Boundary Waters Chronology:
By Stephen Wilbers
million years ago:
The granite bedrock of the
Canadian Shield, which underlies northeastern North America and whose
dramatic outcroppings characterize the landscape of the boundary waters
region, is formed during the Precambrian period.
Earth's climate cools by several
degrees during the Pleistocene epoch, creating the most recent Ice Age.
Sea levels drop by as much as 330 feet, and snow in the Hudson Bay region no
longer melts, creating the fourth glacier to cover the area. Ice up to two
miles thick expands southward at the rate of one inch to ten feet per day,
scraping and gouging and reshaping the landscape of the boundary waters region
under its tremendous weight.
30,000 or more
According to the Pre-Clovis
Hypothesis of archaeology, the first humans to inhabit North America
arrive. They arrive earlier than the humans who migrated across Beringia, or
the Bering Land Bridge, from Siberia to Alaska.
According to the Clovis Hypothesis
(named after a site in Clovis, New Mexico, containing evidence of human
habitation), the first humans to inhabit North America cross the Bering
Strait on Beringia, the Bering Land Bridge, and migrate south along the west
coast of North America.
15,000 years ago:
The most recent of four glaciers
begins to retreat from northern Minnesota and the Hudson Bay area. Two and
a half million years earlier when this immense glacier moved across the
boundary waters landscape from the northeast, it gouged out easily fractured
rock in lowland areas. Now, as the glacier melts, it deposits sand, silt, and
gravel within the trough it had excavated. The deposits create barriers
enclosing a series of deep basins along drainageways. The result: chains of
lakes interconnected by small streams.
White pine begins to migrate
north and west from its glacial refuge in the Appalachian Mountains.
The first humans migrate into the
boundary waters region, including the Clovis people of the Paleoindian
Tradition, also called the Big Game Hunters. They hunt woolly mammoths,
mastodons, giant ground sloths, muskoxen, camels, horses, giant beavers, giant
bison, saber-tooth tigers, and other megafauna or large Ice Age mammals.
Around 11,000 years
Hunting pressure and a warming
climate lead to the extinction of many large Ice Age mammals.
6,500 years ago:
White pine, which for the
past 7,000 years or so has been migrating northward from its glacial refuge in
Appalachia, reaches the boundary waters region.
Old Copper people inhabit the
boundary waters region. They make tools, implements, and weapons from copper
mined on Isle Royale and possibly near present-day Minong, Wisconsin, and they
establish canoe routes that are still used today.
Indians of the Woodland
Tradition, so named because they depend on forest products for their
survival – hunting, fishing, and gathering food, including wild rice – are the
predominant culture in the boundary waters region. The Woodland Tradition
includes Indians of the Laurel and the Blackduck Cultures.
Birch-bark canoes replace
dugout canoes, increasing the mobility of the boundary waters inhabitants.
Dakota Indians migrate into
the region from the south. During the 1600s, they become the dominant culture
in all of Minnesota except the extreme northern border region. The estimated
population of Native Americans in the Great Lakes region is between 60,000 and
Some 400 pictographs are
painted by Ojibwe artists on granite cliffs and outcroppings across the
Canadian Shield, usually located on lake shores a few feet above the
high-water line. There are 5 or 6 sites in what is now the Boundary Waters
Canoe Area Wilderness and about 25 sites in Quetico Provincial Park. Some
pictographs may have been painted as recently as 1900, but most are probably
older. Painted with a mixture of red ochre and rendered sturgeon skeleton and
possibly sturgeon oil or bear fat, the images have bonded with the rock on a
molecular level and are extremely durable. They have been variously
interpreted as hunting stories, legends, or spiritual accounts of
coming-of-age dream quests.
Climatic cooling creates a moister weather
pattern known as the "Little Ice Age," which favors the growth of
boreal spruces and jack pine over white and red pine.
Minnesota is inhabited by the Cree in
northeast Minnesota, the Assiniboin (a branch of the Sioux Nation) in
northwest Minnesota, the Cheyenne on the Lower Red River, the
Santee or Eastern Dakota in east central Minnesota, the Yankton
from Leech Lake to the Minnesota River, the Dakota or Sioux in west
central Minnesota, and the Iowa and Oto in south Minnesota.
During this time the
Northern or Salteaux Ojibwe (one of four groups of Ojibwe) fleeing west
from the Iroquois migrate into the boundary waters region and displace the
Dakota as the dominant culture.
Médart Chouart (the Sieur des
Groseilliers) and Pierre Esprit Radisson explore the North Shore of
Lake Superior and perhaps follow an Indian canoe and portage route from Lake
Superior west to Rainy Lake and the Winnipeg River.
Hudson's Bay Company is formed and
licensed to trade in all of northern North America.
The Lake Superior region, including Minnesota,
is annexed by France, which lays claim to all of the interior of North
Jacques de Noyon travels the canoe route
from Lake Superior and winters over on the Ouchichiq River in the Rainy Lake
area, becoming the first white man to explore the entire length of the
Minnesota-Ontario boundary waters region.
During "the Voyageurs era," fur traders
canoe the lakes and portage routes of the boundary waters region transporting
furs for French and British fur companies.
France surrenders many of its North American
claims to England, including the Hudson Bay region, under the Treaty of
French-Canadian explorer Pierre Gaultier
deVarennes, Sieur de la Vérendrye, begins his explorations beyond Grand
Portage. He is the last of the important French explorers in North America.
The war between the British and the French (the
French and Indian War, also called the Seven Years War) ends with the
signing of Treaty of Paris, ceding control of the region from the French to
The North West Company is organized by
British traders with its headquarters in Montreal. For the next two decades
the fur trade using the canoe route along the present international border is
at its peak.
A smallpox epidemic decimates Indian
populations in the lakes region and elsewhere in North America.
With the signing of the Treaty of Paris
at the conclusion of the American Revolutionary War, the British surrender
control over lands west of the Appalachian mountains, and the United States
gains sovereignty over the southern Great Lakes region.
travels the boundary waters region en route to the far northwest, where he
"discovers" the Mackenzie River.
David Thompson, an astronomer and
map-maker, joins the North West Company, visits the boundary waters region,
and produces the first good maps of the area.
Felt hats made from beaver fur go out of
style in Europe and are replaced by silk hats, ending a fashion that lasted
300 years. By this time, the beaver population in the boundary
waters region is decimated. It doesn't fully recover for 150 years.
The present international boundary through
canoe country is established by the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, signed by
the United States and Great Britain.
A bounty system for
wolves is established in Minnesota, offering $3 per dead animal.
