Under federal and state law, logging, mining, and development are not allowed in the 1.1 million acres of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The wilderness is surrounded by nearly 3 million acres of non-wilderness in the Superior National Forest and is part of a broader ecosystem including tens of millions of acres of protected public land on either side of the international border.

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.

Friends staff analyze and comment on forest management proposals and when needed, call on outside experts to help us make the case for decisions that protect the Quetico-Superior ecosystem. When there are public comment periods affecting the wilderness and the surrounding ecosystem we help members of the public participate.

Land Exchanges

Friends is the lead organization working on land exchanges that affect the BWCAW. The largest of these proposals is a proposed land exchange involving state land in the wilderness.

Inside the BWCAW there are approximately 86,000 acres of state land. Some have proposed to exchange all of this state land for federal land outside of the wilderness – effectively shrinking the Superior National Forest. We believe that a significant part of this state land should be purchased by the federal government. In 2011, we were part of a stakeholder group that crafted a reasonable compromise – 2/3 of the land should be purchased, and 1/3 should be exchanged. The Minnesota Legislature approved this approach overwhelmingly, but the compromise has struggled to get federal funding to achieve that goal.

In 2015, we organized and gathered nearly 25,000 signatures on a petition opposing a version of the Boundary Waters School Trust land exchange that did not include a significant purchase component. That public outcry brought all parties to the table, and we continue to work with the Superior National Forest and the State of Minnesota to achieve the goal of 2/3 purchase and 1/3 exchange. We’ve participated alongside the Superior National Forest as they’ve sought funding to meet their end of this compromise solution.

In the near future, we expect the publication of an environmental impact statement for an exchange and will again be at the forefront to educate the public and work toward a solution that protect the BWCAW.

Forest Management

The Superior National Forest is a dynamic forest ecosystem. Fire, storm damage, and disease continue to reshape the forest and the communities that depend on it. The challenge of a changing climate and the impacts on plant and animal life makes it even more critical to use the best science available to manage the Superior National Forest.

While the wilderness is governed by laws and principles that emphasize letting natural forces rule, the surrounding forest is managed for multiple uses and multiple forms of recreation. The Friends actively engages with the managers of the Superior National Forest and provides input and comments on proposals for logging, road and trail building, and other projects that could impact the wilderness.

There are also roadless areas in the Superior National Forest that are outside of the wilderness boundary. These areas should be managed to maintain their roadless character, and Friends engages with the Superior National Forest to ensure that they are.

For an example, see our 2016 comments on the Hi Lo Project, a forest management project that involves logging, road building, and quarrying in the area near the Echo Trail.