Spanish-American War veteran and Medal of Honor recipient, Theodore Roosevelt, traveled west to Minnesota during 1880. Teddy and his brother Elliott hunted birds on the edge of the northern Great Plains and almost surely wondered what lay further north in Minnesota’s vast northeastern Arrowhead Region.

Nearly 30 years later, on Feb. 15, 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt decided that some of the wild forests, wetlands and waterways in northeastern Minnesota should be added to America’s protected public lands. He signed Presidential Proclamation No. 848 establishing the 3.9 million-acre Superior National Forest. Today the heart of the national forest is the 1.1 million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), one of the world’s 50 greatest destinations according to National Geographic.

During his presidency (1901-1909), TR regularly denounced the “empire builders,” who were concerned only with amassing personal profits and in the process destroying the common heritage. Roosevelt said, “I do not intend that our natural resources shall be exploited by the few against the interests of the many.”

Today Minnesota’s veterans are following in TR’s footsteps, by defending the Superior National Forest and Boundary Waters from proposals by foreign-owned mining companies who want to start sulfide-ore copper mines in the region. These sulfide-mining proposals, facilitated by the Trump administration, threaten the very life-blood of the Boundary Waters and Northern Minnesota: Our clean water.

Bob Tammen, a retired miner and Vietnam War veteran from Soudan, said (in the 2/19/19 Star Tribune), “I spent a lot of my life working in mining, but the most important thing we have is water.”

“According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, mining is less than 1 percent of Minnesota’s economy,” Bob added (quoted in the 8/10/17 Star Tribune). “Instead of destroying our wetlands, we should diversify our Range economy.”

Erik Packard is a veteran of two tours in Iraq and founder of Veterans for the Boundary Waters. After returning home from Iraq, he experienced post-traumatic stress disorder. Packard said his experiences in the BWCAW saved his life. “You learn that you’re not as broken as you think you are,” he said (in the 7/13/16 Duluth News Tribune).

“Today a sulfide-ore copper mine, part of what the EPA calls ‘the most toxic industry in America,’ is being proposed on the very edge of the Boundary Waters wilderness,” Erik said (in the 5/14/16 St. Cloud Times). “The proximity of the Twin Metals mine … to the wilderness makes contamination inevitable. If this mine goes forward, the Boundary Waters could be lost forever so a foreign mining company can take its resources, turn a profit, pack up and go home.”

As Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, said: “I hope Donald Trump will become the next Theodore Roosevelt for our fish, wildlife, and hunting and fishing traditions. Conservation is one issue that has never been partisan and never should be. It is one thing that makes America great.”

Throughout our nation’s history, veterans like Teddy Roosevelt, Bob Tammen and Erik Packard have been in the front lines, protecting our great public lands estate from the “empire builders,” both foreign and domestic. They know that without clean water we essentially have no suitable habitat in the BWCAW, Superior National Forest and Northern Minnesota.

In the words of my friend, World War II/U.S. Navy veteran Bill Sustrich (now deceased): “In the simplest terms, without suitable habitat we will have no game; without game, we will have no hunting; without hunting, a precious heritage of our past will be lost forever.” For additional information, see: SportsmenForTheBoundaryWaters.org and the Boundary Waters Business Coalition.

David Lien is a Grand Rapids (Minn.) native, former Air Force officer and founder/former chairman of the Minnesota Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (www.backcountryhunters.org). He’s the author of “Hunting for Experience II: Tales of Hunting & Habitat Conservation” and during 2014 was recognized by Field & Stream as a “Hero of Conservation.”

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