Canoe area should remain nature’s domain

By Brian

Imagine yourself walking on a summer morning in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness with a cool breeze and the smell of jack pine in the air. Take a look at the beautiful lake just outside your tent and listen for a minute. What do you hear? The waves lap up against the rocky shore. A loon calls from across the lake. A Jet Ski throttles past your campsite. I guess that last one wrecked it, didn’t it? But read on. Gas engines sightings could soon be as frequent as those of moose, bald eagles and loons in the Boundary Waters.
For those of you not familiar with the BWCA, it is a densely forested region in northeastern Minnesota scattered with lakes and wildlife. The Boundary Waters accounts for more than 20 percent of the designated wilderness land in the contiguous United States and sees more than 2,000 canoeists, backpackers, and cross country skiers each year. In 1978, the Boundary Waters was declared wilderness in an effort to keep the human presence to a minimum. This pronounced that solitude and primitive recreation should rule in this wilderness where humans themselves are visitors, rather than owners. A realization of this notion of wilderness has kept the Boundary Waters a peaceful destination for outdoor enthusiasts young and old, scout camps, church groups, and ski clubs. For this reason the BWCA has been dubbed the “crown jewel of Minnesota.”
Two bills being introduced by Sen. Rod Grams (R-Minn.) and Rep. Jim Oberstar (DFL-Minn.) challenge this notion of wilderness. Last year the two congressmen made attempts to increase the range of trucks and gasoline-powered watercraft in the Boundary Waters. Oberstar’s latest bill threatens to open up many portages to trucks and allow unrestricted motor use on several lakes. And after the defeat of a proposal tacked on to the water conservation bill, Grams vowed revenge on his opponents, and has announced that he will attempt to attach a similar proposal within the next few weeks.
Grams’ sole argument for relaxation of motor restrictions is the hope for an increase in use, but more gas engines will not necessarily increase tourism. For example, usage of Brule Lake in the Boundary Waters increased by 53 percent when motor use was terminated, and 51 percent of those surveyed in a recent poll by the Friends of the Boundary Waters said that they would be less likely to visit the area if motor restrictions were lifted. And why not? These restrictions are one of the main features that set the Boundary Waters aside from the more than 12,000 motorized lakes in Minnesota.
The Boundary Waters is one of the few remaining sanctuaries where humans can almost completely escape the stress and noise of today’s technology. If BWCA lakes are not protected from this technology, the massive wilderness area will risk much of its natural beauty and fragile ecological balance.
Where will this push for decreases in wilderness end, you might ask. Well, you may be part of the answer. As Minnesotans, we are all able to help protect the BWCA. If you have ever taken a trip to the Boundary Waters, are proud of this area, or would like to the support the BWCA in any way, please help. You can do so by taking ten minutes to call or write your district’s congressmen, Sen. Rod Grams (427-5921) and Sen. Paul Wellstone (645-0323). Tell them to keep it wild, and to vote against any legislation which would open the Boundary Waters to give further access to trucks and motors. Keep up to date on the issues and be sure to sign the MPIRG petition on February 19th to protect the Boundary Waters. If we collect our efforts, we can preserve and enjoy Minnesota’s crown jewel.
Beaubien and Engel are members of the MPIRG Environmental Task Force.