BWCAW Past and Present

What is Wilderness?

On September 3, 1964 The Wilderness Act was signed into law. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was also designated with the passing of this Act. The Wilderness Act provided a legal definition of wilderness, created the National Wilderness Preservation System, established a process to be used
for designating wilderness areas, and set provisions for the use of
wilderness areas. The intent of the Wilderness Act was to
establish wilderness areas “for the use and enjoyment of the
American people in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use and enjoyment as wilderness...” Legal wilderness, “in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape,” is “recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a
visitor who does not remain.” Four federal agencies
manage designated Wilderness in the United States: National Park Service, the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Fish and Wildlife Service.


A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.
– Edward Abbey

Why Wilderness?

When we talk about wilderness it is important to differentiate when we are talking about wilderness based on our personal definition,
wilderness as defined by non-federal land managers, and federally designated wilderness. There are now 680 federally-designated
wilderness areas nationwide with a total of
106,619,208 acres. These areas provide multiple benefits including:

  • Protects watersheds and plays an important role in oxygen production, CO2 absorption, soil building, biomass decomposition, insect regulation, and filtering air pollution.
  • Is a natural lab in which we can study natural processes. Society can benefit from this scientific research as it enlarges our understanding of the world and our roles in it.
  • Holds educational and training value for schools and universities. It is an important classroom for learning primitive outdoor skills such as orienteering, survival, mountaineering and stock packing.
  • Has aesthetic value appreciated through intimate contact with the environment where people can experience sights, sounds and feelings they are unable to experience in other less natural settings.
  • Holds, for some, philosophical and religious value. To them wilderness is a place with natural cathedrals where people can celebrate the creative forces behind life.
  • Has an intrinsic value hypothesizing that plants, animals, inanimate objects and the ecosystems that they inhabit, have rights of their own to exist




(top) Lake Insula 1921. Photo taken by Arthur Carhart. Courtesy Superior National Forest Collection.
(bottom) Clear Lake, 1921. Courtesy Superior National Forest Collection


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