Seven chiefs of the Chippewa Indian Peace
Commission travel to Washington, D.C., to sign the
Treaty of LaPointe, ceding the entire Arrowhead region to the United
States government and opening it to exploration and development by white
settlers. In return, small reservations for the Ojibwe of Lake Superior are
created at Grand Portage, Fond du Lac, and Nett Lake, and they are promised
monetary payments for 20 years, annual food supplies, 80 acres of land to each
head of family, fishnets, guns and ammunition, agricultural teachers, and a
blacksmith for each reservation.
Extreme drought results in the biggest
forest fires in centuries, burning several hundred square miles, or
400,000 acres (an area comparable to the largest of the 1988 Yellowstone
fires). Nearly half of the present Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
burns, including 434 square miles of forest between the Isabella River and
Saganaga Lake, and 176 square miles of forest south of Lac La Croix. Earlier
major fires occurred in 1595, 1681, 1692, 1727, 1755-59, 1796, 1801, 1822, and
1824, creating conditions for natural forest regeneration. Before the
unnatural disturbances of logging and fire-suppression management in the late
nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this natural cycle of fire-mediated forest
renewal or "patch turnover" is estimated to have affected about three-quarters
of the landscape of the boundary waters region every 50 to 100 years,
resulting in a mosaic of even-age stands.
The first part of the Gunflint Trail is
laid out from Grand Marais to the eastern end of Rove Lake, where a trading
post is established and operated in the 1870s and 1880s by Henry Mayhew. The
trail follows an overland footpath that has been used by the native Ojibwe for
hundreds of years. Around 1891-93 the trail is further extended from Hungry
Jack Lake to Poplar Lake, Gunflint Lake, and the Cross River. Over the decades
the trail is improved from a primitive dirt road to a gravel road, and it is
widened for horse-drawn wagons and eventually for automobiles. Today the
Gunflint Trail is a 63-mile-long paved highway with a 50-mile-an-hour speed
limit providing access to numerous resorts and entry points to the Boundary
Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It crosses the Laurentian Divide at Birch Lake,
with water to the east flowing eastward and southward to Lake Superior, and
water to the west flowing northward to Hudson Bay. The Gunflint Trail takes
its name from Gunflint Lake, a body of water known to the French fur traders
as Lac des Pierres à Fusil, because they used the flint-like rock found
along its shore in their flintlock rifles.
Major forest fires, second in size in
recent history only to the 1863-64 fires, burn more than 300 square miles of
forest in the boundary waters area, affecting an area from Sawbill, Alton, and
Kawishiwi lakes in the south to Alice, Ogishkemuncie, Tuscarora, and Cherokee
lakes in the north.
February 6, explorer, photographer, and
Ernest "Ober" Oberholtzer is born in
The railroad reaches the town of Ely,
beginning a new era of mining, settlement, and logging in the region.
Ely receives its charter as a city. The
city is named after Samuel P. Ely, who played a prominent role in developing
mining interests in the area.
Major forest fires burn 203 square miles
of forest in the western boundary waters around La Croix Boulder Bay and
Crooked Lake, as well as other smaller areas, including the forest around
Alton, Sawbill, and Kelly lakes.
Long-time boundary waters area resident
Benny Ambrose is born.
October 26, conservationist and writer
Calvin Rutstrum is born.
Red and white pine are logged in the boundary
waters area during "the big-pine logging era," with the first
significant logging occurring in the Trout Lake area north of Lake Vermilion.
Red pine is taken principally for timbers used in mining, and white pine
principally for lumber.
Around this time what is now called the
Springdale Road is constructed from Tofte, where settlers arrived in 1893, to
a settlement named Springdale, a couple of miles inland from Lake Superior.
The first mile of the Springdale Road becomes the first segment of the
Sawbill Trail when construction of the trail begins in the 1920s.
April 4, canoe outfitter, educator,
conservationist, wilderness advocate, and writer Sigurd Olson is born.
Beaver, fisher, marten, and
wolverine have all but vanished from the boundary waters area, probably as
a result of trapping. The beaver population begins to recover in the 1920s and
does not fully reestablish itself until the 1970s. The fisher population
begins to recover in the 1950s, the marten in the 1970s. The wolverine is
The moose population declines. It does
not begin to recover significantly until the 1950s.
April 29, canoe guide and wilderness
preservationist William "Bill" Magie is born.
June 30, 500,000
acres of public domain in Lake and Cook Counties in northeastern Minnesota,
much of which is now part of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, are
set aside from logging, mining, and homesteading by Minnesota's Forestry
Commissioner Christopher Andrews.
At the request of the Minnesota Forestry Board,
Congress grants 20,000 acres to the State for the Burntside Forest Reserve.
As stated in the 1905 Minnesota Forestry Commissioners Report, "State
Forest Reserves should be devoted not alone to the business of raising timber,
but to the pleasure of all the people."
May 6, long-time boundary waters resident
Dorothy Molter is born.
With financing from
Edward Wellington Backus, the dam at Koochiching, now
International Falls, is completed to provide waterpower for Backus's Minnesota
and Ontario Paper Company. The dam is planned as the first in a series of dams
that would affect parts of present-day Superior National Forest, Voyageurs
National Park, Quetico Provincial Park, and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area
Quetico Provincial Forest Reserve is created by the government of Ontario,
setting aside one million acres as a forest and game preserve. Weeks later the
Superior National Forest is created as a reciprocal act when President
Theodore Roosevelt signs Proclamation 848, setting aside one million acres on
the U.S. side of the border.
Exceptional drought results in major forest
fires burning some 80 square miles of forest in a number of areas south of
Saganaga Lake and at the western end of the Gunflint Trail, the last time
major fires burn virgin forests in the boundary waters area before "the
Major fires are suppressed in the boundary
waters area during "the fire-suppression period,"
resulting in unintended consequences. Fire suppression interferes with the
natural cycle of fires that create new stands of forests, curtails periodic
elimination of the tree-killing spruce budworm, and causes a buildup of dead
trees in forest understories. These unnaturally high fuel loads increase the
likelihood of super hot fires that scorch the thin topsoil of the boundary
waters area, killing organic matter and the seeds of trees such as jack pine,
black spruce, and red pine, which normally reestablish themselves rapidly
June 26-November 5,
Ernest "Ober" Oberholtzer
and Indian guide Billy Magee travel 2,000 miles by canoe from Winnipeg to
Hudson Bay and back, exploring an unmapped territory that hasn't been visited
by a white man since Samuel Hearne traveled through the area in 1770. At the
end of their trip, fighting freezing temperatures and frequent snow, they
paddle just ahead of the onset of the sub-Arctic winter, often traveling
fourteen hours a day. The extraordinary four-month journey makes Oberholtzer
and Magee legendary figures among outdoors people.
sickness," an ailment causing moose to lose their normal fear of humans,
to have a droopy ear, and to walk in circles or show other signs of
disorientation, is first observed in Minnesota.
