an infectious passion for wild spaces that makes her an ideal spokesperson for the BWCA and for introducing a diverse groups of people, of all backgrounds, into the Boundary waters. We are thrilled to have partnered with her.

Be sure to look for “A Voice for the Wild”, the film featuring Emily’s trek across the Boundary Waters, at a 2023 film festival near you!

Man speaking to state legislators on behalf of Friends of the Boundary Waters
Longtime supporter Bob Tammen speaking against Twin Metals. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Olson

3. Leading the Fight for a 20-year Mining Ban

Something that has become clear in the long fight against copper-sulfide mining is the enormous pushback and resistance of the industry and their allies to science. At every turn they resist inconvenient findings and facts, instead favoring tired talking points, disinformation and rhetorical greenwashing. 

This was evident in their efforts to cover up and supress findings from a two-year study into the impact copper sulfide mining in the Boundary Waters watershed.  

In 2018, the two-year study was almost complete when the Trump administration abruptly canceled the study. When the public demanded answers and wanted to know what in the study was so threatening that the administration canceled it, we got a fully redacted report.

Every page was blacked out. Then they covered it up, concealed and withheld findings from the public. What did they want to hide? 

Fortunately, during the summer of 2022, the Forest Service completed the study and released the findings. Now, everyone can read the scientific findings, which clearly conclude that sulfide mining in the Rainy River watershed would pose an enormous risk to the Boundary Waters, for themselves.

The fact that this study was even completed and released is a testament to your perseverance.

With the release of the study, the Forest Service announced it was moving to recommend a 20-year mining ban on 225,504 acres of federal land surrounding the Boundary Waters. We may soon be in a situation where copper-sulfide mining on federal land in the Rainy River watershed. This includes Twin Metals. 

Thousands of you urged the federal government to follow the science and implement a 20-year mining moratorium. Now the Forest Service will review these comments and issue their recommendation to the Bureau of Land Management and the Department of the Interior.

As an organization, we’ve been around for more than 45 years, and we cannot exaggerate just how pivotal it is to be facing the prospect of a 20-year ban on copper-sulfide mining near the BWCA!

4. Expanded Our Curriculum to Include Native American Voices

Despite challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, our No Boundaries to the Boundary Waters education program has grown tremendously over the past several years. Our education team has developed vibrant, interactive online lessons that engage students and make it easy for teachers to access curriculum that meets state standards. We’ve brought experts into schools for hands on educational experiences and hosted a number of BWCA Days in metro locations. For many students, the capstone of this program is the opportunity to go on an all-expense paid trip to the Boundary Waters

This year, in an effort to build a more inclusive curriculum, we added a Native American perspective to the No Boundaries to the Boundary Waters program.

To do this, we partnered with the College of Saint Scholastica and the Minnesota Historic Society to record oral histories and testaments from Anishinaabe elders. These serve as a foundation to a “native-based” curriculum that draws from four traditional Anishinaabe practices: sugarbushing, storytelling, wild ricing, and hunting and gathering. These practices roughly correspond to the four seasons and reflect an interconnected system of how people interact with the changing environment.

Thoroughly researched and aligned with state-standards for middle and high school students, the goal of these lessons is to create an immersive learning experience that allows both native and non-native students to see the land through a Native perspective and examine what it means to be a good steward of the environment.

5: Reopened Edge of the Wilderness Fund

Though it encompasses over one million acres, the Boundary Waters is part of a larger ecosystem where land, air and water are connected in profound ways. Though protected, the Boundary Waters is affected by what happens outside its borders. Pollution and land degradation originating at the edge of the wilderness can impact the wildlife and character of the Boundary Waters.

In the early 1980s, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness grew concerned with private development along the edge of the Boundary Waters. In response, we partnered with several organizations to set up the Edge of the Wilderness Fund, designed to identify vulnerable conservation properties, raise the funds to purchase these properties and add them to the rolls of protected, public lands.

This year, we redeployed the Edge of the Wilderness Fund and initiated a bold campaign to identify land at the edge of the Boundary Waters that is at risk of development. If these properties are developed, the wilderness will suffer death by a thousand cuts. 

We initiated an exciting campaign to raise funds needed to purchase these at-risk properties. So far we have acquired 35-acres off the Sawbill Trail and 23 acres on Snowbank Lake, and are slated to purchase a total of 80 acres along this beautiful, imposing lake.

Our goal is to manage the property for wildlife habitat and make it available for public use and recreation. We are also exploring ways in which we can integrate the Snowbank Lake property into our No Boundaries to the Boundary Waters education program by establishing campsites on the property for students to use on wilderness canoe trips.

We invite you to be part of Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness’ continuing legacy of conservation at the edge of the Boundary Waters. Please donate to preserve the health of the ecosystem and expand public access to lands surrounding the Wilderness.

The Boundary Waters Needs You

As we near the 50th anniversary of our founding, Friends’ mission is more important than ever. 

It’s not just what we do, but how we do it. 

Our vision is based on the interconnectivity of wilderness, people, and community. We lead through passionate, informed advocacy to foster the long-term protection of the Boundary Waters and its surrounding ecosystems. 

To truly protect the Boundary Waters and the surrounding ecosystem, we must work to ensure people from all backgrounds have an opportunity to experience the magic of the wilderness, and that communities at the gateways to the Boundary Waters thrive and support the protection of the wilderness.

As Friends grows as an organization, we are taking the long view when it comes to wilderness protection. 

In the coming year we will be working on the state and national levels to enshrine clean water protections into law. We will marshal our legal teams and resources to stop international mining companies from putting a shovel in the ground. 

And we will be laying the groundwork for the future generation of wilderness stewards. Through expanding our No Boundaries to the Boundary Waters program, we will reach students across Minnesota and give young people who may never go a day without looking at a screen, the opportunity to go on a life-changing trip into the Boundary Waters.

But none of this is possible without you. 

Visit www.friends-bwca.org/donate to give today.

The Boundary Waters needs people. It needs you. Thank you for your support!

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Hennessy racing in a snowy tree-filled scene in the boundary waters in a sled behind a team of dogs during the brief hours of winter sunlight.
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