Op-ed: Boundary Waters One Step Closer to Finding Permanent Protection

Paddler Amy Freeman responds to recent developments that limit sulfide-ore copper mining near the BWCAW

Photo by Dave Freeman.
Photo by Dave Freeman.

Paddlers Dave and Amy Freeman spent the last year paddling in the Boundary Waters, working to raise awareness about proposed sulfide-ore copper mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. On December 15, the Bureau of Land Management announced it would deny two leases for mining near the BWCAW and requested further study of impacts. We asked Amy Freeman for her take on the news.

I have good news to share. The watershed of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is one step closer to being permanently protected from sulfide-ore copper mining pollution. After years of hard work and tens of thousands of petition signatures, phone calls, donations, volunteer hours, and meaningful actions by concerned citizens, including many paddlers from across the country, we were rewarded on December 15 by the federal government’s announcement that it will not renew two key mineral leases on the edge of the Wilderness, currently held by Twin Metals Mining. These leases are more than 50 years old and have never undergone any environmental review. Perhaps Deputy Undersecretary of the USDA Leslie Jones summed it up best when she said, “Not this mine, not in this place, not next to this wilderness.”

The denial of the Twin Metals leases is due largely to the countless acts and voices of this growing movement, spearheaded by the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, which Dave and I are so proud to be a part of. We dedicated an entire year of our lives to this cause. We paddled, skied, dogsledded and camped in the BWCAW for 366 continuous days to keep it fresh in peoples’ minds throughout the year—and we worked with the Campaign to raise awareness about this specific issue.

Along with the decision to not renew the key Twin Metal’s leases, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced it is beginning a comprehensive environmental review to determine whether national forest lands in the watershed of the Boundary Waters are the wrong place for sulfide-ore copper mining and whether national forest lands adjacent to the Wilderness should be removed from the federal mining program altogether. Numerous scientific studies show the dramatic risk such a mine would pose to the water-intensive, ecologically sensitive wilderness of the Boundary Waters. Nearly 8 in 10 Minnesotans support such a study and it is imperative that we all redouble or efforts in the coming weeks and months.

Over the next three months, the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters and their coalition members must gather hundreds of thousands of additional comments and petition signatures. We must draw strength from this victory for the Boundary Waters and the people and communities it supports—and move forward with renewed resolve towards the over-arching goal of permanently protecting the Boundary Waters Watershed from sulfide-ore copper mining pollution.


— See the film debut of ‘Bear Witness: A Year in the Wilderness’, which chronicles the Freemans’ #WildernessYear

— Read all of Amy Freeman’s posts from her and Dave Freeman’s Year in the Wilderness