Quetico Provincial Park is established
from the forest and game reserve created in 1909. Canada's provincial parks
are closed to hunting.
A recreation plan for the boundary
waters area is developed by the U.S. Forest Service in response to increasing
numbers of people seeking recreation.
Woodland caribou no longer inhabit the
boundary waters area.
The road from Ely to Two Harbors opens
as part of a larger plan to build roads linking Ely to the Gunflint Trail and
to the Canadian cities of Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay) and Winnipeg.
A plan for
preserving the border lakes region as a canoeing area is proposed by Arthur
Carhart, a landscape architect hired by the U.S. Forest Service. Though
the plan is not implemented, it is the country's first proposal for managing
and protecting a wilderness area. It calls for a fully protected core area and
limited, controlled development in outer areas.
April 23, at the first of many conferences to
resolve differences regarding management of the Superior National Forest,
Will Dilg, first president and founder of the
Izaak Walton League of America, makes an impassioned plea opposing a
U.S. Forest Service plan to bisect the core of the "roadless area" with a road
linking Ely and the Gunflint Trail. The county governments and local chambers
of commerce advocate development, adopting as their slogan "A Road to Every
National Forest Recreation Association is organized with Paul Riis as its
president to oppose construction of roads in the "roadless areas" of the
Superior National Forest.
Around this time, the citizens of the Town of
Tofte pass a bond issue for $20,000 to build what is called the Temperance
River Road, and is now called the Sawbill Trail. For the first mile it
follows an earlier road built from Tofte to Springdale around 1898 before it
turns north from Carlton Peak toward Sawbill Lake. When the town's money runs
out, Cook County continues construction. By June of 1925, approximately five
miles has been completed (to a point near where the present 600 road joins the
Sawbill Trail today). By 1928, the road has been constructed as far as the
railroad grade. By May 1931, the 24-mile road from Tofte to Sawbill Lake is
complete. Constructed for the purpose of reaching logging operations, the road
is laid out following the path of least resistance, sometimes through
low-lying areas that are subject to flooding and washouts, conditions that
plague travelers until the road is rebuilt in the 1990s.
Lumber baron and industrialist Edward
Wellington Backus proposes building a series of seven
dams along the boundary waters lakes to create four main water storage
areas to provide hydroelectric power for his papermills. The dams would affect
the 14,500-square-mile Rainy Lake watershed by significantly raising water
levels above natural levels (Little Vermilion Lake by 80 feet, Loon Lake by 33
feet, Lac La Croix by 16 feet, and Saganaga and Crooked lakes by 15 feet).
Conservationist and explorer
Ernest "Ober" Oberholtzer
– with support from attorneys Sewell Tyng, Frank Hubachek, Charles Kelly,
Frederick Winston, and many other conservationists – wage a five-year battle
to defeat the plan.
September 17, the Little Indian Sioux, the
Caribou, and the Superior "roadless areas" of the Superior National
Forest are designated as a 640,000-acre roadless wilderness area under a
policy issued by the U.S. Forest Service under U.S. Agricultural Secretary
William Jardine to "retain as much as possible of the land which has
recreational opportunities of this nature as a wilderness," curbing an
ambitious road plan to push "a road to every lake." The policy allows
construction of the Ely-Buyck road (now the Echo Trail), the Ely to Fernberg
road, and the extension of the Gunflint Trail to Sea Gull Lake, but prohibits
a connection from Fernberg northeast to Gunflint and spurs from the Ely-Buyck
northwest to Lac La Croix and to Trout Lake, roads that would have further
segmented the present Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Charlie and Petra Boostrom establish a
homestead on Moon Lake, southwest of Meeds Lake. A logging camp is built and a
logging road is constructed between Moon and Popular Lake. In the early 1980s
the logging road becomes part of the Banadad Ski Trail.
January 27, the
Quetico-Superior Council holds its first meeting, with
Ernest "Ober" Oberholtzer
as its president, for the purpose of promoting an International Peace Memorial
Forest on both sides of the border, encompassing the entire Quetico-Superior
Total annual precipitation is below normal,
producing "the great drought of the 1930s,"
a decade-long hot, dry period.
May 16, Minnesota's record
northern pike – weighing 45 pounds, 12 ounces – is caught in Basswood Lake
by J. V. Schanken.
Major forest fires
fueled by slash left from logging burn in the boundary waters area. On July
22, a fire starts on Star Lake and moves north, nearly trapping a fire crew
camped on the south shore of Brule Lake near the Juno Lake railroad spur. On
July 31, another fire starts north of Brule Lake and east of the Cone lakes.
Together the Brule Lake fires burn 25,000 acres of forest, the largest
fires in the Sawbill area in the 20th century. (See Mary Alice
"Forest Fire in the Woods," from her book,
Sawbill: History and Tales.)
July 10, 1930, the
Shipstead-Newton-Nolan Act, the first statute in which Congress
expressly orders land be protected as "wilderness," is signed into law by
President Herbert Hoover at the urging of a group of conservationists led by
Ernest "Ober" Oberholtzer.
The Act withdraws all federal land in the boundary waters region from
homesteading or sale, prevents the alteration of natural water levels by dams,
prohibits logging within 400 feet of shorelines, and preserves the wilderness
nature of shorelines. The regulations apply to a 4,000-square-mile area
extending from Lake Superior on the east to Rainy Lake on the west. Passage of
the Act represents a defeat for Edward Wellington Backus's plan to build a
series of dams in the Rainy Lake watershed to create storage basins for
Sevareid, 17, and Walter Port, 19, complete a 2,250-mile, 60-portage,
14-week canoe trip from Minneapolis to Hudson Bay. They travel up the
Minnesota River to Big Stone Lake, down the Red River of the North, up the
east shore of Lake Winnipeg to Norway House, and across 500 miles of
wilderness to York Factory, a journey described by Sevareid in
Canoeing with the Cree.
Logging Company ceases its railroad logging operations around Brule and
Gunflint lakes, bringing to an end the railroad logging era in the
boundary waters area.
May, the final segment of the 24-mile
Sawbill Trail is completed. The first segment was constructed as a road
to the Springdale settlement around 1898.
April 19, despite vigorous opposition by
Minnesota Power and Light, legislation applying the protections of the
Shipstead-Nolan Act to state lands is passed by the Minnesota Legislature.
