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Wilderness and Advocacy Are For Everyone

NMW believes that Wilderness and the pursuit of its protection must be welcoming and accessible to all. Protecting Wilderness relies upon public engagement which cannot be expected when people are disenfranchised, unwelcome, hurt, or tokenized due to their sexuality, race, age, ability, size, gender identity or expression, culture, religion political affiliation or anything else. NMW and the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters are committed to diversity, equity,inclusion and justice in all aspects of the organization as it works to protect this special place for everyone and for generations to come. We are committed to transparency about our goals, achievements, and failures as we continue this important work. We ask you to continue to strive with us to become a welcoming movement for all.


NMW has signed the Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge.

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Wilderness and Indigenous Communities

From the earliest Indigenous peoples to today, Native people have maintained intimate relationships with natural ecosystems and landscapes that are now protected as Wilderness. Until the 1600s, the time of initial European influence, Native people living in what is now the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness co-existed fully as part of the natural ecosystem. They were gatherers, fishers and hunters, entirely reliant on the resources of the lands and waters over the seasons. European influence, especially during the Fur Trade Era, not only had a marked impact on the wildlife, but wrought significant and complex impacts on Native American culture in the Boundary Waters region. 


Indigenous people have lived in the Boundary Waters region for countless generations. Minnesota’s “Arrowhead” region, including the Boundary Waters, is within the 1854 Ceded Territory, where Anishinaabe people (also known as Ojibwe or Chippewa) retain sovereign hunting, fishing, and gathering rights. Hunting, fishing, and gathering activities of two northern Bands are governed by the tribal government-run 1854 Treaty Authority (Read more about the 1854 Treaty Authority).

On the east side of the Boundary Waters lies Grand Portage Indian Reservation which contains Grand Portage National Monument and to the west of the Wilderness are the three sections of the Bois Forte Reservation. Basswood Lake, located in the Boundary Waters and Quetico Park and along the international border, is an ancestral homeland of the Lac La Croix First Nation Community and a sacred place for Anishinaabe.

Human Health

Protecting the Boundary Waters and its surrounding watershed means protecting human health in Northeastern Minnesota and beyond. The World Health Organization lists five known toxins released from sulfide-ore copper mining among the Top Ten Environmental Toxins of Greatest Risk to Human Health – including mercury, arsenic, lead, manganese and air pollution. These toxins, which would leech into some of the cleanest water in the world if sulfide-ore copper mining were allowed, can lead to developmental disabilities, including autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and more. 


In addition, protecting Wilderness carries enormous health benefits, from acting as a natural carbon sink to reduce air pollution, to providing hundreds of thousands of adults and children every year with a world-class place to get outdoors and paddle, camp, hike and fish, among many  other activities that promote health, well being,  and physical strength. In the Boundary Waters, these benefits are uniquely accessible to all because of its interconnected lakeland landscape. This means people with disabilities, people of all ages, and those with little outdoors experience can all enjoy the Boundary Waters. 


NMW believes that decisions affecting the BWCAW and the surrounding Rainy River Drainage Basin must take into account the need to safeguard human health and wellness. Health Impact Assessments (HIAs) are essential – and must include not only the potential deleterious human health effects of projects (such as sulfide-ore copper mining) in this water-rich area, but also include an assessment of the inherent health benefits of preserving the region’s natural resources.  


Read more on the risks and costs to human health of sulfide-ore mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the call for a Human and Ecological Risk Assessment.

Local Economy

The Boundary Waters supports a diverse and growing business environment and attracts new residents seeking to live near the Boundary Waters and in the Superior National Forest region.


Studies of the Arrowhead Region’s economy reveal a thriving economy in which numerous industries – including healthcare, tourism and recreation, small businesses, manufacturing, construction, services, forest products and taconite mining – can coexist peacefully as long as sulfide-ore copper mining does not occur within the Boundary Waters watershed. Together, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageurs National Park help support 17,000 jobs based on the healthy existence of an outdoor national treasure – generating $945 million in sales annually to the region. 


Compared to the negative economic impacts of allowing sulfide-ore copper mining at the edge of the BWCAW, permanent protection of the Boundary Waters watershed would result in 1,500-4,600 additional jobs and up to $900 million in additional income. NMW believes that protecting the BWCAW and its surrounding lands and waters is imperative if we hope to continue building a strong and resilient amenity-based economy in Northeastern Minnesota. 


For more details on the economic impacts of sulfide-ore copper mining, read this summary of the 2018 Harvard economic study

Our Recreational Footprint

NMW embraces the Leave No Trace 7 Principles © 1999 by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, as a guide to leaving a minimal footprint when traveling in Wilderness. The seven principles are: 


  1. Plan ahead and prepare. 

  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces. 

  3. Dispose of waste properly. 

  4. Leave what you find. 

  5. Minimize campfire impacts. 

  6. Respect wildlife. 

  7. Be considerate of other visitors. 


The goal is to leave the Wilderness as unchanged by our presence as possible so that future generations can enjoy it too, and to keep the Wilderness wild. 


The passage of tens of thousands of people through the Boundary Waters every year puts all of the things we love about the Boundary Waters at great risk. Most wilderness travelers are happy to do what they can to minimize their footprint, yet are sometimes unsure of just how to accomplish this. The Center for Outdoor Ethics has developed these Skills and Techniques for applying the Leave No Trace 7 Principles in the Boundary Waters. Watch this video to learn how to Leave No Trace when visiting the Boundary Waters.


NMW believes that when traveling in the Boundary Waters, we are responsible for our own safety, without reliance on electronic devices, or expectations that someone will come to the rescue. This has been the Boundary Waters tradition for hundreds of years. 


NMW will carefully scrutinize proposals made with the ostensible purpose of enhancing safety in Wilderness, such as the construction of tall communications towers, that may negatively impact wilderness character. Search and Rescue operations should employ motorized vehicles in motor-free areas, and use other extraordinary efforts, only in life-threatening situations. The Forest Service should not modify the Wilderness to eliminate risks that are normally associated with Wilderness.


NMW will also scrutinize the impacts of recreational uses outside the Wilderness that may impact wilderness character in the Boundary Waters, such as the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ proposal for the Border to Border Adventure Touring Route, a motorized “off-roading” route across northern Minnesota.

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