Over the course of this year, you may have noticed that we’ve been talking a lot about the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act. Anyone who has had the opportunity to visit the BWCAW and get close to this magnificent wilderness, has been impacted by this piece of legislation.

This act added the final “W” to the BWCA, making it the BWCAW, and a more-fully protected wilderness area.

Commemorating the passage of this bill into law is a chance to remember that the wilderness we love didn’t just happen. It took the efforts of ordinary people to protect and preserve the area and make it into the wilderness we enjoy today.

Imperfect protection

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act.

In the drafting of this bill, Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey had been adamant about including the Boundary Waters in the Federal Wilderness System. To do this, Humphrey had to navigate the strong opposition  in northern communities. He crafted language that allowed for special exemptions in the Boundary Waters. Where other Wilderness Areas banned all motorized vehicles and had protection from industrial development, some areas of the Boundary Waters would remain open to logging and mining, and well over half of the BWCA was open to motorized vehicles.

It may have been part of the Wilderness Preservation System, but really, it was a Wilderness in name, not management.

You can see how some people would be upset by this. Almost immediately, the tension between those who wanted a true wilderness, protected from developers and motorized travel, and those who want the wilderness available as a resource and opened to a motorized travel, turned into a heated battle.

Lawsuits mounted until it was evident that congress needed to resolve the issue.

Two visions and a compromise

In the political arena, two Minnesotan congressmen (both Democrats) came to represent competing sides of the controversy: Democrat Jim Oberstar of the Eighth District (northeastern Minnesota) and Don Fraser, representing Minneapolis.

Oberstar drafted a bill that divided the BWCA into two “zones.” One zone would have full wilderness protection and another zone would allow for logging and motorized vehicles.

In stark contrast, Fraser introduced a bill that would make the Boundary Waters into a true wilderness area, adding around 35,000 acres to the proposed wilderness.

This set off a series of often contentious public hearings. Compromise bills were presented but went nowhere. Eventually, two attorneys, Chuck Dayton — who represented the environmentalist’s concerns — and Ely attorney Ron Walls sat down to negotiate a compromise.

The proposal they came up with was not popular. Both sides felt as though they had sacrificed too much. Despite reservations, it was this compromise that made its way through the House, passed the Senate and arrived on President Carter’s desk.

A phenomenal short documentary by the talented Isaiah Bischoff

The importance of this legacy

To be restored to a true wilderness, the Boundary Waters needed people. This might sound paradoxical, after all, we tend to think of wilderness as a place without any people. But the history of the BWCAW is a history of people working to create a wilderness for future generations.

40 years after the passage of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act, it’s easy to take the BWCAW for granted, to think that it was always part of our state, that it was always a protected area.

History could have taken a very different direction.

The creation of BWCAW was mired in controversy. Though much of the disputes surrounding the 1978 bill have died down, tensions still exists between those who advocate for wilderness for its own sake and those who see an economic opportunity in the land.

The wilderness needs friends, it needs people like you to advocate for it.

Though the Boundary Waters has had federal protection for 40 years, it still faces numerous threats. This is why your support is so important.

Thank you for all you do!

The outrage many of us felt when the Trump administration announced it would no longer consider a 20-year mining moratorium in a large part of the Superior National Forest is still fresh.

Thousands had spoke up against sulfide mining. Our concerns were backed up by science. Studies suggested opening the region to copper-sulfide mining would actually harm the economy in the long run.

But ultimately, money and foreign influence seemed to win.

To say that many of us feel frustrated, is an understatement.

On Monday, October 8th, a sign of hope came from Yellowstone.


Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke — who describes himself as “a pro-mining guy” — signed a 20-year ban on new mining claims on 47-square miles of public land on the outskirts of Yellowstone National Park. Considering how Trump’s administration has been so blatantly pro-mining, this move may come as a surprise to many. Indeed, it has upset mining interests in the area.