The bill is titled "An Act To Protect Certain Public Lands and Waters Adjacent
Thereto Owned by the State of Minnesota."
The National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA),
one of the first acts signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on taking
office, creates work camps directed by the U.S. Forest Service in the boundary
waters area to put people back to work. In the fall of 1933 two permanent
camps are built at Lake Three and Alice Lake. During the brutal winter that
follows, several workers become ill, and the foreman dies at the Lake Three
camp, apparently the result of sewage seeping into the water supply. The
program ends a short time later, and workers are transferred to the newly
formed Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)
enlists thousands of unemployed men to plant trees, rebuild and improve
portages, build canoe rests, install landing docks, post direction signs,
build four lookout towers, fight forest fires, and do other conservation
projects in the boundary waters area. Fourteen major camps, each housing
approximately 200 young men and dozens of highly skilled outdoorsmen, are
constructed in and around the wilderness areas of the Superior National
Forest. The docks, signs, and rests are later removed to comply with the 1964
Wilderness Act, but still evident today are the raised walkways, the rocks
placed to reinforce trails, the canoe landings (now mostly submerged), and
other signs of trail improvements.
June 30, the President's five-member Quetico-Superior
Committee is established by executive order by President Franklin Delano
Ernest "Ober" Oberholtzer
as its chair. The other members are Charles Kelly, Robert Marshall, Sigurd
Olson, and Sewell Tyng. The Committee's purpose is to consult with and advise
the State of Minnesota and the several federal departments and agencies
operating in the Superior National Forest area.
Edward Wellington Backus, lumberman and industrialist, dies of a heart
attack in his hotel room in New York City, ending a nine-year struggle with
Ernest "Ober" Oberholtzer
and other conservationists for control of the Quetico-Superior region.
January, The Wilderness Society is
founded by Robert Marshall, Harvey Broome, Bernard Frank, Benton MacKaye,
Harold Anderson, Robert Sterling Yard, Aldo Leopold, and
Ernest "Ober" Oberholtzer
"to ensure that future generations enjoy the clean air and water, beauty,
wildlife, and opportunities for recreation and spiritual renewal provided by
Jack pine, black and white spruce, balsam fir,
northern white cedar, aspen, and paper birch are logged during "the
pulpwood logging era," the second major logging era to affect the boundary
waters area. The first era was the taking of red and white pine during "the
big-pine logging era" of 1895-1930.
July 6, a state record-tying high temperature
of 114 degrees, first established in 1917, is recorded in Moorhead, Minnesota.
Prolonged record-breaking hot summer weather combined with a seven-year
drought results in widespread forest fires, including 30 small fires in
the eastern Superior National Forest. A lightning-ignited fire starts on July
12 and burns 3,200 acres of forest around Cherokee Lake and 3,500 acres
Frost Lake. (See Mary Alice Hansen's
"Forest Fire in the Woods," from her book,
Sawbill: History and Tales.)
is erected on private property on Four Mile Portage by Henry Chosa, who
charges canoeists, resort owners, and anglers a fee to pass through.
May 1, Ojibwe trapper and guide Billy Magee
dies. In 1912, Magee accompanied
Ernest "Ober" Oberholtzer
on a 2,000 mile canoe trip from Winnipeg to Hudson Bay and back.
Superior National Forest's three wilderness
areas are renamed the Superior Roadless Primitive Areas under a plan
formulated with the help of Robert Marshall, then in charge of
recreation in the Washington office of the U.S. Forest Service. The
designation protects the areas from development but allows timber cutting and
Smallmouth bass are introduced to
boundary waters lakes.
Rails from the General Logging Company's Brule
and Gunflint railroad logging operations are removed.
Improved and less
costly outboard motors, including small, easily portaged models that
are usable on canoes, are now available.
Crooked, Lac La Croix, and Basswood lakes are
stocked with smallmouth bass fingerlings shipped in by train from
Wisconsin by Bill Zupancich Sr. and several other Ely outfitters.
The Izaak Walton League of America
establishes a fund to purchase private lands and resorts in the boundary
waters area to be turned over to the government. From 1945 to 1965, the League
purchases nearly 7,000 acres.
spruce budworm, native to the boundary waters area, increase to
epidemic proportions, perhaps as a result of fire suppression. In the latter
half of the twentieth century the budworm, a defoliator that eats the new
needles growing from buds each spring, kills vast areas of spruce, jack pine,
and balsam fir (which despite its name is the spruce budworm's prime host),
creating high fuel loads that can result in high-intensity, seed-killing
December 19, a vast area of federal timber
within the roadless area, north, east, and west of Lake Isabella is
sold to the Tomahawk Timber Company, which represents several Wisconsin firms.
The area includes about 130 square miles of land and water, with a net land
area of some 73,000 acres in federal ownership. Logging of this area
continues for two decades.
The Way of the Wilderness is published.
serviced by pontoon-equipped planes are operating on Basswood, Crooked,
Knife, La Croix, Saganaga, and Seagull lakes. Some offer amenities such as
bars, slot machines, and motorboats, with Ely now serving as the largest
inland seaplane base in North America.
The Thye-Blatnick Act, Public Law
733, is passed by Congress, directing the Secretary of Agriculture to acquire
resorts, cabins, and private lands within the boundary waters area and
prohibiting any permanent residents after 1974. The Act provides for
in-lieu-of-tax payments to Cook, Lake, and St. Louis Counties for federal
wilderness land. It is extended and funded with an additional $2 million for
acquisition of private property in 1956 and an additional $2 million in 1961.
The amendments are denounced by the commissioners of Cook, Lake, and St. Louis
counties and by the Ely Chamber of Commerce as "another ruthless inroad on the
economy of affected counties."
Railroad tracks are
laid to Lake Isabella and construction begins on Forest Center, a
logging town carved out of the southern edge of the roadless area, in
preparation for logging by the Tomahawk Kraft Timber Company. A large
turnaround and sawmill are built by the lake, and eventually more than 50
homes – as well as a church, restaurant, school, store, and recreation hall –
are built, along with five smaller camps in the area. Logging by Tomahawk ends
in 1964, when loggers reach a buffer zone created by the Shipstead-Nolan Act.
By 1965 the town is gone, though the alteration in the southern boundary of
the present Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness remains.
June, a forest
burns 1,200 acres at Plouff Creek, crossing the Sawbill Trail and
stranding guests at Sawbill Lodge for several days. Until the late 1980s a gap
in vegetation is noticeable to people driving along the Sawbill Trail. (See
Mary Alice Hansen's
"Forest Fire in the Woods," from her book,
Sawbill: History and Tales.)
