This Public Lands Month, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and our partners at Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters are highlighting our work on behalf of Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Wildfires closed the BWCA and surrounding areas to visitation this summer and showed the massive impact the Boundary Waters has on tourism and what happens when access to the area is restricted. Learn what you can do today to ensure future generations of hunters and anglers have access to the Boundary Waters.
As the leaves begin to change in northern Minnesota September, rains have helped contain almost all of the fires in the area. A long and dry season of wildfires had closed the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the Gunflint Trail and other areas within the Superior National Forest. Hunters once again set out to chase ruffed and spruce grouse, timberdoodles (Minnesotan for woodcock) and bigger game across the north woods.
Our thoughts are with the individuals, businesses and wildlife impacted by the wildfires in and around the Superior National Forest. North of the border, the Canadian Provincial Park service also closed the Quetico Provincial Park from mid-August through early September. The difficult decision to close the BWCA and the parks in the surrounding area throughout this time had an undeniable impact on the visitors to the wilderness and on businesses, like outfitters and lodges, as well as the local hunters and anglers who use and depend on access to the Boundary Waters.
BHA and Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters have worked together for years to secure protection for the Boundary Waters from proposed copper-nickel mining upstream by supporting the permanent withdrawal of hardrock mineral leasing from 234,328 acres of land within the Superior National Forest. The Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution Prevention Act - H.R. 2794, a bill introduced in the United States House of Representatives by Rep. Betty McCollum (D–MN), would do just that - permanently protecting such a pristine watershed from proposed sulfide-ore mining development, which local businesses and outfitters are concerned will negatively impact their livelihoods much like the wildfires did this summer.
Consider the economic impact on local businesses of an entire season, or multiple seasons, of closure due to water contamination from mining like this with a poor containment track record. The temporary impact of the wildfire closure allowed for business to continue operating weeks later, but the economic devastation of a permanent closure from copper-nickel mining pollution would be catastrophic. There would be little to no opportunity for remediation of contaminated waters here because of the interconnected nature of the over 1,100 lakes and maze of rivers, creeks, wetlands, bogs and subsurface waters.
Fire is also a natural, albeit unpredictable, part of a boreal forest's life cycle. While it had a negative impact on many this summer, there is solace in the knowledge that species like jackpine and black spruce, which have closed cones, will not open unless heated by fire. Birch and aspen roots survive and sprout after a fire. Moose and grouse will likely benefit from having a mix of younger forests exposed to fire on a regular basis over time. Contamination from copper-nickel mining waste would not provide any of those benefits and the damage from even a small containment breach of toxic acid mine drainage would be devastating.A month after this summer’s fire closures, mornings are cooling off in the BWCA. As the water temperature drops, lake trout fishing heats up for a short while. A few of us can’t hang up the fishing gear, and for anyone willing to paddle and portage into the wilderness before winter sets in, smallmouth bass also lose their minds for no other reason than what the famous conservationist and author Sigurd F. Olson called “moon magic.”
Olson said, “a quarter moon or a half or even a three-quarter moon does not do this to me, but when it is full my calm is gone and common things seem meaningless. All life is changed when the moon is full. Dogs howl madly when it comes into view and wolves make the hills resound with their wild music. Fish feed and throw themselves out of the water in sheer exuberance. Birds take to the air and sing in the glory of its light. Larger forms of game embark on galloping expeditions over their range. Under the full moon life is all adventure.”
A harvest moon rose on the night of the grouse opener this fall in the Boundary Waters, and the wildlife here took notice. In honor of public lands month - and to honor the legacy of conservationists like Sig Olson - please take a minute to send a message below to your representatives in Congress in support of H.R. 2794, the Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution Prevention Act. Do your part to help protect the BWCAW and its watershed for huntable and fishable populations of wildlife, now and forever.
Learn more about H.R. 2794 here.
Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that works to protect the integrity of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and its watersheds for huntable and fishable populations of fish and wildlife, now and forever through advocacy and education. Learn more at SportsmenBWCA.org.