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Guest Author Spencer Shaver

February 3, 2022

The Threat to Habitat in the Boundary Waters Has Been Minimized—Now What?

Why the Biden Administration’s decision to conserve the Boundary Waters watershed is huge win for public lands and what comes next for America’s most visited wilderness 

The Department of Interior’s recent decision to cancel two hardrock mineral leases on public lands upstream of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was widely supported by hunters and anglers. It was also in line with an agency process supported by our community. But this is just the first step toward permanent protection of these essential resources. Here’s what you need to know about what comes next.

First, a quick review of what’s at stake: The Boundary Waters, the most visited Wilderness Area in the country, is made up of more than 1,100 lakes and 2,000 designated overnight campsites all connected by rivers, streams, and portage trails along Minnesota’s northern border. The 1.1-million-acre Wilderness Area lies within the Superior National Forest, the largest contiguous forest in the eastern region of the United States.

The waters within hold high quality habitat for walleyes, smallmouth bass, northern pike, and lake trout. In the face of a changing climate, the area offers some of the clearest, coldest, and deepest waters in all of the boreal forest open to the public for fishing, camping, and hunting. Ruffed grouse, whitetail deer, moose, and migratory birds also frequent the lakes and rivers in and around the BWCAW, an area directly adjacent to Canada’s 1.2-million-acre Quetico Provincial Park and in the same watershed as Minnesota’s 220,000-acre Voyageurs National Park.

Last week, the Biden Administration decided to mitigate some of the threats to these resources by canceling two federal mineral leases upstream of the Boundary Waters. This rectified a process that would have endangered habitat and outdoor recreation access downstream. The action was in keeping with the science-based, public-facing approach we have advocated for since 2018, when the TRCP and its partners called on federal agencies and decision-makers for a “stop and study” approach to this new type of mining in the region.

But future leases could be considered unless Congress passes legislation to permanently protect the Boundary Waters. Further, there is still a need for more evaluation of the environmental impacts of hardrock mining, especially if we hope to put this idea—and the risks to fish and wildlife—to rest for good.

This is why federal agencies are currently completing a study that could put a moratorium on any new hardrock leasing in 225,378 acres of the surrounding watershed of the BWCAW, putting that acreage off-limits, as well. While the study is underway, the Bureau of Land Management has initiated a two-year segregation of new federal mineral leases within the proposed withdrawal area.

Importantly, during a 90-day comment period concluded on January 19, 2022, sportsmen and sportswomen overwhelmingly urged federal agencies to take action to protect the watershed of the BWCAW. Thousands of business owners, hunters, anglers, and countless others in the outdoor community spoke in favor of the withdrawal because tourism and jobs in the local outdoor-recreation-based economy depend on the Boundary Waters.

There will be other opportunities for the public to weigh in as the study progresses, and at the conclusion we hope to see federal agencies commit to a 20-year moratorium of new hardrock mineral leasing in that area of the Superior National Forest. The Boundary Waters is a unique landscape and critical part of the American Wilderness system that is deserving of permanent protection from water pollution and impacts to habitat and access downstream. Federal agencies have the discretion to set the study area aside from new leasing for up to 20 years after gathering public input and scientific data that inform such a decision.

In the end, the Boundary Waters can only be permanently protected from this type of mining by H.R. 2794, the Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution Prevention Act. After the current moratorium ends and federal agencies enact a longer-term mineral withdrawal order, an act of Congress must be signed into law to permanently declare the area off-limits from future hardrock mineral leasing. This would permanently reinforce the decision by federal agencies to set the 225,000-acre area of the Superior National Forest aside from this kind of leasing for up to a 20-year period.

The legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representative Betty McCollum (D-Minn.). Federal agencies have begun to right past agency decisions to renew hardrock mining leases in the watershed, and it is up to elected officials to seal the deal and secure this critical habitat and bucket-list paddling, fishing, and hunting destination for future generations.

Learn more and sign up for updates on this issue at SportsmenBWCA.org.

Spencer Shaver is the conservation director for Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters . He is a lifelong hunter and fisherman, a graduate of the University of Minnesota’s environmental science, policy, and management program, and has guided Boundary Waters canoe trips since 2014.