March 27, the Ely Rod and Gun Club reconfirms
its support for an airspace reservation over the boundary waters at a
meeting in which Forest Ranger Bill Trygg faces down angry opponents.
Later that night a homemade bomb explodes outside the house of Bill Rom,
an outfitter who supports the ban, but it causes little damage.
of the Wilderness is founded by William "Bill" Magie, Frank Robertson, and
other conservationists, to represent organizations supporting a ban on
airplanes over the boundary waters area.
Executive Order 10092 is signed by President Truman creating an "airspace
reservation" that bans private flights below the altitude of 4,000 feet
above sea level, in part as a result of the work of activists Sigurd Olson,
Charles Kelly, Frank Hubachek, William "Bill" Magie, and others.
Truck portages into Basswood Lake, Lac
La Croix, and Big Trout Lake are established, providing easy access to these
lakes and their connecting waters by large, high-speed motorboats.
Aluminum canoes and boats are now widely
available, making travel easier and resulting in dramatic increases in the
number of canoeists accessing remote lakes.
deer population, dependent on new-growth forest, collapses from a loss of
prime deer habitat with maturing forests in the early logging areas and in the
extensive burn areas of 1863-64, 1875, 1894, and 1910. The moose
population begins to recover from a decline that began in the early 1900s.
The beaver population is significantly
reduced by a dieoff caused by tularemia.
population increases to epidemic proportions throughout the boundary
waters area and Quetico. In localized areas the population remains
continuously epidemic from 1956 to the present.
The Powells, contemporaries of Benny
Ambrose and Dorothy Molter and the last family to live year-round in what is
now Quetico Park, move to Saganaga Lake from their homestead on the east end
of Saganagons Lake, which becomes home for half a century to three generations
of Powells, beginning with Jack Powell, of Irish and English descent, and
Aquayweasheik (Mary Ottertail), an Ojibwe from the Lac La Croix Reserve. Life
at the homestead is described by third-generation
Betty Powell Skoog and Justine Kerfoot in A Life in Two
The Singing Wilderness is published.
Under protection from trapping, the fisher
regains its former population levels. As a result, the number of porcupines,
which are preyed on by the fisher, declines dramatically.
population in the lower 48 states is at an all-time low. Minnesota's wolf
population is estimated to be around 400 animals. Other estimates place the
population at 350-700 in northeastern Minnesota and about 20 on Isle Royale.
Snowmobile use in the Boundary Waters,
Voyageurs, and Quetico grows, resulting in increased stress on lake trout
populations from winter fishing.
Despite regulations designed to control both
the amount and type of recreational activities in the Boundary Waters,
visitor use increases nearly threefold.
In 1962, Dr. Roy Anderson and graduate student
Murray Lankester demonstrate that a parasite, a brainworm known as
Parelaphostrongylus tenis, normally found in white-tailed deer, causes
"moose sickness," an ailment first observed in Minnesota in 1912.
The estimated moose population of about
3,000 doubles to about 6,000 in northeastern Minnesota and to about 2,000 in
the Boundary Waters.
The U.S. Forest Service prohibits the
storage of boats on national lands within the BWCA, a common practice by
Cook County and Lake County resorts.
are extirpated from all of Minnesota and adjacent regions as a result of
DDT poisoning. The last nesting pair in the Boundary Waters is reported this
year. In the mid-1970s, only 35 nesting pairs are reported in the entire U.S.
Agriculture Secretary Orville Freeman, a former Minnesota governor, appoints
George Selke to head a special Boundary Waters Canoe Area Review
Committee to recommend changes in BWCA management.
September 3, the
Wilderness Act, U.S. Public Law 88-577, is signed by President Lyndon
Baines Johnson, establishing the U.S. wilderness preservation system and
prohibiting the use of motorboats and snowmobiles within wilderness areas
except for areas where use is well established within the Boundary Waters,
defining wilderness as an area "where the earth and its community of life are
untrammeled by man . . . an area of undeveloped . . . land retaining its
primeval character and influence without permanent improvements." This date is
considered by many to be the birth of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.
Many of the Selke Committee's
recommendations for restrictions on visitor permits, motor use, and logging
are implemented by Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman
in a new management plan for the Boundary Waters.
One recommendation is that
permits be required for entrance. In addition, the plan divides the BWCA into
an Interior Zone of 600,000 acres, which is closed to logging, and a Portal
Zone of 400,000 acres, which is open to logging. The plan also calls for the
immediate addition of 150,000 acres to the no-cut zone, with another 100,000
acres to be added by 1975 as existing logging contracts are completed. This
would bring the total no-cut area to 612,000 acres by 1975.
The last bounty
($35) is paid on a wolf in Minnesota before Minnesota's bounty program
on wolves and the Minnesota Department of Conservation's control program are
ended. Together the two programs resulted in the killing of more than 300
population further declines in the Boundary Waters and Superior National
Forest as a result of a series of severe winters, a loss of prime deer habitat
caused by maturing forests, and increased predation by wolves. By 1972-73,
deer no longer winter in the Boundary Waters.
A mandatory permit system for
visitors (with no fee) is instituted by the U.S. Forest Service following the
Selke committee hearings, the Wilderness Act of 1964, and the Freeman
Directive of 1965.
June 21, the
Superior National Forest Advisory Committee is formed to advise the
U.S. Forest Supervisor on policies, programs, and management of the Superior
National Forest and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.
The gray wolf
in the lower 48 states is listed as "endangered" under the 1966 Endangered
Species Preservation Act.
A maximum group size limit of 15 persons
for visitors is instituted by the U.S. Forest Service.
The whitetail deer population in the
Boundary Waters further declines and wolves switch from killing deer to moose,
a more challenging prey.
As a result of DDT poisoning, the American
bald eagle population declines to its lowest level, with only about 10
active eagle nests remaining in the Superior National Forest. A ban on the use
of DDT is implemented on January 1, 1973. By 1989, the number of active
nests increases to 74.
Voyageurs National Park is established
by Public Law 91-661, as amended by Public Law 97-405, enacted by Congress on
January 8 and signed by President Richard Nixon, to "preserve, for the
inspiration and enjoyment of present and future generations, the outstanding
scenery, geological conditions, and waterway system which constituted a part
of the historic route of the Voyageurs who contributed significantly to the
opening of the Northwestern United States." The park is officially established
under these laws by the Secretary of the Interior on April 8, 1975.
A rule limiting
visitors to "designated campsites" on heavy-use routes is instituted by
the U.S. Forest Service. Cans and glass bottles are prohibited from the
Boundary Waters. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the measure is expected
to reduce refuse by 360,000 pounds, saving $90,000 per year on cleanup.
