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When it comes to the untouched habitat and superior water quality of Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area, a cursory review isn’t enough—we need your help to demand more for the fish and wildlife and regional economy of Northeastern Minnesota
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area is made up of 1.1 million acres of the most visited wilderness area in the country—it is, by all measures, a public land success story here in the northeastern corner of Minnesota.
There are world-class fishing opportunities all over the BWCA, in no small part because of the water quality and abundant habitat. In fact, 20 percent of the freshwater in the entire 193-million-acre national forest system is found in the Superior National Forest, which surrounds the Boundary Waters. The two biggest walleye ever caught in Minnesota were landed off the Gunflint Trail on the eastern edge of the BWCA—one of which, a 17-pound, 8-ounce behemoth, has held the state record for over thirty years.
Unfortunately, all of this is threatened by a proposed sulfide-ore copper mine on the southern edge of the Boundary Waters. A Chilean mining company is working to acquire leases a quarter mile from the edge of the wilderness area. These leases would give the company the right to develop a sulfide-ore copper mine, complete with new roads and mining infrastructure, alongside Birch Lake and the South Kawishiwi River. The proposed mine site sits at the headwaters of the Rainy River watershed that flows into the Boundary Waters, Voyageur’s National Park, and most of the Superior National Forest.
This proposed mine is incredibly contentious, and recent changes to complex land management and leasing policies have given hunters and anglers new cause for concern.
In 2016, the Department of the Interior announced that the Bureau of Land Management had the discretion whether or not to renew these leases, but the U.S. Forest Service had to consent first. When asked, the Forest Service withheld consent to renewal, leading the BLM to reject the mining company’s application. The Forest Service also proposed making 234,000 acres of public land at the edge of the Boundary Waters off limits to federal mineral leasing for 20 years, which triggered a two-year segregation on mining while the agency crafted an Environmental Impact Statement.
In late December 2017, the new administration at DOI reversed the 2016 decision, declaring that the mining leases were entitled to automatic renewal and no longer needed the discretion of the Forest Service to determine if these areas were suitable for development.
Then, on January 26, the Forest Service took a step back from their ongoing efforts to craft an Environmental Impact Statement on their own proposal. Instead of a thorough analysis of how this mine will affect nearby habitat, which an EIS would have provided, they will proceed with an Environmental Assessment typically used for simple, non-controversial projects. The EA will take the agency less than a year, beginning with a comment period that we now have less than a month to engage in.
In comparison, the EIS required to withdraw controversial mineral leases outside the Grand Canyon was given careful consideration, and the agency took the two years it needed to complete the two-volume report and provide multiple opportunities for public input before and after the study was completed. While the potential for serious impact was considered to be low, the risk was too high in such an important a place.
Simply put, the Boundary Waters watershed is Minnesota’s Grand Canyon. It is much an icon of the Midwest as Yellowstone is of the West, especially considering it is the largest continuous tract of public land east of the Rockies and north of the Everglades.
Leasing this area is anything but simple and non-controversial, and there should be no shortcuts to the assessment or public review process. Hunters and anglers should not only have the right to comment, but also the right to review this controversial proposal after the completion of the environmental assessment. The Boundary Waters, and all Americans who have a stake in their management, deserve the most robust review possible for such a risky mine at the headwaters of some of the best public land to hunt and fish on in Minnesota.
These public lands and waters belong to all of us, and Minnesotans are overwhelmingly in favor of a “stop and study” approach to assessing the effects of sulfide-ore copper mining in the Boundary Waters watershed. A 2017 poll showed that 79 percent of Minnesotans favor the most thorough review possible, and an overwhelming majority agree that the Boundary Waters, as well as the hunting and fishing habitat they encompass, are a unique place that deserves special attention.
We’re making the strongest case we can for our public lands and waters, but we can’t do it alone. It’s up to all of us to defend our public lands, waters, and sporting heritage.
Spencer Shaver is the conservation policy director for Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters and a Minnesota native. He is lifelong hunter and fisherman, a graduate of the University of Minnesota’s environmental science, policy, and management program, and has guided Boundary Waters trips since 2014.
Top photo courtesy of Brian O’Keefe.
Secretary Zinke announces first steps to assess, map, and conserve seasonal habitat that are critical to the survival of big game populations
Today, Secretary Ryan Zinke signed an order directing agencies within the Department of Interior to work toward better conservation of critical big game habitat, including migration corridors, stopover habitat, and seasonal ranges.
This is the first step in giving greater attention in land management and planning to areas where mule deer, elk, pronghorn antelope, and other species migrate, rest, or spend only a portion of the year. The order was signed by Zinke at the Mule Deer Foundation’s annual western hunting and conservation expo in Salt Lake City.
“Sportsmen and women have long advocated for recognition and conservation of wildlife migration corridors in the land-use planning process, because habitat conditions along these migratory routes can affect whether big game animals arrive healthy enough to survive the season,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We’re grateful to Secretary Zinke and this administration for taking the first step toward conserving these areas which have been overlooked or only recently identified. Bringing our conservation policies up to date with what we’ve learned from the latest research and GPS tracking technology will allow America’s hunting traditions to continue to thrive and support our country’s $887-billion outdoor recreation economy.”