Yellowstone is, of course, one of the crown jewels of the National Park System. It’s a place treasured by people around the country. It’s a natural area that receives international attention.

Of course, with this 20-year ban on new mines in this area near Yellowstone, one can’t help but hear echos of the proposed 20-year mineral ban in areas adjacent to the BWCAW.

It seems unfair that while Secretary Zinke is all too eager to open Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante and the BWCAW to mining interests, he gives privileged protection to Yellowstone. We’re happy this protection is in place and realize the dynamics for the mineral ban near Yellowstone are different than they are near the BWCAW. But the news from Yellowstone makes one thing abundantly clear:

To protect the Boundary Waters, we need make the fight against sulfide mining a national issue.


As Minnesotans and midwesterners, many of us have grown up around water. Lakes are everywhere. Sometimes it rains too much! But an abundance of pristine water is nothing to take for granted.

Fresh water shortages affect almost every corner of the globe, and clean water is becoming increasingly scarce. Preserving northern Minnesota’s clean, water-rich environment is more important than other.

Even if there were not a global water crisis, the Boundary Waters would still be one of the most important — and unique — ecosystems in our country.

As such, it is more outrageous than ever that politicians and others would even think about supporting a toxic industry that was guarnateed to pollute these pristine waters.

It’s time to make protecting the Boundary Waters into a national issue.

If you live in Minnesota or Wisconsin or Illinois, talk to out-of-state friends, colleagues and family about the issue. If you live outside of the region, contact local, state and federal legislatures. What’s happening in northeastern Minnesota might not concern them, but we need to make noise about these threatened waters. 

In Secretary Zinke’s own words: “I’m a pro-mining guy. I love hardrock. But there are places to mine and places not to mine.”

At a time when major cities are running out of water, when drought threateners large parts of the country, it’s in the nation’s interests to protect the pristine waters of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

It’s likely that you’re reading this on a computer, a phone or some sort of device that’s loaded with copper. From the lights in your home, the pipes under your sink to the renewable energy we so badly need, all of it relies on copper that comes from copper mines.

Try to go a day without using anything that has copper in it.

It’s really hard.

For those of us who oppose copper-sulfide mining in Minnesota, it can be especially troubling to think about how much copper is in our lives. This leads to a question:

Is it hypocritical to oppose copper mining yet still be utterly reliant on copper?

Kanmantoo copper mine, Australia

Copper mining and Minnesota

We hear this argument quite a bit from those who support mining. Copper is part of our lives, so much so that according to the U.S. Geological Survey, every American born in 2008 will use 1,309 pounds of copper during their lifetime.  That’s a lot.

Though we may consume a huge amount of copper, we are not running out of copper. The world has decades worth of copper that has been dug up, refined and is currently on reserve. There may not be an urgent need to open a new mine, anywhere, let alone one that would pollute Minnesota’s pristine waters for hundreds of years.

New frontiers of copper mining

As of 2016, The Copper Alliance, an organization of the copper mining industry, estimated that with the current rate of demand, the world has a 37-year reserve — or about 740 million tons — of deposits that have been “discovered, evaluated and assessed to be economically profitable.” However, these reserves are still in the ground and need to be extracted before they can be used.

This vast reserve is not the only place where we can get copper.

Because policies and technologies for copper recycling has improved, The Copper Alliance notes that “during the last decade more than 30 percent of annual copper use came from recycled sources.” 

So can we get all our copper from recycling?

It’s estimated that over the course of human history, 1.2 billion tons of copper have been mined. As we previously mentioned, the modern world needs copper. However, our phones, hot water heaters, cars and refrigerators don’t last forever. Eventually they break down and contain plenty of perfectly reusable copper. Copper is 100 percent recyclable, in fact, two-thirds of the copper mined since 1900 is still in use.

Considering how much copper in circulation and can be recycled, The Copper Alliance notes, “This enormous stock of copper, contained in its diverse range of end uses, and equivalent to around nearly 30 years of mine production, is often referred to as society’s ‘urban mine.'” 