 

Photos by Hansi Johnson. Follow him @hansski43 on Instagram.

4 Responses to “The Threat to Habitat in the Boundary Waters Has Been Minimized—Now What?”

  1. Joan Broome

    In the Summer of 1963, my best friend from high school and I were chosen to be part of a Girl Scout Expedition to the Boundary Waters Wilderness area. It was a wonderful trip, a highlight for sure. I cherish the memories of it still and want it to be there for future Girl Scouts.

  2. Mike Shields

    The Boundry Waters area needs to be protected forever from any kind of invasion from humans. I visited this area in the early 1970’s when I was a teenager and it was truly magnificent. I am almost 61 years old now.

  3. John Harrington

    What Congress giveth, Congress can taketh away. There is no permanent protection for the Boundary Waters (or elsewhere) unless people vote for those who honor and respect our natural environment. Just ask Wisconsin, which once had a “Prove It First” law that their legislature repealed.

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John Cornell

February 2, 2022

Conservation Opportunities Outlined in New Mexico’s Migration Action Plan

Now is the time for sportsmen and sportswomen to step up and ensure this work moves forward

In 2019, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law the Wildlife Corridors Act, a first-of-its-kind piece of state legislation. The law mandated that New Mexico’s agencies develop monitoring protocols, analyze economic benefits, identify movement barriers, and create maps to better conserve migratory habitats used by big game animals like elk, mule deer, and pronghorn.

Following the Wildlife Corridors Act’s directive, the New Mexico Department of Transportation and the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish just released the Wildlife Corridors Action Plan. Among other things, the plan highlights 10 wildlife-vehicle collision hotspots, five of which were identified using collision data and five of which were identified using ecological data such as GPS, telemetry, and linkage modeling. In addition, the plan provides project recommendations and cost-benefit analysis for each project.

Across New Mexico over the course of one year, there are roughly 1,200 wildlife-vehicle collisions costing nearly $20 million in total, a figure that does not incorporate the economic impact of loss of work, school, or productivity resulting from these accidents. Roadways also contribute to habitat fragmentation, disrupting migratory movements and impeding access to the important seasonal habitats on which wildlife rely for their survival.

The Wildlife Corridors Action Plan takes a significant step to address these issues by identifying those sites where wildlife-vehicle collisions are most likely to occur and where potential future projects could most effectively mitigate and reduce these incidents. The plan does not, however, fund these projects or delineate a timetable for their completion. With $350 million of federal infrastructure funding available over the next 5 years and the state enjoying a revenue surplus, New Mexico is well-positioned to compete for and leverage state and federal funding to complete this work.

With such an opportunity on the table, it is critical that New Mexico sportsmen and sportswomen step up and get involved. Right now, NMGF and NMDOT are accepting public comments on the Wildlife Corridors Action Plan until March 12, 2022. It is important that members of our community share their local knowledge and experiences with planners. It is equally important to ensure that the plan uses ecological data and corridor models to enhance, restore, and conserve connectivity on these landscapes beyond collision hotspots.

Beyond commenting on the plan, sportsmen and sportswomen need to contact our state legislators and the governor’s office and communicate the importance of funding these projects. Safe passage for our wildlife is a significant investment: projects such as these range in cost from $17 to $45 million each and take years to plan and build. Research shows, however, that these highly effective infrastructure investments save millions in costs through accidents averted and lives saved.

There can be no better investment than in the safety of our roads and our treasured wildlife.

For more information on the Wildlife Corridors Action Plan, visit https://wildlifeactionplan.nmdotprojects.org/.

Comments on the plan can be submitted between January 12, 2022, and March 12, 2022 via:

  •  Email: wildlife.corridors@state.nm.us
  • Phone: (505) 470-3656)
  • Mail: Draft Wildlife Action Plan (Attn: Matthew Haverland), 1120 Cerrillos Rd, Rm 206, P.O. Box 1149, Santa Fe, NM 87505

January 27, 2022

Interior Cancels Hardrock Mining Leases in the Boundary Waters

A broad coalition of groups commended the administration’s action to ensure long-term protections for this bucket-list paddling, fishing, and hunting destination

Hunters and anglers are applauding the Department of the Interior’s decision to cancel two federal hardrock mineral leases located in the Superior National Forest within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness watershed, citing the importance of sustaining the Boundary Waters’ recreational, economic, and fish and wildlife values.

