Dear United States Forest Service,
When I look at this photo, waves of emotion and warm memories come flooding over me.
I see myself as a young man, not yet twenty years old, perched high atop a cliff on a hot summer day, completely in awe of the beauty that surrounds me. Islands dot the horizon, cumulonimbus clouds tower overhead, and ancient pines sway in the breeze.
If you’ve ever been to Seagull Lake in the Boundary Waters, you’ll immediately recognize the spot. The Palisades have since become a favorite place to visit, but this photo was taken on one of my first trips there, during my inaugural season working as a canoe outfitter on the Gunflint Trail. Looking back, it was a summer that changed my life.
While scrubbing smoke-blackened pots and pans, I would gaze at the wall-sized map for hours - the blue of lakes and rivers splashed across the landscape like splattered paint. In my mind, I traced canoe routes I knew, and routes I would come to know - always in awe of the fact that with enough food and supplies, I could leave from my back door and paddle those interconnected waterways all the way to the Atlantic, the Pacific, or the Arctic ocean.
With each passing summer, I returned again and again, continuing my work as an outfitter and growing deeper roots to the place, the people, and the culture I came to know and love so well. I saw friends come and go, wildfires rage and pass, new growth spring to life, and the changing seasons march ever onward, each with a beauty and peacefulness all it’s own.
After college my work as an outfitter came to an end, but my love affair with the Boundary Waters did not. It became a place of spiritual renewal, and a respite from the stresses of modern life. A place where I could reconnect with old friends - and with myself - in a real and honest way. Eventually I moved west for a job in California, working as a photographer and filmmaker in the outdoor industry. Crowded and arid, California is a far cry from my beloved north woods, but that gives me all the more reason to return every year, where coming back feels like coming home.
It was on one of these trips that I first learned of a proposal by a foreign company to mine for copper on the edge of the wilderness. This type of mining - sulfide-ore mining - has a horrendous track record of water pollution, and would create an industrial mining district upstream from many of the local outfitters, camps, and resorts that provide access to the magic of the BWCA for so many people. Even worse, the pollution would flow downstream into the pristine waters of the BWCA, Quetico, and Voyageurs National Park before making it’s way to Hudson Bay - leaving a path of destruction in it’s wake.
When I first heard about the mining proposals, I was shocked and devastated. I had always thought that the BWCA was a Wilderness protected forever. While I had read all about the hard work to protect this special place from dams, logging, and mining by folks like Ernest Oberholtzer, Bud Heinselman, and Sigurd Olson, I never once thought that my generation would face such grave threats of our own.
But here we find ourselves needing to justify the worth of clean water. Why a healthy wilderness tourism economy makes more sense than a few years of mining, and pollution in perpetuity. Why a place of wonder and spiritual renewal for so many should be kept just how it is. Why saving one last corner of our great nation for our children and grandchildren to experience the pure magic of a loon call at dusk is worth more than all the copper in the world.
I’m proud to stand up for this wild and wonderful place I know and love so well. And I ask you, the wonderful and hard working members of the United States Forest Service, to honor your commitment to our great nation’s legacy of wild places by denying renewal of the expired mineral leases currently held by Twin Metals.
Our clean water and wilderness is far more precious than another copper mine. Please, don’t let our generation be the one that let it slip away.
Note: If you feel inclined to comment on this issue, please email the USFS by July 20th: TwinMetalsLeaseInput@fs.fed.us