20th Century, Environment, History

Wilderness Act of 1964 establishes the Boundary Waters Canoe Area

Looking back at what led to the 1978 BWCA Wilderness Act. virginiamn.com

1964
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area, named in 1958, gains new protections in the federal Wilderness Act. Amid conflict between recreationists and conservationists, more than one million acres of forests, lakes, and rivers are set aside as a federally managed wilderness. *

In 1909, a vast wilderness some 150 miles long and 1.2 million deep of forest
straddled the border of Minnesota and Ontario. President Theodore Roosevelt had just claimed it as the Superior National Forest and Superior Game Refuge which removed it from grasp of developers; usually logging or mining interests. By 1938, this area’s moniker became the Superior Roadless and Primitive Area which mostly meant that boats, trucks, snowmobiles, planes and permanent roads were curtailed. Within twenty more years in 1958, the United States Forest Service officially renamed and repurposed the Superior Roadless Area to the even more pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area. It would take another 6 years for this new area to be codified and defined by Federal law was wilderness.

Over half a century ago, our Federal government saw the pressure placed on public lands through economic development and population growth and sounded the alarm. What shall we do to protect areas from commoditization, and foster nature to remain wild? According to the United States Department of Justice:

“Congress passed the 1964 Wilderness Act in order to preserve and protect certain lands “in their natural condition” and thus “secure for present and future generations the benefits of wilderness.” 11 U.S.C. § 1131(a).” **

So, what are the tangible ramifications of these two generations of preservation?
For starters, it contains “the largest contiguous areas of uncut forest remaining in the eastern United States.” **** Additionally, the area boasts 1170 lakes, about 1200 miles of canoe routes, and approximately 2000 specified campsites. About 160,000 visitors interact with this wilderness each year. *****

Now we turn to You, Lord of the Lakes, and meditate with You. What do You wish to underscore about the Wilderness Act and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area? Can we watch this era in history with You?

As a first reflection, we establish this baseline truth from King David; “The earth is the LORD’s, and the fullness thereof, the world and all who dwell therein.” Psalm 24:1 This establishes You as the Sovereign of this planet, and all living things within it including humankind. What does that mean in this context, Sovereign One?

Though some of our peoples may have acknowledged You as the first holder of the deed, our state already had established laws surrounding property rights and obligations. We see the Superior National Forest, motivated at the Federal rather than the local level, removed from Minnesota and Minnesotans their rights to development and the use of its primary commodities: mining, timber, and water. The next circle drawn around this property established it as a Primitive Area; but granted that its neighbors and inhabitants could use basic machinery and vehicles for transportation and safety.
We see the BWCA/Wilderness Act as a third redefinition of this property which disallows even humble outboard motors and snowmobiles.

So we see this source of agreement and conflict in 1964; users agreed that setting aside this land is wisdom, but disagreed strongly on what wilderness looked like. To illustrate, imagine that your family lived remotely on one of these lakes. It is likely, almost a given, that your family loves solitude and nature because that is where you have chosen to live. How is your safety affected, should an injury occur, if one cannot use an outboard motor? Should your child bleed out from an axe wound because canoeists are irritated by waves and even the noise of a motor? Shall original homesteaders be refused the use of a snowmobile and cargo sled to bring staples from town because it breaks the silence of the forest?

We confess these three rungs of conflict and judgment to You today in the finalization of the Wilderness Act of 1964 and the establishment of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, dear Father.
We have judged each others ability to utilize the land You have stewarded to this generation. In doing so, have we dismissed and judged Your intentions for this land?
We have judged each others heart in the second rung of preservation, though agreed in intent, and greatly curtailed the access to these lands by roads. In doing so, did we judge Your Children whose physical limitations do not allow them to hike or canoe from enjoying this property?
We have disagreed strongly over the limited use of an outboard motor or snowmobile in winter on this specific geography. In so doing, did we offend You? Did we deny our brothers and sisters a modicum of connectivity and safety for the sake of pristine silence for hikers and canoeists?

We are ashamed of the irony before You; we created a primitive area, but deny those most reliant on this land for survival their primal rights. Surely, these accrued offenses were not what Howard Zahniser had in mind when he wrote the Wilderness Act of 1964! We agreed to set aside this land, but have so little empathy set aside for those who oppose us internally. Will You heal these bitter roots that have and still embroil us in conflict over our National and State Parks? Will You lift these judgments up, out, and onto the Cross of Christ? Come and heal our past, free our present, and bless our futures to align with the land use intended in Your Economy and Dominion. Amen.

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3 thoughts on “Wilderness Act of 1964 establishes the Boundary Waters Canoe Area

  1. I am going into the BWCAW next week with a group. Trip #65 for me. Bitter sweet as I love the wilderness but I also met Knife Lake Dorthy on her island and heard her story. I know people who had their cabins and businesses confiscated for very little money and bitterness still exists in those local families. I have met a man my age who goes in 12 portages alone each year to visit where he grew up and his dad died on an island as it was being taken. A priceless wilderness area built on many tears.

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