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A Scout’s View: Why We Must Protect the Boundary Waters and its Wildlife
The water stays with you the longest. The lakes and rivers provide the routes to navigate through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and the crisp, cool, pristine waters simply taste different. Something about it has kept me going back again and again to the north woods ever since my first trip a dozen years ago. Unfortunately, those very waters are now at risk due to a potential sulfide-ore copper mine and need you to stand up for their protection.
In my Boundary Waters treks, I’ve traced the route of the French voyageurs along the Canadian border at the Height of Land, seen Ojibwe pictographs on cliff faces, and watched the Northern Lights dance above the horizon on Iron Lake. Along the Beartrap River I’ve heard wolves howl, spotted moose swimming across Knife Lake, and portaged my canoe to the next secluded lake brimming with walleye and northern pike. The value of the Boundary Waters for recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat is unparalleled, but it is dependent on the incredible quality of the water that a misplaced sulfide-ore mine could impair and that the acids and heavy-metals in copper mine pollution could threaten.
I’m not alone in my connection to the Boundary Waters. Each year new individuals take to the lake country, the most visited Wilderness Area in America. Most of my experiences came through Northern Tier, the national Boy Scout base there that serves as a jumping off point to the public land beyond and its rivers and lakes.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, a fellow Eagle Scout, learned skills of self-reliance going through that same Scout base for a ten-day trip when he was 14. For Tillerson, as for many since him, the biggest challenge was lifting and portaging an 85-pound canoe – at first thinking it was beyond him but taking it on with the support of his crewmates. Reflecting on overcoming that challenge for Eagle’s Call, the magazine of the National Eagle Scout Association, he remarked, “That has stayed with me all my life. There’s never been anything I didn’t feel I could conquer.”
When I worked in the Boundary Waters, I led crews of high school and college-aged Scout volunteers that came from across the country to give back by working on the trails that connect the lakes through a partnership between the Boy Scouts and the U.S. Forest Service. The Civilian Conservation Corps originally built many of these trails. Continuing that legacy, our nine-person crews would smash gravel with sledgehammers and maneuver rocks into trail features designed to prevent erosion and improve access in this wilderness for the next young person struggling to carry their canoe on their shoulders. Most future visitors will never know the work we did, but they will better know the land, the waters, and the place.
The Boundary Waters deserve continued protection so that future generations can learn from those same challenges and gain the inspiration that leads to a commitment to conservation and public service.
Through August 11th, federal agencies are seeking public comments on a proposal to end the practice of leasing federally-owned mineral rights to mining corporations in the watershed of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and on Superior National Forest lands. The comment period is part of a study that will consider extending a current two-year moratorium on sulfide-ore copper mining to a 20-year withdrawal.