Protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area

Here's to the people trying to stop the wholesale poisoning of an American treasure:

MINNESOTA’S Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is one of America’s most popular wild destinations. Water is its lifeblood. Over 1,200 miles of streams wend their way through 1.1 million acres thick with fir, pine and spruce and stippled by lakes left behind by glaciers. Moose, bears, wolves, loons, ospreys, eagles and northern pike make their home there and in the surrounding Superior National Forest.

All of this is now threatened by a proposal for a huge mine to extract copper, nickel and other metals from sulfide ores. The mine would lie within the national forest along the South Kawishiwi River, which flows directly into the Boundary Waters Wilderness.

The prospect of any major industrial activity in the watershed of such a place would be deeply troubling. But this kind of heavy-metal mining is in a destructive class all its own. Enormous amounts of unusable waste rock containing sulfides are left behind on the surface. A byproduct of this kind of mining is sulfuric acid, which often finds its way into nearby waterways. Similar mines around the country have already poisoned lakes and thousands of miles of streams.

To me, the area is synonymous with the life's work of Sigurd Olson, one of the great unsung characters of the 20th Century. He nagged and lobbied and wrote endlessly about the area we now know as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Can you imagine what that place would look like if the mines and the businessmen had been able to get there first?

Olson has been dead for 34 years, but there are still people who carry on in his memory. If you were going to make a movie or write a book, you could do a lot worse than choosing to tell the story of the man who saved over a million acres of pristine wilderness from the kind of people who would poison a river and walk away rich.