The landscape of the western U.S. supports the ability of large animals to move and find food as the seasons change, and this makes America’s flourishing big game herds the envy of the world. But migration is tough on animals, and many barriers can threaten their ability to move freely. Fences, highways, housing developments, and oil and gas development can change movement patterns or close off migration corridors altogether.
“Big game animals need big landscapes and that’s why conserving all of the habitats they use—including their migration corridors—is critical for populations to thrive,” says Ed Arnett, TRCP’s chief scientist. “It doesn’t matter how much work we put into maintaining or restoring mule deer summer or winter range if wildlife can’t reach those areas, are prevented from stopping along the way to rest and recover, or don’t arrive in good health.”
The order specifically directs DOI agencies to identify a department coordinator that will work with states, other federal agencies, and conservation organizations to identify and map migration corridors and winter range. Within 60 days, the coordinator will develop an action plan defining next steps for implementation. The order also directs the department to assess migration corridors early in the landuse planning process and develop site-specific management activities to conserve and restore these habitats. Within 180 days, all responsible bureaus within DOI will update existing regulations, manuals, policies and other documents to comply with the order.
“We’ve known for decades that these animals migrate, but recent research and technology has helped to define the exact locations of critical corridors and stopover areas,” says Arnett. “What has been missing is the policy and specific guidance to land management agencies regarding the conservation of these habitats. We now have that direction from the Secretary and look forward to working with DOI agencies, state wildlife professionals, and our partners to ensure that these wildlife migration conservation measures are effectively integrated into agency policies and implemented on the ground.”
Top photo by Sara Domek
Non-defense spending gets a bump, but the agreement doesn’t include a solution for fire borrowing, which saps the Forest Service of its budget for habitat maintenance and improvement
This morning, Congress passed a bipartisan budget agreement to end the cycle of short-term funding patches that has sustained the federal government through one-third of the fiscal year.
While a modest increase to conservation funding is likely with a $131-billion boost to non-defense spending, lawmakers again missed a major opportunity to fix the dysfunctional way we pay for wildfires in America—by forcing the U.S. Forest Service to borrow from accounts meant to fund maintenance and improvement of forest habitat once they’ve exceeded the budget for firefighting.
“Any increase to conservation funding is a good thing for America’s public lands, fish and wildlife resources, and sportsmen and women, especially given that conservation’s share of the federal budget has been cut in half over the last 40 years,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
“Congress’s failure to address fire borrowing in the most germane legislative vehicle for the purpose—especially after one of the most costly wildfire seasons on record—makes you wonder if they really want to find a solution for America’s forests and the federal land managers who are expected to safeguard these places on a shoestring. It’s frustrating for hunting and fishing groups who have been calling for a fix for years.”
Technically, funding for the government ran out at midnight last night, but the House voted to end the shutdown just a few hours ago. The agreement avoids a lengthy government shutdown, which could have temporarily halted ongoing conservation projects and closed some access.
Congressional appropriators still need to allocate funding to specific programs across the government by March 23. Appropriations bills will ensure that new conservation projects can begin and funding for outdated or ineffective efforts can be used for something else.
President Trump’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2019 is expected early next week, as is the official version of a leaked report on proposed infrastructure improvements that may present opportunities to improve public lands facilities and wetlands. Stay up to date on TRCP’s response here.
Our financial health and accountability has earned us another exceptional 4-star rating from the leading charity evaluator in America
Usually we’re in it for the meat, not the trophies, but the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is very proud to announce our fifth consecutive 4-star rating from Charity Navigator—that’s the highest possible rating awarded by the nation’s largest independent charity evaluator.
This five-time recognition of TRCP’s financial health, accountability, and transparency puts the organization in the top 8 percent of American charities rated.
In a letter, Charity Navigator president and CEO Michael Thatcher says this designation indicates that the TRCP “executes its mission in a financially efficient way,” exceeding industry standards and outperforming most charities—not just in our area of work, but in the country overall.
“We’re honored to be recognized as a solutions-oriented organization that sportsmen and women can trust to represent their needs in Washington, D.C., where ongoing policy debates will decide the future of hunting and fishing,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Establishing this track record of financial accountability and transparency has been of utmost importance to us, and we hope it underscores the integrity with which we approach all of our communications and relationships with members, donors, foundations, and partners.”
Top photo by Steven Earley via Pheasants Forever
Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences hunting and fishing certainly fueled his passion for conservation, but it seems that a passion for coffee may have powered his mornings. In fact, Roosevelt’s son once said that his father’s coffee cup was “more in the nature of a bathtub.” TRCP has partnered with Afuera Coffee Co. to bring together his two loves: a strong morning brew and a dedication to conservation. With your purchase, you’ll not only enjoy waking up to the rich aroma of this bolder roast—you’ll be supporting the important work of preserving hunting and fishing opportunities for all.Learn More