By Zach Matthews
Fly Rod & Reel’s 2014 Angler of the Year, Scott Hed, isn’t done fighting on behalf of Alaska’s Bristol Bay region. But he’s added another battle to his plate: northern Minnesota’s troubled Boundary Waters.
In a recent interview Hed said he’s involved—“strictly on a part-time basis”—with Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters. This organization is combating a series of potential open-pit copper mines proposed for the Boundary Waters.
“I hate to think of myself as being typecast,” Hed said, “and I really am not anti-mining, but I always seem to end up working on these issues.” He is quick to point out that mining does not, at least on paper, have to lead to the destruction of important watersheds. “The problem is that the mining industry has such a terrible track record—especially the big foreign conglomerates,” he said. “What are the odds that after 150 years of failures, this time they are finally going to get it right? That’s just not realistic. And especially in places like Bristol Bay and the Boundary Waters. Why take the risks there?”
The proposed Boundary Waters-area mines would be constructed near the small town of Ely, which is where Hed’s family spent parts of every summer during his youth. Although not on the scale of Alaska’s proposed Pebble Mine, many of the details are familiar: large deposits of low-grade copper with high sulfide content, meaning acid mine drainage would be an inevitable byproduct of the operations. This potential industrial wasteland would be situated in the headwaters of the Rainy River Drainage Basin, which includes the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (the most-visited unit in America’s Wilderness system); Voyageurs National Park; Quetico Provincial Park (in Canada); and, eventually, Lake of the Woods. The region is not known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes for no reason: All area waterways are essentially interconnected, meaning one unchecked source of pollution could have massive region-wide impacts. The area is one of the most-visited fishing destinations in the country.
Hed points out another reason why he resists these mines: “By leaving some areas unmined, we preserve important resources for the future, when mining technology may have improved enough to get [materials] out of the ground safely. Copper prices are low right now. What’s more important? The financial well-being of a Chilean mining company or the natural resources enjoyed by the anglers and hunters who support the strong local tourism economy?”
For more information about the proposed Boundary Waters mining projects, visit www.sportsmenfortheboundarywaters.org. For an update on the fight against Pebble Mine, visit www.sportsmansalliance4ak.org.