Friends Of The Boundary Waters Wilderness

Saint Paul, MN   |


Through advocacy and education, the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness works to protect, preserve, and restore the wilderness character of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Quetico-Superior ecosystem.

Ruling year info


Executive Director

Chris Knopf

Main address

2250 University Ave W Suite 180S

Saint Paul, MN 55114 USA

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Formerly known as

Boundary Waters Wilderness Foundation



NTEE code info

Water Resource, Wetlands Conservation and Management (C32)

Land Resources Conservation (C34)

Forest Conservation (C36)

IRS filing requirement

This organization is required to file an IRS Form 990 or 990-EZ.

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Programs and results

What we aim to solve

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

From our very beginning, our mission at Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness is to protect the Boundary Waters. We were founded in 1976 by people from Northeastern Minnesota, who wanted to see this precious Wilderness protected forever. We continue that mission today and are still driven by the millions of people across Minnesota who believe in our mission. The current threats of proposed copper-sulfide mines Twin Metals and PolyMet are existential threats to a pristine Boundary Waters. The propsoed Twin Metals mine would directly pollute the BWCA, while PolyMet would make a legal precedent to break ground for Twin Metals and every subsequent mine all long the BWCA. Our 4,500 members support and demand us to protect this wild place and we have responded through advocacy and education. In addition to our own mission, outside communities have also urged us to advocate and help pass legislation to protect our pristine waters.

Our programs

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

What are the organization's current programs, how do they measure success, and who do the programs serve?

Wilderness Advocacy

An important part of Friends' work to protect and preserve the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) is assessing the management of the wilderness and surrounding ecosystem and advocating for policies that protect, preserve, and restore these assets. Activities that support this work include:

Analyzing proposed state and federal policies that affect the BWCAW, and monitoring compliance with existing policies.

Initiating dialogue with resource managers, including the Forest Service Supervisor, District Rangers and other Forest Service staff, as well as with businesses and community stakeholders, to discuss and problem-solve issues affecting the BWCAW.

Collaborating with community leaders on sustainable economic initiatives that recognize wilderness as a contributor to local economies through tourism and other enterprises.

Engaging citizens in legislative advocacy work through the citizen volunteer corps, bringing public voices to the Minnesota State Capitol.

Reaching new audiences through the use of new and traditional media to promote policies that protect, preserve and restore the BWCAW.

Population(s) Served

An important aspect of the Friends' work is informing the public about wilderness values and threats to the BWCAW. Activities that support this work include:

Communicating online and in print with our network of over 20,000 individuals nationwide.

Supporting an active website and social media networks that serve as portals to the Friends activities and news about the BWCAW.

Hosting dynamic public events that engage and inspire Minnesotans to experience wilderness areas and protect public lands.

Creating and distributing educational materials for the general public about Boundary Waters conservation and preservation, including: Current advocacy information, Leave No Trace video about wilderness-use ethics, and Non-Native Invasive Species booklet that teaches visitors how to recognize invasive plants in the BWCAW and its ecosystem.

Population(s) Served

In addition to an emphasis on public outreach, the Friends recognizes the need and importance of engaging young people in wilderness protection. Activities that support this focus include:

Creating and distributing educational materials for school-age children, including: Living for the Wild high school writing curriculum and hands-on Wilderness Kit middle school curriculum.

Sponsoring annual canoe trips for 40-50 urban youth, through the Thomas Flint Canoe Trip program, focused on developing leadership skills, confidence, and experience in wilderness landscapes.

Fostering the next generation of conservation professionals, through the Conservation Fellows Partnership program, that works to engage racially diverse youth in wilderness experiences and develop professional skills in the conservation and environmental advocacy.

Hosting undergraduate and graduate level internships and fellowships to provide on-the-ground experience for students.

Population(s) Served
Children and youth
Economically disadvantaged people

The Friends supports the health of the BWCAW through two main programs:

The Superior Wilderness Volunteer Connection program partners with the Superior National Forest to help maintain recreational resources within the wilderness, providing funding for stewardship work in the BWCAW and recruiting volunteers to assist with portage and campsite maintenance, visitor education, and controlling the spread of non-native invasive plant species.

