Protecting Wilderness


The Boundary Waters is the most visited wilderness area in the country. It is unique among the 762 wilderness areas in the National Wilderness Preservation System as the only large lake-land ecosystem under wilderness designation. While wilderness designation provides the highest level of legal protection for the BWCAW, there are still threats to the health and vitality of the region.


Preserving the wilderness character of the BWCAW is important for the ecology of the Quetico-Superior ecosystem, as well as the long-term use and enjoyment of the wilderness. People travel to the BWCAW from around the world to experience its clear waters, wild horizons, and opportunities for adventure. Working to protect the BWCAW from threats like air pollution, invasive species, and development ensures quality habitat for wildlife and wilderness experiences for future generations.


Air Pollution

On a good day in the Boundary Waters, visibility can be up to 130 miles. On a hazy day, it can drop to 33 miles. But haze isn’t just an aesthetic issue. The fine particulates that cause haze can have serious impacts on human health.

Friends is part of a team of organizations pushing for stronger, science-based limits on the coal pollution that causes haze in the BWCAW and Minnesota’s national parks. In meetings with Minnesota Pollution Control Agency staff, testimony at public hearings, and in comment letters, we have provided science-based advocacy to help identify the complex contributors to regional haze and identify solutions that will have the greatest impact.

Wilderness Horizons

One of the wilderness characteristics Boundary Waters users cherish are wild horizons that are free from signs of human civilization. While many people travel the BWCAW to get away from the demands of constant communication, we know that reliable emergency communications are needed for public safety. Much of our work to protect the wild horizons of the BWCAW happens behind the scenes. We work with local residents and officials to provide alternatives early in the planning process.

Forest Management

While the BWCAW is governed by laws and principles that allow natural forces to rule, the surrounding forest is managed for multiple uses and multiple forms of recreation. Friends actively monitors and participates in project planning that affects the BWCAW and the surrounding ecosystem. The wilderness is not an island and water, air, noise and wildlife do not recognize human drawn lines on a map. The health of the wilderness depends on a surrounding forest that provides wildlife habitat, protects air and water quality, and is effectively managed to respond to climate change.

Invasive Species

Wilderness areas like the Boundary Waters are preserves that, generally, are the last places to be affected by invasive species. However, the BWCAW is not free from invasive species and it will continue to be challenged by new species that spread through human influence. Some of these non-native invasive species seem innocuous, like dandelions at a campsite. Others, like zebra mussels, could dramatically alter the ecology of the BWCAW.

Since BWCAW visitors are the primary way that non-native species are spread, our outreach focuses on educating visitors. We have partnered with the Superior National Forest and REI to publish a booklet to help BWCAW users identify non-native invasive species and to prevent their spread.

Edge of the Wilderness Fund

Friends’ Edge of the Wilderness Fund is used to protect lands bordering (or in proximity to) the BWCAW. Land is selected for the Edge of the Wilderness program with an eye toward protecting properties with specific characteristics, including:

  • Connecting canoe routes
  • Creating new canoe routes
  • Protecting special scenic, cultural, or ecological values
  • Preventing development or degradation of wilderness character

The Edge of the Wilderness Fund works by securing privately held properties when the owners wish to sell. Land is then held by the fund until the Superior National Forest is able to appropriate federal funds to purchase the property and maintain it in the public domain.


Donate – Your Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness membership support this important work and ensures that the BWCAW will remain healthy and vibrant for decades to come. Make a contribution today.

Receive Action Alerts – The most direct way you can help us with these advocacy initiatives to stay informed and take action as opportunities arise. To receive our email updates, sign up for our email list.

Track Non-Native Invasive SpeciesDownload and print a copy of Friends’ Invasive Species booklet and take it with you on your next hike in the Superior National Forest or trip into the BWCAW.