Fact Sheets #1 & 2
Fact Sheet #1
Congressman Oberstar's BWCA Wilderness
Degradation Bill, HR-3297
On April 23, 1996, Congressman James Oberstar (D-MN) launched a major new
assault on the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) Wilderness when he introduced
HR 3297, a bill that seeks to degrade, if not destroy, the wilderness character
of the million-acre Boundary Waters, the nation's most popular wilderness.
HR-3297 seeks to gut the 1978 BWCA Wilderness Act, which added protections to
the wilderness and which Congressman Oberstar vociferously opposed. Among the
most destructive provisions of HR-3297 are:
- Truck Portages. Oberstar's bill would allow trucks, jeeps, and other
motor vehicles to haul boats across maintained roads within the wilderness.
Roads and motor vehicles are not allowed in federal wilderness areas as part
of the National Wilderness Preservation System. The 1978 BWCAW law terminated
the use of trucks and roads in wilderness in accordance with these wilderness
principles after 1984, but the U.S. Forest Service refused to implement this
provision. Wilderness conservation organizations successfully asked the
federal courts to force compliance with the law, and the portages —while
still open to nonmotorized traffic— were closed to motor vehicles in 1992.
- Opening Lakes to Motorboats. HR 3297 would open four lakes completely
to motorboat use within the wilderness: Birch Lake, Basswood Lake, Lac La
Croix, and Saganaga Lake. All four of these lakes lie on the international
border. The Canadian sides of Birch and Basswood Lakes are closed completely
to motors, and Birch Lake currently allows no motor use whatsoever. Oberstar's
legislation would also eliminate the phase-out of motorboat use on most of
Seagull Lake, scheduled under the 1978 law to take effect in 1999. Oberstar's
bill would increase the motorized use of the wilderness from 24% of the water
surface area to 38%, a dramatic increase for an area that is already the most
motorized wilderness in the nation.
- Creating a Local Control Management Council. HR-3297 would establish a
BWCAW Intergovernmental Council to wrest control of this national treasure
from the U.S. Forest Service to local pro-motor advocates. The Council would
block public participation with the Forest Service on BWCAW matters, deny
representation on the Council to the general public and anyone outside of
Minnesota, and be dominated by two local state legislators, both of whom
recently testified of their support for motorboat and snowmobile use far
beyond what Oberstar currently proposes. This Council would have the
authority to dictate to the Secretary of Agriculture how the wilderness should
- Evading Motor Quotas. The Oberstar bill would re-define the term
"guest" in order to allow motorboat users to evade the quotas and
restrictions placed on such use by the 1978 law and the careful professional
regulations developed by the Forest Service.
Oberstar's legislation, HR-3297, would have devastating impacts on the BWCA
Wilderness and must be strenuously opposed. Rather than weaken the wilderness,
as HR-3297 would do, the nation's most loved wilderness should be given
additional wilderness protections.
Terrible Aspects of Oberstar's BWCA Wilderness
Intergovernmental Council, HR 3297
Fact Sheet #2
On April 23, 1996, Congressman James Oberstar (D-MN) introduced HR-3297, a
bill to degrade the million acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) Wilderness in
northeastern Minnesota. Among many other provisions designed to degrade and
destroy the wilderness status of the BWCAW, HR-3297 would establish a Boundary
Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Intergovernmental Council to seize control of this
federally- managed area and place management authority of the nation's most
popular wilderness in the hands of local officials who have gone on record as
wanting to radically motorize vast portions of the BWCA Wilderness. The terrible
aspects of this Council include:
- This Council is unprecedented. No other unit in the National
Wilderness Preservation System has such a local control council that takes
management authority away from the professional wilderness managers.
- This Council would be costly. The council members would be paid per
diem expenses, travel, and administration, plus would require at least one if
not two full-time U.S. Forest Service employees to staff it.
- This Council is not needed. The U.S. Forest Service already has a host
of opportunities for public involvement through the requirements of the
National Environmental Policy Act and other federal laws. Local residents
already have easy access to local U.S. Forest Service offices in Duluth, Cook,
Ely, Tofte, Virginia, and Grand Marais. The Forest Service routinely requests
local participation in virtually every decision it makes.
- This Council would inhibit public participation, not encourage it.
This Council will block public participation with the U.S. Forest Service. The
Council would act as an impediment to public participation by requiring local
residents as well as members of the general public to deal with the Council on
management issues before the Council, in turn, passes those issues on to the
- This Council is unfairly unrepresentative. The BWCA Wilderness is
owned and loved by people all over the nation. No members of the general
public are allowed representation on the Council, no representatives of
conservation organizations are permitted, and the Council completely denies
representation for all the people in the other 49 states who own and love the
- This Council would be dominated by strident pro-motor state legislators.
State Senator Doug Johnson and State Representative Tom Bakk would dominate
this council, both of whom testified at congressional field hearings in August
1995 of their support for dramatic increases for motorboat and snowmobile use
within the wilderness. Johnson and Bakk are both well-known for their
intimidating and threatening styles, sure to influence the representatives of
state agencies on the Council who depend on the Legislature for funding.
Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness
1313 Fifth Street SE, Suite 329
Minneapolis, MN 55414