May 14-16, the
Little Sioux fire, the largest forest fire in northern Minnesota since
1910, a crown fire, spreads from a slash fire and burns 14,000 acres or 24
square miles in the western Boundary Waters, killing the world record jack
A limited moose
hunt is authorized for the first time since 1922.
Minnesota Public Interest Research Group,
a student group at the University of Minnesota, files a lawsuit to prohibit
logging of old growth forest in the BWCAW until an Environmental Impact
Statement is completed by the U.S. Forest Service.
The Endangered Species Act is passed by
Congress, declaring timber wolves an endangered species and affording
federal protection. Since 1965, when the last bounty was paid on a wolf in
Minnesota, approximately 200 animals were killed annually.
Provincial Park is given full wilderness protection. All logging is
permanently banned, snowmobiles are banned, and a motorboat phaseout is begun.
A year of
exceptional drought results in 516 forest fires burning
1,079,000 acres of forest in northwestern Ontario. On July 27, a camper-caused
fire burns 1,006 acres around Prayer Lake.
The rule limiting visitors to "designated
campsites" that was instituted by the U.S. Forest Service on heavy-use
routes in 1966 is extended to the entire Boundary Waters.
group size limit for visitors is lowered from 15 to 10 persons by the U.S.
Logging of old
growth forests is banned in a ruling by Federal District Judge Miles Lord. The
ruling is reversed on appeal in 1976.
District Representative James Oberstar (D-MN) introduces a bill that if
passed would have established a Boundary Waters Wilderness Area of 625,000
acres and a Boundary Waters National Recreation Area (NRA) of 527,000
acres, permitting logging and mechanized travel in the latter area and
removing from wilderness designation a number of large scenic lakes such as La
Croix, Basswood, Saganaga, and Seagull. The bill is strongly opposed by
A severe drought, with only .58 inches
of rainfall recorded for the normally wet period of April 26 through June 6,
makes this summer one of the driest on record, resulting in a travel ban in
the Boundary Waters and widespread forest fires, including an August 21 fire
that burns 3,380 acres of forest around Roy Lake, and an August 30 fire
that burns 1,190 acres of forest around Rice Lake, and a September 7
fire that burns 1,025 acres of forest around Fraser Lake.
May 7, Friends
of the Boundary Waters Wilderness is formed with Miron "Bud" Heinselman as
chair, in opposition to Representative James Oberstar's 1975 bill, which would
remove land from a designated wilderness for the purpose of creating a
recreational area that would allow logging and mechanized travel. Its purpose
is advocating greater protection of the Boundary Waters and "promoting the
biological, intrinsic, aesthetic, economic, scientific, and spiritual values
of wilderness." Other founding members include Fern Arpi, Chuck Dayton, Dan
Engstrom, Dick Flint, Jan Green, Herb Johnson, Jack Mauritz, Steve Payne,
Chuck Stoddard, Paul Toren, Herb Wright, and Dick Wyman.
sophisticated visitor distribution system, using entry-point quotas on
visitor numbers as a mechanism to redistribute visitor use and impacts
throughout the wilderness, is instituted by the U.S. Forest Service.
Cans and glass
bottles are prohibited from Quetico Provincial Park.
The last section of
the 63-mile Gunflint Trail, which goes from Grand Marais through the
Sawtooth Mountains to Saganaga Lake, is paved.
May 17, the
Boundary Waters Conservation Alliance is formed with $20,000 in
start-up funds from the timber industry to support Representative James
Oberstar's multiple use approach to managing the Boundary Waters and to
counter the newly formed Friends of the Boundary Waters.
Ernest "Ober" Oberholtzer (born February 6, 1884) dies at age
93. Explorer, photographer, student of Ojibwe legend and oral tradition,
authority on the Minnesota-Ontario boundary lakes region, lifetime President
of the Quetico-Superior Council, and one of eight founders of the Wilderness
Society, Ober devoted his life to preserving wilderness and protecting the
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
July 8, an
effigy identified as Sigurd Olson and Miron "Bud" Heinselman
is hung outside the Ely High School, where approximately 1,000 people gather
to participate in a Congressional hearing. Amid boos and catcalls, Olson
speaks in favor of Congressman Don Fraser's bill that becomes the Boundary
Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act of 1978. "This is the most beautiful lake
country on the continent," Olson declares. "We can afford to cherish and
protect it. Some places should be preserved from development of exploitation
for they satisfy a human need for solace, belonging, and perspective. In the
end we turn to nature in a frenzied chaotic world, there to find silence –
oneness – wholeness – spiritual release."
The Eastern timber wolf is reclassified
from "endangered" to "threatened" by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the
agency that administers the Endangered Species Act of 1973. The law still
prohibits the killing of wolves with the exception of problem animals causing
agricultural damage. The Fish and Wildlife Service also adopts a recovery plan
(revised in 1992) for the purpose of increasing the number and range of timber
wolves to ensure the animal's survival in the eastern half of the U.S. The
recovery plan sets a population goal for Minnesota of 1,251 to 1,400 wolves by
the year 2000, a goal that is achieved in the early 1980s. In 1989 a wolf
population survey estimates the statewide population at between 1,550 and
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act, U.S. Public Law 95-495, is
signed by President Jimmy Carter. The act adds 50,000 acres to the Boundary
Waters, which now encompasses 1,098,057 acres, and extends greater wilderness
protection to the area. The name is changed from the Boundary Waters Canoe
Area to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The Act bans logging,
mineral prospecting, and mining; all but bans snowmobile use; limits motorboat
use to about two dozen lakes; limits the size of motors; and regulates the
number of motorboats and motorized portages. It calls for limiting the number
of motorized lakes to 16 in 1984, and 14 in 1999, totaling about 24% of the
area's water acreage.
All logging in the wilderness
ceases under the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness Act, U.S. Public
Law 95-495, ending some 85 years of logging in the Boundary Waters.
A $5 reservation fee for entry
into the Boundary Waters is implemented.
acidification of Boundary Waters lakes is detected, with 1,218 of 1,338
lakes identified as "sensitive" and 308 identified as "extremely sensitive,"
after a one-year investigation by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in
conjunction with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the
Minnesota Department of Health.
