Robbing our future of the boundary waters wilderness

Robbing our future of the boundary waters wilderness
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The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota is over one million acres of spectacular lakes, rivers, forests and wetlands stretching along our northern border. It is America’s premier and most visited adventure Wilderness Area. It supports a vibrant outdoor economy, and has been recognized by National Geographic as one of its “50 Places of a Lifetime.”

However, instead of being protected like the national treasure it is, the entire Boundary Waters is now at risk of disastrous contamination.


Foreign interests and some members of Congress, led by Rep. Tom EmmerThomas (Tom) Earl EmmerHouse Democrats' campaign arm reserves .6M in ads in competitive districts The Hill's Convention Report: Trump to attack Biden at final night of convention | Speech comes amid hurricane, racial justice protests | Biden accuses Trump of 'rooting' for violence Republicans cast Trump as best choice for women MORE (R-Minn.), have begun a full-frontal attack on the wilderness of the Boundary Waters by seeking to overturn longstanding and effective American conservation principles pioneered by Theodore Roosevelt. 


A Chilean mining giant, Antofagasta, has proposed to develop sulfide-ore copper mines on National Forest lands just outside of the Wilderness. The mines would be built on a lake-and-river network that flows directly into the heart of the Boundary Waters.

In 2016, after receiving considerable information of the potential risk of mining near the Boundary Waters, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management denied the renewal of two mining leases held by Antofagasta and initiated a two-year environmental review process. This review is endorsed by Sonny PerdueGeorge (Sonny) Ervin PerduePerdue has found the right path in National Forests Democrats seek clarity on payroll tax deferral for federal workers USDA extending free meals for kids through end of the year if funding allows after criticism MORE, the current Secretary of Agriculture.

Emmer, in support of foreign interests, recently introduced H.R. 3905, which would effectively exempt Minnesota from bedrock conservation laws, block the environmental review and provide unprecedented rights to a foreign entity allowing it to mine on some of the most important public lands in America. 

In 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt created the Superior National Forest, where the Boundary Waters resides, “for the use and benefit of the people.” He was a visionary in forest and water preservation. 

He signed the Antiquities Act of 1906 (which Emmer is seeking to circumvent), and understood the delicate balance between competing interests of conservation and development. In 1910, he clearly articulated his views stating, “Conservation means development as much as it does protection. I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.”

As a private citizen, I have been engaged in a detailed project to retrace the strenuous “Terrain of Theodore Roosevelt” and better understand his formative leadership development. I recently completed a 7,000-mile trip researching his National Park camping adventures in 1903 with John Burroughs in Yellowstone and John Muir in Yosemite.

Two findings have become increasingly clear. First, without his experiences in the outdoors, Roosevelt would not have developed into the exceptional leader we know. Second, his proactive approach to conservation created a legacy, which remains strong to this day, and should serve as a role model going forward.

We desperately need wilderness areas like the Boundary Waters to help develop our youth leaders of the future. These types of “strenuous life” environments, as Roosevelt would say, help build grit, determination, teamwork, perseverance and a sense that anything can be accomplished.

The Boy Scouts of America understands this relationship. One of its four National High Adventure Bases is located on the edge of the Boundary Waters. Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonGary Cohn: 'I haven't made up my mind' on vote for president in November Kushner says 'Alice in Wonderland' describes Trump presidency: Woodward book Conspicuous by their absence from the Republican Convention MORE, an Eagle Scout, reinforced this importance in his own personal development. In Eagles’ Call, the National Eagle Scout Association magazine, he reflects on the life-long impact of a single trip to the Boundary Waters. Describing and overcoming a grueling canoe portage that brought him to tears, Tillerson says, “That has stayed with me all my life. There’s never been anything I didn’t feel I could conquer.”

Finally, I personally have taken well over a dozen trips to the Boundary Waters region. It has been both transformative and restorative and a foundational aspect of my family’s life. The Boundary Waters is not only a spectacular wilderness — it is the ultimate leadership training ground.

It’s time to stop putting foreign interests over our national interests. Emmer is seeking to unwind the legacy of Roosevelt and do exactly what he passionately recommended against, “to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.”

I would rather stick with Roosevelt and continue the tradition of visiting the Boundary Waters with my future grandchildren than have to tell them what it was like to have a clean and protected national treasure that had been squandered away. Emmer’s legislation needs to be overwhelmingly defeated.

Joe Banavige, of Independence, MN, has more than 20 years of experience as a business leader, Department of Defense civilian, State Department diplomat and Army officer. He served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He is currently a volunteer with the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters.