The sled dogs and the Freemans take a lunch break on Basswood Lake. Photo Dave Freeman
The sled dogs and the Freemans take a lunch break on Basswood Lake. Photo Dave Freeman

Reasons to Rejoice in the (Still Frozen) Boundary Waters

Dispatch No. 8 from the Freemans' year in our nation's most popular wilderness area

The sled dogs and the Freemans take a lunch break on Basswood Lake. Photo Dave Freeman

By Amy Freeman / Photos Dave Freeman

Dave and I are now on Day 190 of our Year in the Wilderness. We entered the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota on September 23, 2015 and we’ve been exploring this million-acre wilderness area by canoe and skis ever since. The reason behind our journey is to protect the BWCAW watershed from proposed copper mines in a sulfide ore body near the southern edge of the wilderness area. We may be out here alone, but we are not alone in our work to speak up for the Wilderness. We are working with the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. We have also received much support in the way of well-wishing on social media, deliveries of homemade treats, and visits by friends and fellow BWCAW-lovers.

Creeks and bogs are beginning to open in the BWCAW. Photo Dave Freeman
Creeks and bogs are beginning to open in the BWCAW. Photo Dave Freeman

The lakes have not transitioned to their liquid form yet; we are eagerly awaiting the day we can ply these waters with our canoe paddles again For now we are still traveling across the frozen lakes with the assistance of three sled dogs pulling our toboggans. We recently passed the halfway mark for our Year in the Wilderness. Our expedition manager, Levi, sent out little cakes and candles to celebrate our six months spent in the Wilderness. While we enjoyed the cake, we relished the major steps that have recently been taken to protect the BWCAW watershed.

Dave and Amy Freeman celebrate 6 months in the BWCAW. Photo Dave Freeman
Dave and Amy Freeman celebrate 6 months in the BWCAW. Photo Dave Freeman

The news came unexpectedly when we were camped on Newfound Lake. The governor of Minnesota, Governor Mark Dayton, had written a letter to Twin Metals (the first mine proposed within the watershed of the BWCAW; owned by the giant Chilean mining company Antofagasta), telling them that he won't approve permits that would allow Twin Metals to access state lands near the site. The following excerpt from the letter sums up the Governor’s tone:

“As you know the BWCAW is a crown jewel in Minnesota and a national treasure. It is the most visited wilderness in the eastern U.S., and a magnificently unique assemblage of forest and waterbodies, an extraordinary legacy of wilderness adventure, and the home to iconic species like moose and wolves. I have an obligation to ensure it is not diminished in any way. Its uniqueness and fragility require that we exercise special care when we evaluate significant land use changes in the area, and I am unwilling to take risks with that Minnesota environmental icon.”

Amy writes a thank you note to the governor of Minnesota. Photo Dave Freeman
Amy writes a thank you note to the governor of Minnesota. Photo Dave Freeman

As if this bold stance by Governor Dayton wasn’t enough, news came from the U.S. Department of the Interior a couple of days later. I’ll try to sum up the significance of the news from the Department of the Interior without getting bogged down in technical details …

First, a little background is needed. There are a couple of old mineral leases that Twin Metals had to renew. These leases date back to the 1960s and they passed on to Twin Metals from another company. Each time the leases came up for renewal, the BLM had just automatically renewed the leases, until they came up for renewal again in 2013. The new development came in the form of the U.S. Department of Interior's solicitor releasing a letter telling Twin Metals it has no automatic right to renew those mineral leases. The letter said that the Bureau of Land Management’s director has the discretion to grant or deny Twin Metals’ renewal. This means that the leases could only be renewed following completion of a full environmental analysis.

As if this news wasn’t enough, former Vice President Mondale spoke out for protecting the BWCAW.

“Arizona has its Grand Canyon, Wyoming its Yellowstone, California its Yosemite. These wonders come to mind unbidden as images of a place when those states are named. The Boundary Waters is such an image for Minnesota. It is also our responsibility. That our wilderness is intact and safe today is no accident. Rather, it is the result of an enduring struggle.”

He concludes his letter with a question:

“Are we generous enough, secure enough, mature enough to refuse short-term gain in order to avert long-term calamity? Our children's legacy depends on the answer.”

While this question could apply to the protection of any remaining wild space, I’m glad that Walter Mondale chose to ask it in regards to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. All of these recent developments are heartening in our quest to protect the BWCAW watershed, but there is still a lot of work yet to be done. So we’ll stay here for another six months and continue to speak loudly for this quiet place. I encourage you to learn more about the issue, sign the petition and tell your paddling friends: http://www.SavetheBoundaryWaters.org

A snowman shares the thank you message from the Wilderness Area. Photo Dave Freeman
A snowman shares the thank you message from the Wilderness Area. Photo Dave Freeman

— Dave and Amy Freeman will be sending in Dispatches from their #WildernessYear. (Read more about their adventure: Holidays in the Boundary Waters Ice Canoeing in the Boundary Waters, The Freeze Begins in the Boundary Waters, The Slow Way in Boundary Waters and Canoeing with Teenagers)

— Learn more about the mining threat at SavetheBoundaryWaters.org, and check out the Freemans' educational info at WildernessClassroom.com, or follow updates at #SavetheBWCA and #WildernessYear.