DULUTH — One of the key messages officials from mining advocacy group Better in Our Back Yard (BIOBY) are trying to promote is the idea that you can be pro mining and pro environment at the same time.

“Currently the loudest voices against mining are individuals or organizations who’ve never relied on the mining industry,” said Executive Director Ryan Sistad. “Better In Our Back Yard is here to give professionals and leaders in the area that rely heavily on mining and industry in general that voice while educating our audience on the benefits of responsible industry.”

Formed in 2017 in Duluth, the group advocates for projects they believe can help grow the economy while also protecting the local environment.

The three main projects they believe fall in line with that objective is PolyMet, Twin Metals of Minnesota, and Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement project.

“Had BIOBY not come along, those opposed to these critical projects would have dominated almost 100 percent of the attention of those paying attention. Those groups seek to offer the false choice of ‘the environment, or industry.’ We know for a fact industry, particularly mining, can be done safely and compliantly right here,” said BIOBY Board Chair Nik Bayuk. “This work that is critical to American industry, and as we are coming to see, national security, can and should be done by Iron Range and Minnesota workers who hunt the same lands, fish the same waters, and need the same clean water source as those who would love to see America continue to be a net importer of our most critical materials needed to begin the shift to a renewable energy landscape.”

According to information found on their website, the mission of BIOBY is to “strengthen northern Minnesota’s economy by advocating for responsible industrial development throughout the region.”

“BIOBY started as a series of public comments by industry professionals, one at a USFS/BLM lease withdrawal hearing, the other at a Duluth city council meeting, basically saying the same thing: This is the best place to mine because our miners are also environmentalists and that goes a long way in helping protect the environment,” said Kurt Doran, a current board member and former board chair.

Bayuk said after those meetings the idea grew among a few young professionals and eventually the group was formed.

“It is definitely one of those things born from an idea someone had and the passion of those involved have allowed the organization to snowball to where it is today,” Bayuk said. “A big spark was also some commentary in a New York Times article about the PolyMet project and the Boundary Waters I believe the quote (from folks here in Duluth) characterized Iron Range Miners as beer swilling, four wheeling layabouts waiting for someone to come and give them a job. It was very condescending and really sums up how many of those in opposition groups feel about blue-collar workers.”

The following are answers to a series of questions provided to BIOBY for this feature in MINE.

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What is your title and how did you get involved? Do you have a background in mining or some other area and how does that background help BIOBY accomplish its mission?

Sistad: “I’m the Executive Director and I first heard of Better In Our Back Yard when I ran for a spot on the Duluth City Council in the fall of 2017. I loved the idea and mission behind Better In Our Back Yard and applied to work for BIOBY once a position opened up.

“I was born in Fosston, MN and mainly grew up in southern Minnesota. My background has always been tied to construction. My first couple of jobs in college was working construction as a laborer in both North Dakota and Minnesota and I was fortunate to learn the project management and estimating side of construction in my first job out of college with Parson Electric at their Duluth office. I didn’t know much about mining at the time, but it didn’t take long for me to realize how critical of a role the Iron Mining industry played for economic development in the region once I started learning how to estimate industrial projects at Parsons. Seeing that made me

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realize what PolyMet and copper-nickel mining could bring to the region.”

Doran: “I am currently a board member and past chair. A colleague forwarded me information when the group was just a concept and I attended an informal gathering to discuss how that transitioned into an organization with objectives. My background is in environmental permit compliance and ecology. I also grew up in Ely, mining brought my family to Ely (my dad was the project biologist for the Minnamax project), and I have spent my entire life exploring, fishing, hunting, and camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and Quetico Provincial Park. I bring to the organization a strong desire to help projects develop and operate that help advance the quality of life for my friends, family and neighbors.”

Bayuk: “I have been a board member since the early days of BIOBY. This past year, I have accepted the board chair position and was lucky enough the previous board chair and executive members left things off on an upswing. I actually have no background in mining or industry at all. My professional career has been spent in utility, and recently banking compliance.

“My family hails from the Iron Range, which is a pantheon of mining, but I grew up in Duluth. I would not be here if it were not for the mining industry. It doesn’t take a long read through history to see the interconnection the Duluth Ports and the Iron Range mines have. Over the years, I have watched the divide between the regions grow which is very troubling to me. Much of the divide is predicated on the false choice and inflammatory rhetoric of those opposed to industry and mining in our region. I have an older colleague who refers to these folks as BANANA people; Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.

“My voice in all of this seeks to help provide a reasonable path forward in producing the minerals we need for the future in an environmentally responsible way that works to the financial benefit of everyone in the Arrowhead.”

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What is the makeup of BIOBY? Is there a staff? A board? A membership? Where are you located?

Sistad: “It’s a one man band in terms of staff with myself being the Executive Director and there’s a board of eight professionals who volunteer their time and have a deep passion for the region and industry in Northern Minnesota. Our membership is currently approaching 40 companies who support responsible industry and stand to benefit from the success of the projects and industries BIOBY advocates for on a daily basis.”

Doran: “BIOBY is composed of a volunteer board of directors and most notably, our Executive Director, Ryan Sistad. Ryan was hired to advance the organization’s educational outreach objectives as well as provide opportunities for normally non-committal project supporters to lend a voice.”

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How were you (or whomever) able to get so many people in important positions involved in BIOBY? What attracts them to it?

Sistad: “There’s a lot of people in the region who see the potential that Northern Minnesota has and specifically the Iron Range have to offer in terms of future growth and opportunity. Better In Our Back Yard gives many individuals from all walks of life the opportunity to show why they support projects and industries in the region – especially when it comes to mining.”

Doran: “Passion for seeing development of socially responsible projects was the primary attractant for everyone involved with this organization.”

