It is a pivotal time for the Boundary Waters, and young people like me are ready to fight to protect it.
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area is a well-loved and well-preserved haven where people can appreciate nature to its fullest extent. I’m sure many a Minnesotan has learned how to canoe, portage and respect the wilderness of the BWCA as I have. One of my favorite things in the world is hearing the loon’s cry in the early morning before a long day of swimming and canoeing.
My love for the BWCA is what drove me, a nature-loving teenage city girl, to action. In early June, I and 30 other teens from across the country gathered in Washington, D.C., with the leaders of Save the Boundary Waters and Kids For the Boundary Waters, organizations dedicated to protecting the BWCA against dangerous mining practices. We met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and within federal offices, and I even had the honor of meeting with Sen. Tina Smith on the steps of the Capitol building! In our meetings, we explained the current issue and urged them to commit to protective actions. I loved participating in the political process so directly. If that amazing trip taught me one thing, it’s that there’s so much more work to do. Our work, as wilderness lovers, travelers and Minnesotans, is far from over.
The threat to the BWCA is very real. Sulfide-ore copper mining within the BWCA watershed has threatened to become a horrifying reality for almost 60 years. The Chilean mining company Antofagasta purchased leases in 2012 with the intention of building a Twin Metals mine to leech resources from the BWCA and the surrounding Superior National Forest. Since then, presidential administrations have played political pingpong, with hopeful progress for a mining ban pushed backward during the Trump administration and revived once again in 2021.
Sulfide-ore copper mining is unlike any other mining attempt in Minnesota because of the immediate, irreparable damage it will cause in the form of acid mine drainage. The connected lakes and waterways that Minnesotans love so much will provide the pathways through which pollution will travel and destroy the area as we know it. The runoff, with a toxicity akin to battery acid, will sweep through our beloved waters like a plague. It will even enter Canada’s wilderness. Once any form of this mining is established, our only chance to save the BWCA will be gone. Three million acres will be forever tarnished — all for an insignificant amount of metal. Mining there will only hurt the local economy, too.
The whole thing is frustrating because while the BWCA is at risk, I must stand by while decisions are made that will affect my future. That anger and hope carried me to Washington, and then brought me back to Minneapolis with a purpose: Protect the BWCA.
U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, who represents Minnesota’s 4th District, has been working toward this purpose. She introduced a House bill last year, H.R. 2794, that would permanently shield over 200,000 acres of the BWCA. In late June, the U.S. Forest Service completed an environmental risk assessment survey that proved what environmental activists have been saying all along: Sulfide-ore copper mining doesn’t belong anywhere near the BWCA. On July 13, I was relieved when McCollum’s bill narrowly advanced to the House floor. However, it still needs a companion bill in the Senate.
This is where readers come in. I’m 16. I can’t vote, can’t hold office, can’t write laws or argue for them in Congress. I can’t even buy a lottery ticket. But I know that voices hold power. So this is me reaching out, voicing my opinion, and hoping for the sake of our wilderness, our state and the youth who must live with a future they had no hand in making, that people do something. Join me in calling on Minnesota’s U.S. senators, Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar, to take up the mantle of protecting the BWCA for my generation and those to come. Write letters, tell your friends, maybe send this to your family. Speak up. Whether you’ve traveled there or not, the BWCA has always been — and will always be — an area worth protecting.
Anna Manson is a high school junior from Minneapolis who cares deeply about the environment, writing and advocacy of all kinds.