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Businesses join forces to protect the wilderness

Coalition supports ban on sulfide mining near the Boundary Waters

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 3/6/17

REGIONAL— More than 200 private businesses, including nearly 60 from northern Minnesota, have joined forces to back permanent protection of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from …

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Businesses join forces to protect the wilderness

Coalition supports ban on sulfide mining near the Boundary Waters

Posted

REGIONAL— More than 200 private businesses, including nearly 60 from northern Minnesota, have joined forces to back permanent protection of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from sulfide-based mining of copper and nickel.

The new group, known as the Boundary Waters Business Coalition, includes dozens of small rural businesses, like wilderness outfitters, recreational product manufacturers, outdoor gear retailers, and resorts.

More than 100 are based in Minnesota, while many of the other members supply Minnesota-based companies that serve the outdoor recreation industry in and around the Boundary Waters.

Steve Piragis, who helped recruit members for the group, said many of those in the industry understand the risks that environmental degradation could pose to businesses that benefit from a pristine wilderness.

“Everybody I talk to, they all want to support the campaign,” said Piragis. “Especially those businesses from out West. They’re familiar with the environmental consequences of sulfide mining.”

The new business group is affiliated with the national Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, based in Ely, and its membership includes a number of Ely businesses, including Ely Outfitting Company and Boundary Waters Guide Service.

“A thriving Boundary Waters means a thriving bottom line,” said company owner and operator Jason Zabokrtsky. “Putting America’s most toxic industry right next to America’s most visited wilderness would put shops like ours out of business.”

Paul Schurke, who owns and operates Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge, agreed. “Our customers are spread across the globe but hold one passion in common— their affinity for Minnesota’s Northwoods and the wildness, serenity and pristine lakes and streams of the Boundary Waters,” he said.

Other Ely area businesses in the coalition include Piragis Northwoods Company, Brandenburg Gallery, Wintergreen Northern Wear, Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge, Burntside Camp Retreat, Women’s Wilderness Discovery, and River Point Resort.

Piragis said a number of other Ely area businesses also support the coalition, but have declined to say so publicly, for fear of retaliation. “We’ve been harassed a bit,” said Piragis. “When the CEO of Rapala came out in support of our efforts, he took some major abuse for it.”

Piragis said some in Ely have sought to tar opponents of the proposed Twin Metals copper-nickel mine as “anti-mining and even anti-logging.” He notes that the group is not opposed to taconite mining, nor logging, and he questioned the veracity of those who claim otherwise. “It comes across like fake news,” he said.

The Boundary Waters Business Coalition includes national companies such as Namebini, Epicurean, Frost River, Fishpond, Klean Kanteen, Osprey, Simms Fishing, Rio Products and Patagonia.

The business coalition is another effort by the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters to build a broad base of opposition to the Twin Metals proposal. The campaign, which is led by Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, includes support from a long list of environmental organizations, but also sportsmen’s groups like Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters, and businesses involved in the outdoor recreation industry.

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