This suggests that there is a reserve of copper in the urban mine nearly as large as the natural reserve of copper in the earth.

The advent of “urban mining”

A recent study has shown that so-called “urban mining,” the extraction of metals such as copper and gold from e-waste is not only an effective way to manage these growing waste streams, but is more cost effective than virgin mining.

That is, it’s cheaper to extract copper from the televisions people throw away, than to open a mine and extract it from the earth.

Think of it this way: The concentration of copper in the area where Twin Metals wants to mine averages, at best, .66 percent copper. That means it would take about 151 pounds of rock to produce one pound of copper.

The average refrigerator has about five pounds of copper in it and weighs about 300 pounds. There are other appliances that have an even greater copper to weight ratio. Not to mention the copper has already been processed, separated from other impurities and minerals.

The point is it’s a lot easier — and cheaper — to get the copper from an old appliance than from the earth. And the data is now backing this up. From an economic stance, it may very well be cheaper — 13 times cheaper — to mine e-waste than open up a new copper mine.

Which scene do you prefer?

We need copper but not more copper mines

This brings us back to the original question: Is it hypocritical to depend on copper but oppose copper mining in northeastern Minnesota?


There are alternatives. There are other ways to get copper than through hard-rock mining.

Cheaper, more robust recycling and e-recycling programs could ultimately supply us with the majority of copper we need. 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post mistakingly stated, “If all copper mining stopped around the world, if every smelter and backhoe stopped working, we would not run out of copper until the 2050’s.” This error was based on a misunderstanding of the industry term “reserve.” The mistake has been corrected and we apologize for mischaracterizing this important detail.

Today, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced that he would cancel the application for a proposed 20-year mining ban on 234,000 acres of federal lands in the Superior National Forest. This mineral withdrawal would have protected the Rainy River watershed and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from the threat of sulfide mining.

Along with impacting the hundreds of thousands of individuals who visit the Boundary Waters each year, this decision will hurt the thousands of people whose livelihoods and economic wellbeing has been built on a thriving outdoor recreation economy in the region.

In a public statement, Perdue says, “It’s our duty as responsible stewards of our environment to maintain and protect our natural resources.  At the same time, we must put our national forests to work for the taxpayers to support local economies and create jobs.”

Ironically, this statement and the federal government’s action comes only days after an economic analysis from Harvard Universityfound overwhelming evidence that opening the region to mining would, in the long run, hurt the regional economy.

By ignoring science, economic studies, disregarding the overwhelming public support of the mining ban made during the comment periods and not allowing the environmental assessment study to be completed, one has to wonder: What prompted this decision?

Today, the Trump administration did a huge favor to Twin Metals and other foreign mining companies who will profit off our public land, pollute a unique ecosystem and harm the thriving economy built around this wilderness.

What does this mean going forward?

The 20-year mineral withdrawal would have been one of the most effective ways to protect the Boundary Waters from the devastating effects sulfide-ore mining.

Currently, there are several dozen federal prospecting permits in place and even more pending review. This means that in the coming years we will have several more Twin Metals and Poly Met-sized fights.

Northeastern Minnesota is blessed with incredible beauty.

That beauty is worth protecting.

In a globalized, interconnected world, non-native species have become a problem in every corner of the planet. The Boundary Waters has not been spared.

Numerous invasive species threaten to degrade natural habitats, and to eat and outcompete native plants and animals.

Excerpt from State of the Boundary Waters Report. Click here to read the entire thing!

Seeds and another material can “hitchhike” on boats, clothing, and gear. Just as people are primarily responsible for the spread of nonnative species, it is people who can help prevent their spread and keep them from infesting the ecosystem.

In this blog, we’ll look at some of the most devastating species and the impact they are having.

