Milestone Decision Reached on Boundary Waters, Most Visited Wilderness Area in United States 

Protections will Keep Pristine Wilderness Untouched for 20 Years 

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Backcountry Hunters & Anglers commends the decision to advance long-term protections for the Rainy River watershed and the pristine waters of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a crown jewel of public lands and waters in northeast Minnesota and America’s most visited wilderness area. 

An administrative mineral withdrawal secured jointly through the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service would establish a moratorium on mineral extraction in the region. In 2016, the Obama administration took steps to withdraw portions of the watershed from new minerals development. In 2018, the Trump administration canceled the Forest Service’s withdrawal application and the associated environmental review after three public meetings had already been conducted, more than 90,000 public comments collected, and environmental analyses undertaken.  

Today’s decision is an important milestone following the environmental analysis of the Boundary Waters and the potential effects of copper-nickel mining in this pristine watershed reinitiated by the Biden Administration in 2021. The results of that analysis showed major risks from mineral extraction. The administration’s withdrawal proposal would prohibit the development of any mineral leases on approximately 225,504 acres of Superior National Forest lands within the watershed of the Boundary Waters for up to 20 years. 

“Across the country, the significance of the historic decision by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to implement 20-year protections for the Boundary Waters is being celebrated. Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters would like to express our deepest gratitude to this Administration for its leadership in protecting the BWCA from sulfide-ore copper mining,” said Lukas Leaf, Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters executive director.  

“Not only is this announcement a milestone in the history of the BWCA, but it also affirms the immeasurable value of the Boundary Waters to Minnesota’s outdoor economy, its unparalleled recreational opportunities, and its contribution to the legacy of our nation’s public lands and waters. Thank you to all who have stood shoulder to shoulder with us for years in defense of the Boundary Waters.” 

Those recreational opportunities offer an incredible opportunity to canoe, camp, fish and experience an invaluable landscape. 

“The time I’ve spent in the Boundary Waters – especially with my family by my side – are memories I deeply cherish. Today’s decision by this administration to protect these unique public lands and waters will not only conserve an irreplaceable landscape; it also will ensure that experiences like mine will be possible for all Americans and their families to enjoy, forever,” said Land Tawney, CEO of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. 

The proposed copper-nickel mining that threatens the Boundary Waters is not connected to Minnesota’s Iron Range heritage, and BHA recognizes the importance of responsible mining to local communities in the state. Sulfide mining, however, has a poor track record that jeopardizes the Rainy River watershed and the complexly interconnected hydrology systems that feed the Boundary Waters. 

“Backcountry Hunters & Anglers of Minnesota is encouraged by the prospect of solidifying protections for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness,” said Eli Mansfield, board chair of the Minnesota chapter of BHA. “Our focus from the beginning of this discussion has been to draw attention to the potential irreversible impacts of copper sulfide mining in one of the nation’s most visited outdoor recreation areas. Our chapter and its members will continue to foster discussions regarding pragmatic stewardship of public lands across the state of Minnesota. As it relates to the BWCA specifically, we join together with our friends in conservation to celebrate the decision to protect our state’s crown jewel of accessible public lands.” 

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for our wild public lands, waters and wildlife.

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