Bayuk: “The credit for this really goes to our Executive Director, Ryan Sistad. BIOBY recognized his passion and tenacity early on and he works tirelessly to garner the voices of those people to be involved with BIOBY. His networking skills are definitely unmatched.”

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What are some things the group advocates for and provide some examples of how you’ve been able to accomplish that so far?

Sistad: “The main projects and industries that we advocate for are Enbridge’s Line 3 Replacement Project, PolyMet’s NorthMet project, Twin Metals Minnesota’s proposed mine, and the success of the Union Building Trades in general. While advocating for these projects, we also like to show our support for the Iron Mining industry whenever there’s an opportunity to feature or share positive news stories.

“Over the past couple of years we’ve grown our following between LinkedIn and Facebook from roughly 900 total followers, to just over 9,000 followers. We’ve featured over 150 individuals ranging from newly hired interns and apprentices in the trades to congressmen and CEOs of companies.

“We’ve released hundreds of video testimonials on social media for various projects and industries. Our audience reach surpassed over 1 million total on our social media channels in 2020 alone and we’ve remained steady in our growth heading into the end of 2021. In May, Better In Our Back Yard made national headlines via Fox News and it was because of one of our social media posts. In July we hosted a networking event in which over 100 people attended and during this time we’ve been able to grow our membership from a couple of companies to nearly 40.”

Doran: “This group advocates, primarily through education, for responsible industrial development in northeastern Minnesota and beyond.”

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Do you have the support of Minnesota local and national elected officials?

Sistad: “Better In Our Back Yard has been fortunate to be able to work with Congressman Pete Stauber and former Congressman that include Rick Nolan, and Collin Peterson, along with many State Senators that include Senator Tom Bakk, Senator Dave Tomassoni, Senator Paul Gazelka, as well as a group of State Representatives that include Representative Dave Lislegard and Representative Spencer Igo, the majority of Saint Louis County Commissioners, multiple Iron Range Mayors and various City Councilors from different sides of the aisle. The fact that we’ve been able to work with Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike is one of the things I’m most proud of.”

Doran: “We have bipartisan support of our local, county, state and federal elected officials in the form of them giving us the opportunity to provide them a platform to publicly support these projects.”

Bayuk: “I’d like to note that BIOBY considers ourselves to be an industry advocacy group, not a political one. We do not endorse political candidates and our board makeup has political ideologies that cover much of the American Spectrum.”

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Why is a group like this important for the area and Minnesota?

Sistad: “It’s extremely important to have groups like Better In Our Back Yard, because the region needs organizations to combat the false narrative that you have to pick mining or the environment. We can have both. The Iron Range can have both a thriving Iron Mining and Copper-Nickel mining industries while still protecting our pristine environment.”

Doran: “Minnesota has significant resources to contribute to the green economy, a skilled and passionate workforce, and an inherent desire to develop these projects in a socially and environmentally responsible manner.”

Bayuk: “This is a big reason I was happy a group like BIOBY was formed. For years now, anti-industry/mining voices have dominated the conversation online. Their information tends to be on the extreme side for environmental causes and they focus more on theater more so than substance.

“BIOBY, mostly to Ryan’s credit, has grown our audience to several thousand followers online and we serve as a reason-based source of information aside from the inflammatory voices on the side of the opposition. This is important as our audience grows, more information to prove industry in MN is still the gold standard is sure to find its way to more people’s feeds and inboxes.”

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What are some examples of the opposition type groups that are out there and how does BIOBY counter that?

Sistad: “The first that come to mind are Duluth for Clean Water, Friends of the Boundary Waters, and Save the Boundary Waters. They’re very well funded and they’ve proven to be effective in the past. Better In Our Back Yard works to counter their efforts by providing a balance between promoting facts, but also sharing personal stories of individuals whose lives have benefited from the success of industry in general. The opposition will always argue factual information, but how do you argue with someone who’s able to pay the bills every month thanks to the mining industry?”

Doran: Part of why BIOBY was formed was in response to groups like Duluth For Clean Water, and the blatant misinformation they were spreading. Our counter has always been to remain consistent with providing sound data to support our messaging.

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Why are you personally involved?

Sistad: “I was born in Northern Minnesota and much of my immediate family, including my Dad have benefited from being a part of the union building trades. I have a deep passion for the success of the Union Building Trades in general and I believe that the Iron Range should be the fastest growing region in the Midwest. Over the past 40 years, communities in the area have seen heavy declines in population while the rest of Minnesota has grown by 25 percent. Much of this is due to bad policy decisions and whenever I see leaders and organizations across the state bash the very industries that made Iron Range communities flourish decades ago and professionals in the Union Building Trades employed is what constantly reminds me of why I’m in my role today. It’s easy to wake up for work knowing that there are people out there looking to sabotage the region’s way of life.”

Doran: “As I said, I’m from Ely, I care about my community, I care about the environment and I care about the future of our planet, and the role world-class nonferrous deposits can contribute to working towards a carbon-neutral future.”

Bayuk: “I look back on my own family’s history with Minnesota mining and industry and am extremely proud to come from such a stock. To watch the mining industry become a boogeyman for boutique environmentalism displayed by groups like Duluth For Clean Water, Friends of the Boundary Waters, and so many others became too much to sit on the sidelines anymore. When the opportunity arose for me to get involved, I jumped at it and have been grateful for every minute. It is amazing to see so many young (ish) professionals standing with responsible industry. The experience has been great.”

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How can someone get involved with BIOBY?

Sistad: “Attend BIOBY networking events or give personal testimonials on why you support a specific project or industry. We’ve featured hundreds of individuals on our social media channels via a graphic or video, and we don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. Shoot me an email anytime at ryan@betterinourbackyard.com to learn more.”

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For more information see www.betterinourbackyard.com.

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