Invasive species that threaten the BWCAW

  • Spiny Waterfleas (Bythotrephes cederstroemi) have infested Caribou, Devil Track, Flour, Greenwood, Gunflint, McFarland, Pine, and Saganaga Lakes along the Gunflint Trail. The tiny crustaceans clog fishing lines, outcompete native species, and are not edible to most fish. They were introduced into the Great Lakes in the 1980s by ballast water discharged from ships arriving from Europe and Asia. Anglers help them spread to new waters because the creatures can attach to fishing lines, downriggers, anchor ropes, and fishing nets, and in bilge water, bait buckets, or livewells. Their eggs can sometimes survive out of water, even when dried or frozen.
  • Starry Stonewort (Nitellopsis obtusa) is a plant known to take over lakes, driving out native plants and hurting bass and sunfish spawning habitat. It was found in lakes about 80 miles from the Superior National Forest in September 2016. Easily transported by boaters because of its small reproductive cells which can attach unnoticed to boats and trailers, it also sticks to fur and feathers, making it easy for birds and animals to move it. Hard to eradicate because herbicides usually only kill the parts of the plant they touch.
  • Rusty Crayfish (Orconectes rusticus) grow to four inches long, excluding the claws, and are present in 17 lakes on the Superior National Forest, eight of which border or are in the BWCAW. They have the potential to displace native crayfish species and impact aquatic plant beds which are important habitats for invertebrates and fish.
  • Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) (Agrilus planipennis) is a beetle which threatens to wipe out almost all of Minnesota’s ash trees, one of the most prolific species in the state. Many of the estimated 1 billion ash trees in Minnesota live in dense stands in swamps where few other trees will grow. Their loss could seriously disrupt the ecosystem. EAB infest and kills weak and healthy ash trees alike, its larvae tunneling through the wood, killing them in 1 to 3 years. Once EAB kills off wet ash swamps in Minnesota, the habitat may change over to grass, cattails, and shrubs, threatening the plants and animals that rely on black ash and forest habitats. It could affect hydrology, with snowmelt and spring rainwater that was previously held into the summer in the black ash swamps released more rapidly by other types of land cover.
  • Gypsy moth caterpillars consume the foliage of several types of trees and can destroy millions of acres of forest each year. Egg masses can be found on trees, logs, firewood, campers, canoes, vehicles, and lawn chairs. People may unintentionally help spread the gypsy moth by moving these objects with egg masses attached, which is how the moth got its name.

Help stop invasive species

The Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness has partnered with the Superior National Forest and REI to publish a booklet to help BWCAW users identify non-native invasive species and to prevent their spread.

The guide includes photos and descriptions of 22 of the invasive species of concern in northern Minnesota and describes why they should be a concern to everyone from anglers to gardeners.

In the meantime, here are some steps you can take to to prevent the spread of invasive species:

  • Pack out leftover fishing bait and bait containers.
  • Learn what invasive plants look like and report suspected infestations to the Superior National Forest.
  • Pull confirmed invasive plants out of the soil and leave them there to avoid spreading seeds.
  • Make sure that seeds are not stuck to clothes or gear.
  • Clean mud or dirt off vehicles, pets, and boots before traveling onto public land.
  • Plant native species in gardens and yards.
  • Pay attention to what is in seed packets.
  • Do not move firewood
  • Use locally-acquired or certified firewood.

We have a unique opportunity to limit the negative economic, environmental, and social impacts caused by NNIS in the Quetico-Superior region. Compared to other states or provinces, our region still has relatively low levels of NNIS infestation. However, this could change quickly. With the BWCAW attracting thousands of visitors every year from all over the world, the potential for unwanted hitchhikers is high.

On the 40th anniversary of the creation of the BWCAW — and as part of our longtime leadership in protecting, preserving and restoring this national treasure — the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness has compiled a State of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness report. Examining the current situation in the Boundary Waters, it provides an overview of the ecological health, human experiences and emerging threats.

Want more?

Read the entire report here.