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Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness logo


  • Logging of tall pines begins


  • The 1897 Organic Act gave the President power to modify executive orders regarding national forests.


  • June 30, 1902, Commissioner of the General Land Office withdrew 500,000 acres of forest in Lake and Cook Counties from entry (659,700 more acres withdrawn in 1905-08)


  • February 13, 1909, in Proclamation 848, President Theodore Roosevelt designates the withdrawn area the "Superior National Forest" at 1,400,000 acres. (It does not include all of the current BWCA.)

  • April 1, 1909, Ontario set aside 1,148,000 acres as the Quetico Forest and Game Reserve

  • All minerals under lakes and streams declared State property.


  • The Weeks Act, of 3/1/1911, makes possible land acquisition within designated areas.


  • Presidential Proclamation No 1215 added about 380,000 acres to the Forest.


  • Act passed authorizing Forest Service (USFS) to grant temporary occupancy in National Forests of parcels of less than 80 acres in size for a maximum of 30 years.


  • Forest Service begins to prepare first plan for Superior National Forest (SNF) usage.


  • Act passed authorizing Secretary of Interior to trade lands for consolidation purposes.

  • 1922-26 Local chamber of commerce and the Forest Service plan to build "a road to every lake."  Much of the roads were defeated, but Fernberg Road and Echo Trail were built.  The Gunflint Trail was also extended. In 1926 Agriculture Secretary William Jardine issued a proclamation establishing 640,000 acres wilderness area with no roads, only the second such designation in the nation.

1925 - 1940

  • Timber baron Edward Wellington Backus begins battle to build a series of dams along the international border for hydroelectric power, after having logged the shoreline timber.


  • President Calvin Coolidge issued the third proclamation (#1800) enlarging the Superior National Forest, adding approximately 360,000 acres.


  • The Shipstead-Newton-Nolan Act prohibited logging within 400 feet of shorelines and the alteration of natural water levels

  • The Knutson-Vandenberg Act allowed USFS to levy charges on timber sales

  • 1,000,000 acres set aside as the Superior Primitive Area by Congress

  • From 1930-41, Roosevelt's CCC and other groups build portages.  There were 15 CCC camps in the SNF, each with up to 200 men.


  • June 30, 1934.  Roosevelt creates Quetico-Superior Committee (Executive Order No. 6783)


  • Superior Roadless Primitive Area (SRPA) established with boundaries similar to present BWCA.


  • No cut zone established to preserve 362,000 acres of large pine near border

  • 1941-48 Logging in SRPA and its perimeter.  Roads and railroads built.


  • President Truman banned flying over the SRPA

  • The Thye-Blatnick Act began acquisition of resorts, cabins and private lands within future BWCA


  • Bill passed making fly-ins illegal on state controlled waters.



  • Flying was banned over the quetico


  • Superior Roadless Area becomes Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA).


  • The Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act established multiple use concept in National Forests and promoted logging


  • September 3, 1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Wilderness Act in the White House Rose Garden designating 9 million acres as wilderness

  • Forest Service Supervisor Neff decrees that snowmobiles are winter motor boats and thus may use same routes as motor boats.

  • 1964-65 Selke Committee issues 13 Directives increasing no-cut areas, limiting motorboats and snowmobiles, and establishes visitor registration


  • Citizens demonstrate against Directive in Ely with a parade of logging trucks.


  • Copper-Nickel prospecting increases outside and within BWCA.


  • The National Environmental Policy Act encourages productive harmony between man and his environment.


  • Cans and bottles prohibited in BWCAW. The move was expected to reduce refuse by 360,000 pounds, saving $90,000 per year on clean up.


  • President Richard Nixon issues Executive Order prohibiting use of snowmobiles and recreational vehicles in wilderness areas (the BWCA was not a designated Wilderness Area at this time).


  • Mining prohibited in BWCA


  • 8th District Court of Appeals reverses Neville decision.  Mining again permissible.


  • Logging of virgin timber banned in BWCA.


  • Oberstar introduces new BWCA bill including extensive NRA concept which excludes 400,000 acres from wilderness.


  • Legislature bans mining on waters of BWCA and state lands.

  • 8th District Court of Appeals reverses 1975 Lord decision, thus permitting virgin timber logging.

  • Snowmobiling banned and motor restrictions set in the BWCA.

  • Fraser introduces bill in U.S. House of Representatives to give BWCA full wilderness status.


  • October 21 - The BWCA Wilderness Act was passed. This limited the number of motorized lakes to 16 in 1984. By 1999, only 14 lakes, totaling about 24% of the area's water acreage, would be open to motorized use. Designation changed to a wilderness area (BWCAW).


  • Challenge to the BWCA Wilderness Act (Public Law 95-495) by the State of Minnesota and others upheld by Eight District Court; U. S. Supreme Court refused to review this opinion in 1982


  • Congress appropriates $84 million for state and federal implementations of BWCAW Act


  • Court decisions require motorized portages to be closed as stipulated by 1978 Act


  • Minnesota passes law governing maintenance of campsites on state land in the BWCAW


  • BWCAW Management Plan approved by Superior National Forest; appealed and upheld by 8th United States District Court


  • Federal mediation process over motor portages as sought by U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone; no consensus


  • Congress allows two motorized portages to continue through a rider on transportation bill

  • Recreational Fee Demonstration Program (user fee) starts; fees applied to BWCAW management


  • BWCAW reappraised under Thye-Blatnik Act; yearly payment to counties $2.1 million

  • July 4th Blowdown affects 300,000 BWCAW acres with 32 percent extensively damaged