By Ben Hanson-Kaplan
Hello camp family! For my 10thgrade personal project, we are asked to research and take action on something that is important to us or inspires us. Camp inspired in me a love for canoeing and the wilderness, so I decided to try do something about the impending threat to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, a place that is so important to camp and to so many generations of campers. Due to recent political decisions, the BWCA is in danger of being damaged by copper sulfide mining. I’ll go into detail about the threat to this precious part of the Northwoods below, but first, I want to explain how you can help.
A couple weeks back, my dad and I headed up north to Camp Nebagamon, and with the help of camp’s head caretaker, Andy Mack, I built a canoe paddle from scratch. It was a lot of work, but I am really proud of what I created. I have decided to raffle off my canoe paddle to raise funds for the Save the Boundary Waters Foundation. Below is a link for a CrowdRise fundraising page. For every $20 that you donate to the Save the Boundary Waters Foundation through this CrowdRise page, you will earn one virtual “raffle ticket”for a chance to win the paddle. Of course, you may purchase multiple raffle tickets to increase your chances! Every penny of the funds collected will be donated to Save the Boundary Waters Foundation. Visit this link if you would like to donate to receive a raffle ticket, and learn even more about the foundation here.
The Boundary Waters… its natural beauty and pristine waters summon trippers and canoeists alike. It is the most visited wilderness area in the entirety of the United States and accounts for 20 percent of the freshwaterin the National Forest system. Its 1.1 million acres of immaculate water has been protected since the early 1900s by the Commissioner of the General Land Office, who withdrew about 1,159,700 acres of land from a lumber and mining treaty. This newly protected land was finally named the “Boundary Waters Canoe Area” (BWCA) in 1958.
But to wilderness enthusiasts and environmentalist’sdismay, on September 6th, 2018 the current administration lifted a blockade preventing the environmentally harmful practice of copper sulfide mining in the region, the most toxic industry in the U.S, and a form of mining that has never been allowed in Minnesota.This decision was like a literal gold mine for the Chilean mining giant, Antofagasta. Because of this decision, they are planning on building multiple mines in the watershed that leads into the Boundary Waters. A governmental study on the issue found that even one mine in the watershed could pollute the Boundary Waters for a minimum of 500 years. (Incidentally, before the final report could be published, the federal government rescinded the funding for the study.) The history of copper sulfidemining is an environmentally disastrous one with an almost perfect record of water pollution. All of the 14 copper sulfide mines in the U.S. have experienced accidental pipe spills. Some mines have experienced more extreme issues. For instance, in 2014 the Canadian Mount Polleymine dam broke and toxic metal infested water came pouring into nearby streams and into two significant lakes, Lake Polley and Lake Quesnal. The environmental damage to these lakes has been incalculable.
The location of the copper sulfide mine is extremely important when calculating the risk of pollution to nearby bodies of water. When water merges with sulfur, it creates sulfuric acid which is toxic to the surrounding environment. In the past, many copper sulfide mines in the United States have been located in arid places that receive a very low amount of rainfall every year. The proposed location of the Antifogasta mines on the edge of the Boundary Waters intrinsically creates a much larger threat because of the unique conditions of this area. First off, the regions frigid winters increase the risk of pipeline failure, pipelines that carry the sulfide waste. Secondly, the Boundary Waters is an ecosystem made of water. Water and sulfide create sulfuric acid. The abundance of surface water, groundwater that is just below the surface, and large amounts of precipitation will spread the toxic sulfuric acid with virtually no boundaries.
Not only are there strong environmental reasons to oppose copper sulfide mining in this region, there are very important economic reasons also. The BWCA contributes more than $910 million in revenue per year and created more than 17,000 jobs in the canoeing/boating industry. According to a study by a Harvard economistJames H. Stock,the economic benefits for extending the mining ban in the region will be significantly more beneficial than the economic benefit of allowing the Chilean mining companyto open a copper sulfide mine. The study estimates that the Boundary Waters canoeing industry will create 4,400 jobs over the next 20 years while the mining of copper and other metals will only generate 650.
Many of you have a strong connection to the BWCA because it has created such vivid and long-lasting memories, connecting with nature and connecting with your camp brothers. Our future Nebagamon brothers may not be able to enjoy those memories if the place that created them is damaged…or destroyed completely. One of the only things standing between the best canoeing waters on the planet, and a desolate industrial landscape, is people like us. Save the Boundary Waters foundation is a coalition of folks, just like you and I, who are trying to elevate this threat to a national level with the goal of protecting our BWCA. But they need help, and that is what I hope we all can do.