Sportsmen and sportswomen also commended federal agencies’ reinterpretation of the legal “m-opinion” that underpinned several previous agency decisions to allow for sulfide-ore copper mining permits and leases to be granted within the watershed. Thousands of members of organized hunting, fishing, and conservation groups support this decision, which is an important step in the effort to permanently protect the Boundary Waters watershed from the negative impacts of hardrock mining.

Over 250,000 people recently commented in a federally led process to set aside the over 225,000 acres in the Superior National Forest from destructive hardrock mining, with the public input overwhelmingly in favor of the area’s long-term conservation. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is America’s most-visited wilderness area, which supports a regional economy highly dependent on access to public lands.

“Today’s announcement by the Biden administration is the right decision for the Boundary Waters and for the outdoor community that has worked so hard to protect it for future generations,” says Lukas Leaf, executive director of Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters. “Spending time outdoors is what rejuvenates and energizes us. The importance of preserving places like the Boundary Waters that provide that experience is immeasurable. We appreciate these steps taken by federal land management agencies that lay out the correct process by which we can protect our priceless public lands and waters. Now we must build on this momentum and achieve permanent protection for the BWCA.”

“We applaud the administration’s decision to cancel the hardrock mineral leases upstream of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The Superior National Forest was originally set aside by President Theodore Roosevelt to conserve this remarkable landscape, and today’s announcement renews the opportunity to permanently safeguard the Boundary Waters as a renowned canoeing, fishing, and hunting destination.”

Downstream of the mining leases are sensitive populations of native lake trout that are significant not only to anglers, but also as part of Minnesota’s natural heritage, says John Lenczewski, executive director of Minnesota Trout Unlimited. “Today’s decision is an important step to help ensure that populations of these unique fish remain healthy long into the future,” he says.

Local hunters and anglers have been vocal in their opposition to the leases for years. “We have worked hard to press decision-makers to ensure we keep these waters clean and safe,” says Matt Lee, chair of Minnesota Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “I would like to thank all of our members—who have reached out to the last three administrations—with the goal of ensuring that these lands and waters are protected for future generations. We look forward to our continued work with the administration and congressional leaders to implement permanent conservation measures for the Boundary Waters.”

Other leaders in the hunting and angling community also reacted positively to the announcement:

“With memories of my family’s trip to the Boundary Waters this summer still fresh in my mind, I had the great pleasure of telling my kids today that an imminent threat no longer exists,” says BHA President and CEO Land Tawney. “We join a thunderous applause in thanking the administration for rescinding the leases that never should have been issued in the first place – and we look forward to continuing to work with Congress to assure the long-term protection of the Boundary Waters watershed.”

“The reasons to safeguard the magnificent Boundary Waters, America’s most popular wilderness area, are as crystal clear as the pristine waters of the Rainy River Watershed,” says Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “The Boundary Waters are a natural treasure that is simply too important to risk – and the costs for people and wildlife too steep. The Biden administration’s decision will safeguard essential habitat for hundreds of wildlife species and protect thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars of economic benefits that depend upon the Boundary Waters’ world-class camping, hiking, paddling, fishing, and hunting.”

Securing permanent protections for the Boundary Waters was on TRCP’s list of top priorities for the Biden Administration. Learn more about this issue on our blog.

Top photo courtesy of Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters

Ian Nakayama

January 26, 2022

$1.1 Billion in Infrastructure Funding Will Go to Everglades Restoration

Historic investment in the Everglades will help boost habitat for sportfish and waterfowl 

The United States Army Corps of Engineers has announced that they will allocate almost $1.1 billion in funding for Everglades restoration work. This is the largest single investment in the Everglades throughout its history and will help preserve and restore essential habitat for sportfish and waterfowl in South Florida, with impacts that will be felt throughout the southeastern United States.

This funding will allow work on major projects to improve the quality, timing, and distribution of freshwater flows to the Everglades. The marsh system historically depended on consistent freshwater flows to maintain wetland vegetation and produce a ridge-and-slough topography, where bands of ephemeral wetlands cut across open water. But this important natural infrastructure and unique habitat for a variety of fish and wildlife was damaged over years of development.

