Mining in Two of the World’s Most Precious Wilderness ​Areas

Posted May. 23rd, 2019 by Daniel J. Cox

Two of the world’s most precious wilerness ​areas are at risk. Some of the most precious resources we still have left in the United States are the wilderness areas of Alaska and Minnesota. In Alaska, it’s the Bristol Bay watershed. In Minnesota, where I grew up, it’s the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area. Both are in potential peril due to mining interests that are on the verge of getting the green light to change both forever.

Bristol Bay Pebble Mine

Headwaters of the Mulchatna River in southwest Alaska.

Bristol Bay is a land of vast wilderness and expansive tundra, dotted with a few black spruce and small rivers that lead to larger tributaries where millions upon millions of wild salmon annually spawn.

Silver salmon spawning up the Silver Salmon River that originates in the Bristol Bay ecosystem.

With the salmon come the bears and many other animals that feed on the leftovers the bears leave behind. Along the river, you may see mink,

Alaskan brown bear mother catches a salmon to feed her and her cubs. Katmai National Park, Alaska

weasels, bald eagles, ravens, lynx, wolves, and other predators too small to notice. I call it the Land of Magic, and it’s about to be wiped out!

Bald eagle adult sitting on a grassy knoll, Alaska

Here’s How the NRDC Describes It

The Bristol Bay watershed is one of America’s last great wild places, home to bears, eagles, and wolves. It provides half the world’s wild sockeye salmon, supports 14,000 jobs, and generates $1.5 billion in economic activity every year. But if this gold and copper mine gets built, it will poison the bay’s headwaters with up to 10 billion tons of mining waste that will have to be stored—forever—in a wet and seismically active region.

And that risk has grown since now former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt cut a backroom deal with Northern Dynasty Mineral Ltd., the Canadian company behind the toxic Pebble Mine project, throwing a lifeline to company and emboldening it to apply for permits and seek new investors from the online trading circles.

Pebble Creek Mine
Exploratory field station on the ground in the heart of what may become the Pebble Creek Mine near Iliamna, Alaska.

Last summer I wrote about the Pebble Mine, a huge project that will most likely affect, possibly destroy, this world-class ecosystem, an ecosystem known for the largest wild salmon population in the world. Thankfully the Army Corps of Engineers is taking comments on what people think of this disastrous idea. If enough people speak out about this project they MIGHT just shut it down. 

You have to act fast. The deadline for all public comments is July 1, 2019. Follow this link to the Comment Page for the Pebble Mine. Make sure you do a little homework and visit the NRDC website that explains the downsides to this massive project and why it would be bad for all Americans.

The BWCA is Also at Risk

A big part of the reason I became a wildlife and nature photographer is due to many years of paddling the quiet waters of the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area.

BWCA, Boundaery Waters Canoe Area
A good fried of mine, Michael Furtman, paddles quietly on a small Minnesota lake with his dog Gypsy. Mike has written extensively on the BWCA.

The BWCA, the most visited wilderness area in all the United States, is also on the hit list for mining interests. This ecosystem is also worth protecting with its common loons, black bears, wolves, moose, world-class fishing with fishing rod and reel for beginners, and quiet wilderness.

Common loon, northern Minnesota

One could argue that we all need many of the minerals these mines could produce, but there has to be a discussion on the subject of exploitation and sustainability.

Black bear with its head on a tree, and soaked from drenching rain, on an island in a cedar swamp, Minnesota. An image from my book Black Bear buy Chronicle Books

When are we going to realize that the planet can handle only so many people? With the world’s population continually growing, there’s an ongoing need for more and more resources. Eventually, we’ll destroy everything that is natural and there will be no nature left. Even if you don’t give a damn about nature, you will give a damn when it comes to needing clean water, clean air, fresh produce, and the other things we all need to live.

Minnesota’s Long History in Mining

One of my first assignments ever was to shoot the large open pit mines in northern Minnesota for Minnesota Monthly magazine.

Additionally, why are these two mines—that will affect US citizens—being developed by foreign interests? The mine proposed on the edges of the BWCA is lead by a St. Paul-based subsidiary of Chile’s Antofagasta. The Bristol Bay Pebble Mine is lead by Canadian conglomerate Northern Dynasty Minerals. Why are these foreign interests allowed to rape and pillage the American landscape?

Old piles of tailings frame the equally old mining equipment and mine beyond.

This blog post falls in line with my last post about using your photography to make changes and to hopefully convince our fellow citizens there needs to be a different perspective. If you’ve been to these two wilderness areas, you too can use your pictures to help spread the word. Post your photos on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the like. Help us get the word out.

Help Save the BWCA.

Add Your Voice!
There are 8 comments on this post…
  1. Gary SteinbrecherOn Dec. 26th, 2020

    I have been fighting the back40 mine on the border between michigan and wisconsin for years, somehow the republican controlled legislature of these two states just does not care about clean water or air, i’m so tired of blind their ignorance that i could scream. They just don’t really care if our wells go bad or if the environment is destroyed. So what do you think we should do?

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Dec. 26th, 2020

      Gary, you have to call you your senators and congressman/women. Call them everyday if you have to. Arrange a meeting with them when they are back in your district. To get anything done you have to out pressure on these elected officials. It works but you have to push. Good luck and let me now how it goes.

  2. erkaOn May. 26th, 2019

    Hi Dan
    I have never before commented on any post although I have been reading your and and many others’ (photo) blogs for years. But this subject is literally so vital that I just couldn’t restrain.
    Of course we need to conserve our natural resources (so they last as long as possible), and of course the increase in population inevitably means higher consumption of these resources, but…
    Less consumption of these natural resources is not possible without a decrease of what we (at least in the so-called developed world) presently consider as our desirable living standard. Not to mention the grossly uneven access to and use of resources (“richer” vs. “poorer” countries; present vs. future population).
    I am willing to decrease my use of resources, in fact it has been an active part of my life for several years now – that’s easy for an inhabitant of a rich country. But how many other people would be willing – or able to? In democracies we need majorities – I doubt securing mankind’s future is very high in the hierarchy list of enough people – as opposed to “…the pursuit of happiness…” or simply securing daily existence.
    We need to make it as clear as possible that conservation is not an option or a luxury, it is the only way to ensure nature’s and thus also our survival – no more and no less.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 26th, 2019

      Thanks for your input Erka. It’s inspiring that one of my blog posts encouraged you to add such an important perspective. I could not agree with you more and the entirety of your post.

  3. Jerry SuttonOn May. 24th, 2019

    Great post Dan. Both activities shouldn’t go ahead. I am from the UK and have been to the boundary waters many times to enjoy the stunning landscape and to photograph black bears…it is a wonderful area and needs preserving.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 24th, 2019

      Thanks for joining the conversation, Jerry.

  4. Portrait of David and Shiela Glatz

    Dave GlatzOn May. 23rd, 2019

    Great post Dan. I was not aware of the proposed mining activity at Boundary Waters. I’ve commented on the Pebble Mine (#Nopebblemine) fiasco. Both would be disastrous. Thanks.

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