We only have one chance to protect the Boundary Waters

A scene from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.


The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a treasure. A special wilderness place that is valuable in so many ways. 

At 15 I discovered why it is a treasured place — I took the first of many trips into the Boundary Waters. It changed my life. I was physically tested by the rigors of paddling and portaging. I was silenced by the beauty of hovering fog melting away in the morning sun. 

I experienced the “wonder, peace and awe” described in the eloquent writing of Boundary Waters advocate Sigurd Olson as I marveled at the power and beauty of this wilderness. Minnesota is fortunate to have such a special place like the Boundary Waters. 

As America’s most visited wilderness with 250,000 visitors a year, millions of us have experienced the power of its wonder, peace and awe and it has changed and enriched our lives. This is a treasure that needs to be passed down to future generations. 

An October 2016 article in Parade magazine summarized new research, which found that feeling awe amidst the beauty of nature heals the body, mind and spirit. This extraordinary healing power is evidenced by Iraq veteran Steve Bare, who suffers from PTSD. 

He credits wilderness with saving his life. This research also shows that experiencing awe inspired by the beauty of nature moves us to see things in new ways, makes us nicer, happier, more ethical and helps us to be more collaborative. As one researcher summarized, “Awe ... is a basic part of being human that we all need.” 

The Boundary Waters is one of the most awe-inspiring places in the world and it needs to be protected.

Because of this need for protection, I applaud the decision by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to deny the renewal of two mining leases held by Chilean mining giant Antofagasta. 

Anfogosata, owner of Twin Metals Minnesota, proposed creating an industrial-scale mining zone within a mile of the Boundary Waters. After denying the leases, federal agencies put a two-year pause on any new mining projects in the area to begin a thorough environmental review. 

This environmental review will assess the potential irreversible threats of sulfide-ore copper mining to the pristine waters of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, and decide if mining should be banned in the area for up to 20 years. 

The study will also assess the Boundary Waters watershed’s contribution to the hunting, fishing and recreation economy, which generates $850 million in sales and supports 17,000 area jobs. This economic activity and the jobs that support the Boundary Waters are sustainable and enduring. They do not depend on the boom or bust cycles that have characterized the mining industry in Northern Minnesota.

As a state, we need to address the very real economic hardships many face in the Arrowhead. We, as Minnesotans, have a responsibility to creatively collaborate with government and business to generate new work opportunities with living wage jobs.  However, sulfide-ore copper mining, with its relatively short lifespan and potential for devastating, permanent pollution, is not the answer. 

The wonder, peace and awe experienced in the Boundary Waters Wilderness have the power to heal and enrich our lives while supporting a sustainable economy. We only have one chance to save this precious treasured place. We can’t afford to miss it. 


Luther Dale is an environmental activist, retired minister and resident of Shoreview. In 2015 he was given the Sierra Club’s William E. Colby Award, a natonal award recognizing his work with the organization.


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