The State of the Boundary Waters Report


The State of the Boundary Waters Report

How healthy is the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness really? Have the laws that created protected status for this region made a positive impact since 1978? Will the Boundary Waters survive climate change, mining, invasive species and the myriad of issues faced today? This month the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness released an extensive and revealing report on ‘The State of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness’ to help illuminate some of these questions.

Research was compiled from a wide range of publications, scientific research, legislative and congressional documents, government reports, and writer Greg Seitz spent over a year distilling the information.

In October the 1978 act that created the BWCAW protections as we know them today reaches its 40th anniversary.  With this report, the Friends demonstrate how those critical protections still endure, and also inform on potential threats and what we can do. The report is part inspiration and part hard facts, and poses some key challenges to us as stewards of the wilderness area.

Download/view the PDF here.



graphic Total Temperature Change, 1895-2015Protected But Not Safe

Climate change is already a reality in the BWCAW. Scientists say that northern Minnesota’s winters are warming faster than other regions in the country. As the climate warms, the longer and hotter summers and disrupted weather patterns will push out boreal pines and the species that are so iconic in the region. At the same time, some deep cool lakes of the Boundary Waters may provide refuge for species that lose habitat due to a warming climate.

Mining poses an imminent threat to the wilderness – proposed sulfide mines and their pollution are anticipated to have direct impacts on the overall watershed, protected lakes, as well as resorts and cabins. Read More >


miningClean Water is Precious

The over 2,000 lakes in the Boundary Waters are still considered some of the cleanest in MN, they provide critical habitats but they are also vulnerable. The Friends call for increased monitoring and protection from the threats posed by mining, to protect the water used by fish, wildlife, indigenous communities and visitors.



wolfA Vital Wildlife Habitat

Moose. Wolf. Canada Lynx. Snowshoe hare. Black bear. Common Loon. Lake Trout. Cisco. Boreal Forest. Wild Rice. Iconic species that are familiar to wilderness area visitors face a myriad of threats, from climate change, water pollution, disease, legislative changes, invasive species, human impacts… we have had successes in studying and managing some high-visibility species within the BWCAW and there is call to extend the same research and conservation to less-visible species of special concern and to the birds and fish that are also a draw for tourists. Read More >


“The BWCAW contains a unique ecosystem and landscape found nowhere else on earth. Living organisms – plants, animals, and humans – are in constant interaction with nonliving environmental elements like air, water and soil. Factors such as fire, climate change, sulfide mining and non-native species can have powerful and profound effects on the Wilderness. This network of interactions in the Boundary Waters ecosystem makes its management, protection and restoration a complex task.”



Ecological Threats

Non-native species are invading the water, land, and forest of the BWCAW and are being spread by human travel and climate change. Water infestations such as Spiny waterflea and Starry stonewort can drive out native species, and invasive organisms such as earthworms and Garlic mustard have been found near trails and portages.

Air quality has been a major concern and emissions from nearby taconite plants have created noticeable haze in canoe country. The Friends and others are working to hold the State to its air quality commitments.

Fire might seem like a threat to the BWCAW, but the wilderness ecosystem developed with regular fire occurrences. In reality, a history of fire suppression added to the rising temperatures of climate change, pose a greater problem. The report asks whether the Forest Service should conduct more prescribed burns and monitoring of fire. Read More >


mgmplanA Place Where People and Nature Connect

‘Wilderness’ designation does not set aside this region for the use of plants and animals alone, and visitors to the Boundary Waters ecoregion are part of a vital regional economy. The BWCAW is the most visited wilderness area in the US, but detailed data is unclear about whether usage is decreasing or increasing. Research suggests that the people who do visit are an aging demographic, and largely white – there is much room for improvement in the age range and diversity of visitors.

The Friends’ report also calls attention to the importance of the Boundary Waters as an important place for indigenous Americans, and a continuing culture of tourism. Travelers in the area can create damage, but are also the strongest voices for its preservation. The balancing act between the potential negative impacts of human usage, and the importance of people visiting—and loving the Boundary Waters continues. Read More >



What We Can Do

The report concludes with a familiar call to action – we must preserve the health of the Boundary Waters through advocacy, stewardship, responding to threats quickly. The Friends call on us to keep the historical precedent of the citizens that put this wilderness aside, and to bring our attention to the threats of today.  In addition to mining and pollution there is also the complex issue of ‘School Trust Fund lands’ that requires public engagement. Involving our children and communities of color will ensure that the wilderness area is valued by a broadening – not shrinking voice.


The statistics provided in this report and the words of advocates past and present should light a fire under us — to pay attention, speak up, and work to preserve this wilderness.

All photographs and report excerpts courtesy The Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness.


Get Quetico Superior Wilderness News straight to your inbox

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap