Boundary Waters Wilderness, Minnesota Public Lands at Risk of Destruction and Development

Environment Minnesota

St. Paul, MN— At a press conference overlooking the Mississippi River, Environment Minnesota released a new report today exposing how pristine areas in northern Minnesota are at risk from road-building, sulfide mining, sale to private interests, other destructive development, and the loss of environmental protection if bills moving through the House of Representatives are signed into law. The report, “Trashing our Treasures: Congressional Assault on the Best of America,” exposes a startling trend of legislative attacks on our nation’s treasured places, like the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the Superior National Forest, and Voyageurs National Park.

Environment Minnesota was joined at the Wednesday event by other spokespeople opposed to these bills including advocates who live in Minnesota’s Arrowhead region.

“The Boundary Waters is one of our state’s greatest treasures. It’s surrounded by millions of acres of forests, rivers and streams. The clean water, wildlife, and outdoor recreation make the area very special. The Superior National Forest draws over 2.1 million visitors every year, and the Boundary Waters is one of the state’s top tourist attractions” said Samantha Chadwick, Preservation Advocate with Environment Minnesota. “Yet Representative Cravaack and other members of Congress seem bent on trashing these treasures, and are pushing measures that abolish, circumvent, or otherwise water-down the environmental laws that govern these public lands for all Minnesotans.” 

Kevin Proescholdt, the national conservation director for Wilderness Watch, has fought to protect the BWCAW for 35 years.  He warned that two of the bad House bills that would harm the BWCAW have already passed the full House, the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act and the Bishop Border Bill.  “The BWCAW is the most heavily visited Wilderness in the entire National Wilderness Preservation System,” he said, “and these bad bills would trash this national treasure.”

Brad Sagen with Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness lives in Fall Lake Township near Ely, MN. He had sharp criticism for the bills analyzed in the report. “The legislation is promoted by private interests determined to exploit public resources for personal benefit. This is ‘Velcro’ legislation in which anti-wilderness actions are attached to every issue imaginable. National security, jobs creation, and school funding are all legitimate issues. But the addition of anti-wilderness legislation to these efforts is so trivial that any reasonable person would conclude there is an entirely different agenda at work here.”

Bob Tammen, a retired mine worker who lives with his wife in Soudan, MN 10 miles from the Boundary Waters wilderness and 30 miles from the Canadian border, is worried about bills in Congress that favor the mining industry “we’re afraid that proposed legislation is a threat to our water and promotes the mining industry which has automated to the extent that it no longer employs enough people to sustain our communities.” Reacting to the so-called National Security & Federal Lands Protection Act (H.R. 1505), which would exempt Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from 36 environmental laws, which the DHS itself says is unnecessary, Mr. Tammen added “We object to proposed legislation that would make it easier to militarize the border with our good neighbors in Canada.”

The Environment Minnesota report analyzes the effects various bills moving through the U.S. House of Representatives would have on the Boundary Waters and more than a dozen treasured places across the country. Like the Boundary Waters, these beloved state and national landmarks provide clean water, improve air quality, support critical wildlife habitat, and drive recreation and tourism.

In 1978 Congress added new protections to the Boundary Waters area —but that is not enough to keep it safe from new threats. The following bills would open up Minnesota’s gems to destructive road building, truck traffic, and pave the way for sulfide mining; a dangerous type of mining that has never been done in Minnesota, yet has left a toxic legacy across many other states.

The report highlights the following bills that threaten Minnesota’s public lands:

  • Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act (H.R. 1581), proposed by Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and cosponsored by Rep. John Kline (R-MN). Much of Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters are set aside to remain permanently unspoiled, but this bill circumvents the environmental protections and could make it possible for roads to be built in pristine areas. Cutting down trees and introducing truck traffic could destroy forest ecosystems, pollute the lakes, and have disastrous impacts for the recreation industry.  
  • Wilderness Development Act (H.R. 2834), proposed by Rep. Dan Benishek (R-MI), and cosponsored by Reps. Chip Cravaack (R-MN) and John Kline (R-MN).  This bill would also allow road building, motorized vehicle use, and logging, and potentially even energy development.  Like the Wilderness & Roadless Release Act, the bill targets the most pristine parts of Superior National Forest – the BWCAW –, which have been set aside by Congress to remain as untouched natural areas.  Mining and other types of resource extraction and development would pollute the pristine waterways, and damage forests and wildlife, under the guise of promoting fishing and hunting opportunities. This bill passed the full House in April as H.R. 4089, the so-called Sportsmen’s Heritage Act.
  • The so-called Conservation & Economic Growth Act (H.R. 2578), proposed by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) would allow motorized vehicles in portions of Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, and waive 16 cornerstone environmental and public health laws within 100 miles of the Canadian border. It includes a revised version of H.R. 1505, proposed by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) and co-sponsored by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), which would allow Department of Homeland Security and Border Patrol to build roads, fences, towers, and close fishing and hunting areas within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, without any notice to the public. This bill passed the House on June 19th.
  • The National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2012 (H.R. 4402) that passed the House earlier in July, strips away key protections of federal lands by expediting mining exploration and mining permits while limiting opportunities for citizen involvement in communities affected by mining. 
  • The Minnesota Education Investment and Employment Act (H.R. 5544), introduced by Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-MN), mandates the transfer of tens of thousands of acres of protected national forest lands into state management for logging, mining, and other activities. This would result in the loss of important protections, including the Weeks Act prohibition against strip mining and National Environmental Policy Act review and appeal process.

Spokespeople at today’s press conference called on Minnesota’s Congressional delegation to reject these legislative measures, saying citizens should hold elected officials accountable, and protect the public’s resources over the wishes of industry.

Click here to read the full report.


Environment Minnesota is a state-based, citizen funded environmental advocacy organization working for clean air, clean water, and open space. 

Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness is the region based wilderness advocacy organization created by area residents to protect the BWCAW and other wild places.  Most of NMW’s current 400 members and supporters live within the administrative boundaries of Superior National Forest.

Wilderness Watch is a national nonprofit wilderness conservation organization focused on protecting America’s National Wilderness Preservation System, including the BWCAW.  With a headquarters in Missoula, Wilderness Watch has worked to activate citizens across the nation to oppose the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act and the Bishop Border Bill.