Sigurd Olson dies at age 82 after suffering a heart attack while
snowshoeing with his wife Elizabeth near his home in Ely. Canoe outfitter,
guide, educator, conservationist, wilderness advocate, and elder statesman of
the Minnesota environmental movement, one-time president of the National Parks
Association and of the Wilderness Society, eloquent and outspoken advocate of
wilderness values, Sig published 9 books and more than 100 articles.
dies at age 86. A conservationist who worked with his friend Sigurd Olson
in the successful campaign to restrict airplane travel above the Boundary
Waters, Calvin published 15 books on wilderness, nature, and canoeing.
March 4, William
"Bill" Magie dies at age 79. Bill was a canoe guide in the waters around
Ely from 1962 to 1978, a co-founder of Friends of the Wilderness, and a
lifelong advocate of wilderness protection.
March 8, the 1978
BWCA Act is upheld when the Supreme Court decides in an 8-1
decision (with Sandra Day O'Connor casting the dissenting vote) not to review
lower court rulings in a three-year legal battle by the State of Minnesota and
others challenging the constitutionality of the 1978 law.
Ambrose dies at age 86, 84, or 83 (birth date uncertain), probably of a
heart attack. His body is found by Forest Service rangers next to the burned
remains of his summer kitchen. Benny came north from Iowa after World War I to
prospect for gold and lived for more than 60 years alone in his one-room cabin
on Ottertrack Lake, becoming the second to the last permanent resident of the
The peregrine falcon is placed on
the federal endangered species list. After a 20-year absence, peregrine
falcons are reintroduced into the wild in Minnesota, including in Cook County.
In 1999 the falcon is removed from the endangered species list. By 2004 its
population in Minnesota reaches 36 nesting pairs. The peregrine falcon is the
world's fastest bird. When it goes into a dive (called a "stoop"), it can
reach 175 miles per hour.
May 29-June 24, a small island on
Lake Two is set on fire by a careless camper, resulting in a major forest
fire. For the first time in 76 years, a significant fire in the
Boundary Waters is allowed to burn without intervention by the U.S. Forest
Motors are banned from Brule Lake.
In response to strong opposition to a motor ban on Brule, an exception was
written into the 1978 Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act providing that
motors could be used on Brule until January 1994, or until businesses already
in operation in 1977 were terminated. With the closing of the last business on
Brule, the Sky Blue Water Resort, the motor ban goes into effect. In
subsequent years, use by canoeists increases significantly.
administrative appeal is filed by four groups – the Friends of the
Boundary Waters Wilderness, the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, and
Defenders of Wildlife – on 12 issues in U.S. Forest Service's new land and
Resource management Plan for Superior National Forest, including an appeal for
the Forest Service to close three truck portages in compliance with the 1978
BWCA Wilderness Act.
are no longer permanent residents in Minnesota but only occasional
wanderers from Ontario searching for food, according to the Minnesota
Department of Natural Resources.
dies of natural causes at age 79 while living alone in her cabin on Knife
Lake. Dorothy was the last permanent resident of the Boundary Waters. Because
of her homemade brew, she was known to many as the "Root Beer Lady."
March 20, following the 1986 Lake Two
fire, a new prescribed natural-fire-management program
is adopted by the U.S. Forest Service and implemented in the Boundary
Waters. The policy allows lightning-ignited fires that pose no threat to
people or property to burn themselves out naturally. This departure from the
policy of suppressing all fires ends the "fire-suppression period" of
management that began in 1911.
and Stuart Osthoff of Ely publish the first issue of the quarterly
The Boundary Waters Journal: The
Magazine of America's Favorite Wilderness Area.
September 14 and
15, an emaciated female black bear mauls two campers in a rare
attack of a human by a black bear. On September 14, Tyson Crowder, 19,
from Maryville, Tennessee, and enrolled as a student at the University of
Tennessee, is mauled at Wabang Lake, south of Lac La Croix. He is hospitalized
in stable condition with multiple lacerations, including a large head
laceration and a fractured bone in his shoulder. The next day Jeremy
Cleaveland, a 52-year-old real estate agent from Minnetonka, is attacked at
Lady Boot Bay, an arm of Lac La Croix, a mile northwest from Wabang Lake.
Cleaveland's injuries include bites and claw marks on his thigh, forearm,
shoulder, head, and neck, and a badly twisted knee. In both cases the bear is
driven off by other campers hitting it with a canoe paddle. On September 16,
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources game wardens shoot the bear as it is
ransacking a campsite near the scene of the attacks. The bear, an
eight-year-old female weighing only 117 pounds, may have been suffering from
digestive problems. Normal weight for a bear of this age and gender is 150 to
200 pounds. These attacks are two of only four recorded incidents of
bears attacking humans in Minnesota. The other two, also non-fatal, occur in
September 2002, while 24-year-old researcher Miles Becker is studying woodcock
in the Four Brooks Wildlife Management Area 10 miles north of Milaca (Becker
suffers broken facial bones, puncture wounds to his head and left leg, and a
broken fibula; after the attack he radios his partner, who locates him partly
by following his directions and partly by homing in on the radio transmitters
Becker has with him to attach to woodcocks), and in September 2003, when
37-year-old Kim Heil-Smith surprises a sow with her cub in her garage in rural
Grand Marais (Heil-Smith suffers scratches and bites on her head, shoulder and
thighs, some of which require stitches; she escapes when she grabs the bear's
nose and yells, "Get out of my house!").
July 1, peregrine falcons produce young in the Superior National Forest
for the first time in 28 years.
July 15, a great
regional downburst storm causes vast blowdowns in the Boundary Waters
April, the Izaak Walton League, with
four other groups, goes to court to stop the National Guard from conducting
training flights as low as 2,500 feet over the Boundary Waters by F-4
Phantom Jet Fighters, which create sonic booms.
August, a 611-foot
radio tower, proposed by Connecticut developer Timothy Martz to be
constructed on a ridge near Esther Lake in Cook, is blocked by temporary
injunction granted by County Ramsey County District Judge Donald Gross. The
judge accepts the argument of environmentalist Harry Drabik, who sued on
behalf of the state, arguing that the tower would ruin the scenic quality of
an unspoiled wilderness.
Nearly half of Minnesota's 6,700
moose die over a two-year period as a result of a "winter tick"
infestation, leaving a population of about 3,700 moose.
October 15, a compromise regarding
rebuilding of the Sawbill Trail is developed by the Sawbill Trail
Consensus Committee, facilitated by Forest Service Tofte District Ranger Larry
Dawson. The original plan calls for widening the trail's clearance for
construction of a 55-mile-an-hour two-lane paved highway. When the bulldozers
start clearing the first segment from Tofte in 1990, there is an uproar of
protest. Many people believe the rebuilding will alter the trail's primitive
character. The compromise results in special variances being sought from state
and federal highway administrations, so that after the first 3 miles from
Tofte the road is left unpaved and calcium chloride is applied for dust
abatement. Road clearance is widened from 45 to 56 feet (rather than the 64
feet originally proposed) for a 45-mile-an-hour, 9-ton road with 12-foot
driving lanes, 2-foot shoulders, and 3-foot ditches, with trees cleared an
additional 10 feet on the ditch slopes on both sides of the road. The road is
rerouted near Plouff Creek, known as Dead Man's Curve because of its many
accidents, reducing the overall length of the Trail from 24 to 23 miles.