The Science & Monitoring program launched by the Friends in 2016 focuses on closing information gaps about the lands in and around the BWCAW. The program builds connections with the scientific community and ensures that advocacy work is based in current, relevant research. Central to the program is a citizen science initiative that engages the public in data gathering and resource monitoring that then informs the development of sound environmental policy.

Population(s) Served
Young adults

Where we work


Environment Minnesota Leadership Award 2011

Environment Minnesota

Wilderness Legacy Award 2014

United States Forest Service - Superior National Forest

Mission Award for Advocacy 2016

Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and MAP for Nonprofits

Top Non-Profit 2011


Our Sustainable Development Goals

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn more about Sustainable Development Goals.

Goals & Strategy

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn about the organization's key goals, strategies, capabilities, and progress.

Charting impact

Four powerful questions that require reflection about what really matters - results.

Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness' goal is to ensure the long-term health and vitality of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Quetico-Superior ecosystem. A protected and preserved Boundary Waters Wilderness is free from public threats to its wilderness character, managed according to sound science, and is supported by a robust and diverse population of wilderness users.

The Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness has three primary program areas that work to achieve a healthy and protected future for the BWCAW.

Advocacy - The Friends is at the forefront of defending the wilderness character of the BWCAW. Communications and engagement programs that focus on engaging the public and decision-makers on issues affecting or threatening the BWCAW, create the conditions necessary to protect the BWCAW both legally and through management practices. Environmental policy staff are deeply engaged in all aspects the Friends' initiatives and work frequently with agency and non-profit partners, as well as a corp of dedicated citizen volunteers.

Education - The Friends works in many ways to increase the public's appreciation of the BWCAW and awareness of the threats it faces. Friends staff present to over 2,000 individuals annually at public events and forums each year. Specific programs like Thomas Flint Canoe Trip Program, Conservation Fellows Partnership, and undergraduate internship program also play a critical role in engaging and advancing the next generation of conservation leaders, by engaging young people in non-profit administration and wilderness conservation.

Stewardship - Through programs like the Superior Wilderness Volunteers Connection program, Friends works with agency partners to give back to the wilderness by maintaining recreation resources like portage trails, campsites, and latrines. Additionally, the Friends' Citizen Science Monitoring program engages the public and wilderness users in research initiatives aimed at better understanding the ecology of the BWCAW and how to effectively manage it.

For 40 years the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness has been directly involved in the formation, protection, and continued management of the BWCAW. Organizational history, paired with an educated and experienced staff and strong board leadership, uniquely positions the Friends to meet our programmatic goals and overall mission.

Less than a year ago, the proposed PolyMet copper-sulfide looked like a done deal. There were plenty of red flags and issues of factual concern, but after more than a decade of controversy, many thought it was inevitable that this mine would break ground.

All that changed when our legal efforts paid off in January. Minnesota Court of Appeals overturned PolyMet’s permit to mine and two dam-safety permits. Months later, in March, the same court threw out PolyMet’s air pollution permit.

In addition, we were part of a seven-day evidentiary hearing before a Minnesota trial court that examined the extent to which Minnesota regulators suppressed scientific concerns that PolyMet’s wastewater permit violated the Clear Water Act.

This trial, as well as the court rulings, forever exploded the myth that “Minnesota has the best environmental laws in the country,” and can protect our water resources from copper-sulfide mining. Instead, Minnesota regulators were shown to be complicit in the cover up of a deeply flawed permitting process for PolyMet.

As of now, PolyMet cannot put a shovel in the ground. This alone would count as a major success. But there’s more.

Following these victories on a state level, we received disappointing news when a federal judge ruled against us and our partners in our lawsuit against the Trump administration and Twin Metals. Confident of the merits of our case, we filed an appeal at the end of April.

Weeks later, we filed a second lawsuit against the Trump administration, arguing that in renewing the leases, the administration violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Needless to say, on the advocacy front and in our effort to stop the two copper-sulfide mines —Twin Metals and PolyMet — 2020 has been a very busy, exciting, and encouraging year.

