All photos by Nate Ptacek
It’s not every day that we get to celebrate an environmental win, but January 26, 2023, was one of those days. Under the leadership of Secretary Deb Haaland, the United States Department of the Interior issued a 20-year mineral withdrawal for the watershed of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Northeastern Minnesota. This announcement marked the single biggest protection for the Wilderness since 1978, prohibiting mining development along the southern edge of the park, a region that has been threatened by the proposed Twin Metals copper mine (and others) for over a decade.
This is an issue that I care about deeply, as does my employer—Patagonia. Patagonia has supported the Boundary Waters through grant funding, stories, films, Patagonia Action Works, employee environmental internships and more. But the heavy lifting and strategic work to reach this milestone was led by the nonprofit Save the Boundary Waters, a small group of dedicated activists based in Ely, Minnesota. A decade of petitions, legal battles, protests, social media posts, interviews, patient conversations around the campfire and in our nation’s capital, film tours, book tours, miles paddled and portaged, a year-long Wilderness sit-in, and rallying the support of hundreds of thousands of people across the nation truly exemplifies environmental activist Brock Evans’ mantra “endless pressure, endlessly applied.”
So, what’s next? Twenty years isn’t forever, but permanent protection through an act of Congress is. On January 31, 2023, US Congresswoman Betty McCollum reintroduced the Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution Prevention Act (HR 668), which would permanently ban sulfide-ore copper mining on federal lands within the watershed of the Boundary Waters.
What can you do? First, contact your elected officials and tell them to support HR 668 today. And after that? Plan your own Boundary Waters canoe trip. The photos below offer a taste of this special place. Bring a friend and toast success with a cup of fresh lake water. It’s important that we relish this victory and rest up for the hard work that’s still to come.