In the 19th century, the ridge and slough pattern ran from just south of Lake Okeechobee all the way to the coast. Throughout the 20th century, however, water quality and flow in south Florida declined due to flood control projects that cut the northern Everglades off from the central and southern Everglades, canals and levees that divided the central everglades, and harmful runoff from agricultural and residential areas. Levees built throughout the Everglades ecosystem in the mid-20th century degraded over 5,000 square miles of marsh and watershed. This has led to seagrass die-offs and toxic algal blooms that have harmed sportfish, marine mammals, and waterfowl.

To revive freshwater flows and their related benefits, Congress authorized the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, which directs the Army Corps—in partnership with state government—to “restore, preserve, and protect the south Florida ecosystem while providing for other water-related needs of the region, including water supply and flood protection.”

The CERP has made significant progress since its implementation. Multiple projects have been completed, including the Kissimmee River Restoration Project, which returned the river to its natural meandering state, restoring 44 miles of river flow and 40 square miles of floodplains.

The nearly $1.1 billion allocated by the Army Corps will go toward completing other projects like this in the Everglades. This funding was provided by the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and shows just some of the impact that this important legislation will have on conservation throughout America.

Investments in Everglades restoration have a large impact on the economy: Every dollar invested generates four dollars in economic growth, and a fully funded CERP will create more than 440,000 jobs over the next 50 years.

Important restoration work remains in South Florida, including the construction of a reservoir that would store and purify water south of Lake Okeechobee to reduce harmful lake discharges into the Everglades. The TRCP is advocating for this project and others like it during the annual congressional appropriations process.

You can help, too. Take action and urge your lawmakers to support full funding for Everglades restoration projects. There is momentum building with the Army Corps’ investment, but we can’t stop there.

Take Action

Top photo courtesy of B. Call / Everglades National Park via Flickr.

Kristyn Brady

January 19, 2022

House Committee Advances the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act

Learn why this important conservation funding bill—one of our top ten priorities for the year—has strong bipartisan support in Congress

As conservation’s share of the federal budget has been cut roughly in half over the past 30 years, it has become increasingly important to invest those dollars in efforts that get the best return, with layered benefits for fish, wildlife, outdoor recreation, our economy, and the safety of our communities. Consequently, history has shown that conservation is more successful and less costly when the focus is on preventing species and habitat decline versus restoring far-gone populations or replacing lost habitat.

This is why pushing for passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is one of the TRCP’s top ten legislative priorities this year. The bill would amend the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act to provide an additional $1.4 billion per year—$1.3 billion for state agencies and $97.5 million for tribes—in dedicated funding to restore habitat, recover wildlife populations, and rebuild the infrastructure for both our natural systems and outdoor recreation opportunities.

This new funding would go toward implementing state wildlife action plans, which identify at-risk species that would benefit most from “an ounce of prevention,” as the saying goes. And the legislation has strong bipartisan support in both chambers, with 32 co-sponsors in the Senate—evenly divided between parties and led by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)—and 145 co-sponsors in the House—led by Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.)

Today, the House Natural Resources Committee debated and voted to advance the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R. 2773), bringing us one step closer to securing a solution that has been championed by the hunting and fishing community since 2016.

It’s easy to see why. RAWA would not only supplement much-needed conservation investments across the country, but it would also create as many as 33,500 jobs annually and generate an estimated $3.36 billion in economic activity on the ground.

RAWA has had momentum before, but the timing couldn’t be better for lawmakers who are up for re-election to bring a big win home for fish, wildlife, and habitat in a way that benefits not only sportsmen and sportswomen but Americans from all walks of life. The legislation would save taxpayers money and many habitat projects could improve natural infrastructure that prevents damage from extreme weather and other emergencies, like catastrophic wildfire.

We applaud members of the House Natural Resources Committee for this first step today and urge lawmakers on both sides of Capitol Hill to take up and pass the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act without delay. It would be a defining victory for wildlife, habitat, outdoor recreation, and our economy.

Click here to learn more about the major sources of conservation funding in the U.S.

 

Top photo by Tom Koerner / USFWS via Flickr.

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