We also hired a new Education Manager to launch our education program, No Boundaries to the Boundary Waters. In the few months before the COVID-19 pandemic ground everything to a halt, we were able to lay the foundation for important relationships in the Twin Cities and statewide.

No Boundaries to the Boundary Waters is designed to bring the ecology and wonder of the Boundary Waters into classrooms across Minnesota. In this program, students learn more about the most-visited wilderness area in the country while connecting to nature in their own neighborhood. Our program is forming relationships with greater Minnesota through county environmental education efforts like the Freshwater Festival in Hubbard county and the Youth Water Summit in Itasca county.

No Boundaries also provides the means and opportunity for diverse and underserved students to go on weeklong canoe trips into the Boundary Waters. We are working with Project Success to ensure that all Minneapolis public schools have a Boundary Waters trip opportunity for students. Relationships with community groups such as CLUES allow our programming to have a deeper impact by building on the student suppo

How we listen

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Seeking feedback from people served makes programs more responsive and effective. Here’s how this organization is listening.

done We shared information about our current feedback practices.
  • How is your organization using feedback from the people you serve?

    To inform the development of new programs/projects, To strengthen relationships with the people we serve

  • Which of the following feedback practices does your organization routinely carry out?

  • What challenges does the organization face when collecting feedback?

    It is difficult to get the people we serve to respond to requests for feedback, It is difficult to identify actionable feedback


Friends Of The Boundary Waters Wilderness

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The people, governance practices, and partners that make the organization tick.


Connect with nonprofit leaders


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Connect with nonprofit leaders


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  • Analyze a variety of pre-calculated financial metrics
  • Access beautifully interactive analysis and comparison tools
  • Compare nonprofit financials to similar organizations

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Friends Of The Boundary Waters Wilderness

Board of directors
as of 08/23/2022
SOURCE: Self-reported by organization
Board chair

John Gappa

Jason Long

Cafe Imports

John Gappa

Former Executive Vice President & CFO, Ability Network, Inc., and former Senior Vice President & CFO, Post Consumer Brands

Bob Scott

Equity portfolio manager

Lee Vue


Ryan Johnson

Fredrikson & Byron

Evan Nelson

Maslon LLP

Deborah Huskins

Former Area Director - Human Services and Public Health Department of Hennepin County

Tom Donaho


Suzie O'Gorman

UnitedHealth Group

John Penshorn

Former Senior Vice President, Investor Relations - UnitedHealth Group

Jaime Roquebert


Emily Vikre

Vikre Distillery

John Willoughby

Target Corp.

Board leadership practices

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

GuideStar worked with BoardSource, the national leader in nonprofit board leadership and governance, to create this section.

  • Board orientation and education
    Does the board conduct a formal orientation for new board members and require all board members to sign a written agreement regarding their roles, responsibilities, and expectations? Yes
  • CEO oversight
    Has the board conducted a formal, written assessment of the chief executive within the past year ? Yes
  • Ethics and transparency
    Have the board and senior staff reviewed the conflict-of-interest policy and completed and signed disclosure statements in the past year? Yes
  • Board composition
    Does the board ensure an inclusive board member recruitment process that results in diversity of thought and leadership? Yes
  • Board performance
    Has the board conducted a formal, written self-assessment of its performance within the past three years? No

Organizational demographics

SOURCE: Self-reported; last updated 8/23/2022

Who works and leads organizations that serve our diverse communities? Candid partnered with CHANGE Philanthropy on this demographic section.


The organization's leader identifies as:

Race & ethnicity
Gender identity
Male, Not transgender
Sexual orientation
Heterosexual or Straight
Disability status
Person without a disability

Race & ethnicity

Gender identity

Transgender Identity

Sexual orientation


We do not display disability information for organizations with fewer than 15 staff.

Equity strategies

Last updated: 05/20/2020

GuideStar partnered with Equity in the Center - an organization that works to shift mindsets, practices, and systems to increase racial equity - to create this section. Learn more

  • We employ non-traditional ways of gathering feedback on programs and trainings, which may include interviews, roundtables, and external reviews with/by community stakeholders.
Policies and processes
  • We seek individuals from various race backgrounds for board and executive director/CEO positions within our organization.