The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) is one of the most spectacular places on earth. It is an ecological marvel, an economic engine for northeastern Minnesota, a world-class outdoor recreation destination and a unique learning ground for the tens of thousands of kids who over the years have made Boundary Waters trips a cornerstone in their character-building education. Thousands upon thousands of visitors go there each year, and generations of families have built memories and connections that last lifetimes.
But now the BWCAW needs the voices of all those who throughout the years have made pilgrimage to this special place. There are currently two public comment periods underway that could determine forever whether this place Gov. Tim Walz has called “sacred” will remain pristine, or whether it is sacrificed for the profit of massive global mining conglomerates.
For the last nine years the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters has been fighting to permanently protect this Minnesota crown jewel from the threat of sulfide-ore copper mining. Through the work of coalition members, including other environmental nonprofits, businesses and dedicated community members, we are on the cusp of making real and irreversible progress in the fight to protect this priceless wilderness now and for future generations.
Last month the federal government announced it was initiating a process to ban sulfide-ore copper mining in the watershed of the Boundary Waters for up to 20 years. Also last month the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced it would review whether the state’s rules about where sulfide-ore copper mining is allowed are adequate to protect the Boundary Waters. These two efforts are critical to making sure that the BWCAW will be there for our children and our children’s children.
But these government actions alone are not enough. The public comment periods happening now are crucial to the success of these efforts. The Boundary Waters needs the voices of the millions of people who love this wilderness now more than ever. These public comments help government regulators understand not just the scientific, economic and cultural rationale for taking action to protect the wilderness, but also give them a measure of how the public feels about the issue.
For instance, in 2016 more than 75,000 people weighed in on a public comment period during the Obama administration asking whether mineral leases owned by Chilean mining giant Twin Metals threatening the Boundary Waters should be renewed. In no small part because of the outpouring of support for the Boundary Waters from the public the Obama administration terminated those leases. And while the Trump administration eventually unlawfully reinstated them, we are challenging that reinstatement in court and ultimately we will be successful.
We are at a crucial point for the fate of the Boundary Waters. Both the federal mineral withdrawal process and the DNR mine siting review are critical milestones on the path to permanent protection. The voice of the public is needed now more than ever so that state and federal regulators know the full importance of what the wilderness means to not just Minnesotans but to all Americans.
As citizens we have the opportunity to create and shape the world we live in through moments like these. Let’s not let this once in a lifetime opportunity pass us by. Comments on the federal mineral withdrawal will be taken by Jan. 19 and comments on the state DNR mine siting review will be taken through Dec. 8. Comments for both can be submitted here.
Becky Rom is the national chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters and a resident of Ely, Minn.