Protect the Boundary Waters

Congress needs to safeguard this natural wonder by preventing copper mining on nearby federal lands and waters. 

Immediately after my high school graduation, I took my first overnight trek into nature, travelling to Northeastern Minnesota’s famed Boundary Waters. For those who haven’t been, it’s a magical place. No motorized boats are seen or heard throughout most of the area. To get from lake to lake, you port your canoe on your shoulders. Loons call throughout the night. And stars fall all night long — at least they did during one night in June 1987. 

Thankfully, this impressive stretch of nature has long been preserved on the Canada-Minnesota border. But a Chilean mining company is pushing a highly contentious proposal to launch copper mining operations on nearby federal lands. This plan would do irreparable damage to one of America’s natural jewels.

To prevent it from happening, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum from Minnesota has introduced legislation to protect the surrounding area from mining. We were grateful to see the House Natural Resources Committee pass her measure, the Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection & Pollution Prevention Act

Below is the letter that we and a slew of other organizations sent to Congress in support of the bipartisan measure. It captures the arguments for why this special place should be protected. 


Letter to Congress

September 30th, 2020

Dear Representative,

On behalf of our millions of members and supporters across the country, we, the undersigned organizations, urge you to support H.R. 5598 Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution Prevention Act now before the Natural Resources Committee. H.R. 5598 was introduced by Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN), Representative Francis Rooney (R-FL), Representative Dean Phillips (D-MN), Representative Fred Upton (R-MI), Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-CA). This important bi-partisan legislation would permanently protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Voyageurs National Park, Canada’s Quetico Park, and their headwaters in the Superior National Forest from harmful and toxic mineral extraction that would irreparably pollute this pristine watershed for future generations.

Located in Northeastern Minnesota, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a national treasure of 1.1 million acres of pristine interconnected lakes, rivers and wetlands in the Superior National Forest. The Boundary Waters is contiguous with Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park and upstream of Minnesota’s Voyageurs National Park. Enjoyed as the most visited Wilderness in the country, generations of Americans have developed a lifelong love of nature through superb camping, fishing, canoeing, and hiking experiences. The love for the Boundary Waters also powers a strong and enduring outdoor recreation economy in Northeastern Minnesota responsible for 17,000 jobs and $913 million in sales annually. This includes the many businesses we have created and grown, which will be seriously damaged if a mine goes forward. The Boundary Waters’ tranquil lakes, forests, trails, and more than 1,200 miles of canoe routes offer unparalleled recreation, but also provide critical habitat for fish and wildlife such as lake trout, moose, and the federally-listed Canada lynx.

This incredible region is now threatened by a foreign mining company. Antofagasta’s Twin Metals LLC proposes to develop a sulfide-ore copper mine in the watershed upstream of the Boundary Waters, Quetico Park, and Voyageurs National Park. The current administration has shown an irrational drive to allow this sulfide-ore copper mining to be sited in this extremely valuable and yet highly vulnerable protected landscape.

In 2016 the Forest Service determined that sulfide-ore copper mining posed an unacceptable risk of permanent harm to the Boundary Waters and downstream areas, and two federal mineral leases were terminated. In addition, the Forest Service applied for a 20-year mineral withdrawal of 234,328 acres of Superior National Forest lands and minerals from the federal mining program, thus launching a 24-month environmental review of the dangers of sulfide-ore copper mining upstream of these three protected landscapes.

Unfortunately the Trump administration reversed the cancellation of two federal mineral leases in order to allow this misguided mine plan to move forward. In September 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture cancelled the two year environmental assessment of sulfide-ore copper mining in the watershed of the Boundary Waters and the application for 20-year mineral withdrawal. The administration has refused to release a near-final draft of the environmental assessment of the risks of copper mining and the underlying reports to Congress, likely because the science from the review would show the withdrawal was appropriate and necessary.

In May 2019, the U.S. Department of Interior renewed the two mineral leases that had been cancelled in 2016 because of the risk they posed to the Boundary Waters and the downstream parks. This renewal paves the way for Antofagasta’s Twin Metals to proceed with a mine plan. In December 2019, Twin Metals submitted a mine plan to the BLM, a pivotal step in driving forward a mine that would pollute the Boundary Waters, Quetico Park, and Voyageurs National Park with toxic chemicals and pollutants. Empty promises of environmentally-friendly and modern mining techniques hide the dirty truth about the proposed mine: peer-reviewed science proves that a Twin Metals mine would result in permanent damage to these protected national (and international) treasures.

Today, our nation has the opportunity to permanently protect one of the most pristine ecosystems and the cleanest water in the country. The Boundary Waters, Quetico Park, and Voyageurs National Park ecosystem are not just places, they are a way of life for scores of thousands of Minnesotans, Americans, Canadians, and visitors from across the globe who come to experience the beautiful lakes and unspoiled rivers. This is why permanent protection has the support of a wide coalition of organizations, individuals, businesses, and elected officials across the political spectrum representing outdoor recreationists, conservationists, sportsmen and women, businesses, and many others.

According to a 2020 poll conducted by Anzalone Liszt Grove, nearly 70% of registered voters in Minnesota want permanent protections from sulfide-ore copper mining for the Boundary Waters. This wild and special place deserves permanent protection from short term extractive interests that will ravage the land and pollute the water for the profit of a few, at the environmental, public health, and economic cost of many. We implore you to support H.R. 5598 in committee to ensure this incredible region gets the permanent protection it deserves.

Sincerely the undersigned organizations,

Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters
American Rivers
Black Hills Clean Water Alliance
Center for Biological Diversity
Clean Water Action
Climate Hawks Vote
Coalition To Protect America’s National Parks
Coalition to SAVE the Menominee River, Inc.
Colorado State Rams for the Boundary Waters
Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship
Crow River Trail Guards
Defenders of Wildlife
Environment America
Environment Minnesota
Environmental Law & Policy Center
Environmental Protection Information Center
Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness
Friends of the Earth
Friends of the Kalmopsis
Great Old Broads for Wilderness
Wild Waters Broadband – Minnesota
Information Network for Responsible Mining
Izaak Walton League of America
Keep It Public
Klamath Forest Alliance
LEAD Agency, Inc./Grand Riverkeeper
League of Conservation Voters
Lynn Canal Conservation
Malach Consulting
Milwaukee Riverkeeper
Mining Impact Coalition of Wisconsin
Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
Minnesota Wild Waters Broadband
National Parks Conservation Association
Natural Resources Defense Council
Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness
Olive Democrats, West Shokan, NY
Quiet Use Coalition
Rocky Mountain Recreation Initiative
Sierra Club
Sierra Club North Star Chapter
Silver Valley Community Resource Center
South San Juan Broadband, Great Old Broads for Wilderness
The Conservation Alliance
The Lands Council
The Wilderness Society
Voyageur Outward Bound School
Voyageurs National Park Association
W. J. McCabe Chapter, Izaak Walton League of America
Wilderness Watch
Winter Wildlands Alliance

(Photo by Rick Kuntz from Pixabay)


Steve Blackledge

Senior Director, Conservation America Campaign, Environment America

Steve directs Environment America’s efforts to protect our public lands and waters and the species that depend on them. He led our successful campaign to win full and permanent funding for our nation’s best conservation and recreation program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund. He previously oversaw U.S. PIRG’s public health campaigns. Steve lives in Sacramento, California, with his family, where he enjoys biking and exploring Northern California.