Clearance for the last six miles is not altered, so that the Sawbill Trail now
has an increasingly rustic feel as it approaches Sawbill Lake.
September 18, a
windstorm causes major damage in the Superior National Forest,
especially in the Gunflint Trail area.
November 6, as a
result of a 15-year effort on the part of the Friends of the Boundary Waters
Canoe Area truck portages that were to have been phased out as
stipulated by the 1978 BWCA Wilderness Act are closed when the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the Eighth District reverses the decision of a lower court to
allow them to continue operation.
November 17, a
BWCAW draft management plan is released to the public via a news
conference. Many people object to some of the provisions, especially the
proposal to reduce the group size limit from 10 to 6 persons.
The population of
the Eastern timber wolf is estimated at 1,500-1,750 in Minnesota, 45 in
Wisconsin, and 20 in Michigan.
A new BWCAW management plan is
implemented by the Superior National Forest, reducing visitor-group size limit
from 10 to 9 persons, limiting the number of watercraft per group to 4, and
operating the visitor distribution program at 67 percent rather than 85
percent campsite occupancy.
The moose and white-tailed deer
populations in the Boundary Waters decline, with severe winter losses in 1995
Major forest fire, in later years
referred to as the "Sag Corridor wildfire,"
starts near Romance Lake, burns around Saganaga Lake, and spreads across 9
miles or 12,600 acres in the U.S. and Canada, threatening 40 structures on the
Gunflint Trail. Fire 141, the largest fire, burns the areas around Kawnipi,
Falls Chain, and Saganagons lakes. About 8% of Quetico is affected, an area
larger than the combined area burned in the previous 60 years.
Miron "Bud" Heinselman's The
Boundary Waters Wilderness Ecosystem is published posthumously.
After a series of
cuts in the Boundary Waters wilderness management budget, a $10 per-person
user fee, in addition to the $12 registration fee, is authorized under
the User Fee Demonstration Project, a three-year pilot program passed by
Congress. In 1997, the first year the fee takes effect, about $1 million is
generated to help fund portage and canoe landing maintenance, campsite
rehabilitation, and law enforcement. The funds make up for the shortfall in
the $2.5 million called for by the U.S. Forest Service plan to properly manage
the Boundary Waters wilderness.
June 14, a
forest fire burns 4,450 acres around South Temperance Lake. The
fire is fought by more than 260 personnel at a cost of $1.5 million.
A federal mediation process is
initiated by U.S.
Senator Paul Wellstone to resolve issues relating to three motorized
portages. The process, which lasts nearly nine months, is concluded on April
28, 1997, with recommendations for reducing airborne mercury pollution but
without consensus on the core issues, losing an opportunity, in the words of
Bill Hansen, for "the healing effect of a broad community consensus on
Legislation allowing three motorized
portages to resume operation is introduced by Eighth District
Representative James Oberstar (D-MN) and Senator Rod Grams (R-MN) but does not
pass. In part as a result of the debates surround the issue, membership in the
Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness peaks at 2,783 members.
are permitted to continue transporting motorboats across two portages,
Trout and Prairie, by a rider on an unrelated transportation bill passed by
July 4, a severe windstorm
described as a "storm of a century" blows down and damages trees in a 30-mile
swath across the Boundary Waters, severely affecting approximately 367,000
acres or 32% of the Boundary Waters, 477,000 acres in northeastern Minnesota,
and 108,000 acres in Canada. The storm also damages 1,500 of the 2,000
campsites in the Boundary Waters and completely or partially blocks 550
portages. About 25 people are injured, but there are no fatalities. About 25
million trees are downed. With trees stacked up as high as 20 feet, the fuel
load for fire is 5 to 10 times higher than it was before the blowdown, and the
U.S. Forest Service begins planning a series of prescribed, controlled burns
to reduce the risk of large, intense, uncontrollable fires in the years ahead.
March, the Canada lynx is listed
as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, giving it federal
July 26, Art
Madsen, the last of Quetico's 16 original rangers, dies at age 95. Madsen
worked as a ranger from 1934 to 1940, sometimes traveling 1,500 miles a winter
on snowshoes. For 70 years he lived at his home and wilderness resort on
February 2001, the Minnesota Department
of Natural Resources develops a wolf management plan. The plan seeks to
demonstrate that Minnesota is prepared to assume responsibility for the
Eastern timber wolf when delisting occurs and that Minnesota will ensure the
long-term survival of the wolf as required by the federal recovery plan.
The moose population in the
Arrowhead Region of Northeastern Minnesota declines from 5,000 to 4,000 from
the previous year.
After 30 years of only occasional sightings, more than two dozen Canada
lynxes inhabit the Boundary Waters, according to estimates based on DNA
analysis of animal hair and feces.
For the first time
ever reported outside captivity, three wildcat hybrids – mixes between
male bobcats and female Canada lynxes – are confirmed by federal researchers,
who analyzed DNA from hair and tissue samples from 19 cats in Superior
National Forest. There is concern that, if the hybrids can reproduce, they
might dilute the genetic purity of Canada lynx populations.
black bears inhabit Minnesota, up from 10,000 in the 1980s.
spend the summer in Minnesota, the most of any state except Alaska.
Mardy Murie dies at age 101. Mardy was known as the "grandmother" and the
"matriarch" of the modern conservation movement for her work on garnering
support for the 1964 Wilderness Act and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
In her 1980 testimony before Congress in support of expanding the Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) she said, "I hope the United States of America
is not so rich that she can afford to let these wildernesses pass by, or so
poor she cannot afford to keep them."
The estimated gray wolf
population in northern Minnesota is just more than 3,000 animals, compared
with an estimated 2,450 wolves in 1998. Because the DNR survey has a margin of
error of plus or minus 700 wolves, the population appears to be holding
steady. Completed in the winter of 2003-04, the survey uses field
observations, habitat models, and data from radio telemetry studies. In
comparison, 400 wolves inhabit Wisconsin, and about 360 inhabit
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Also this year
a lone wolf is found in
Michigan's Lower Peninsula, the first sighting since 1910.
The estimated gray
wolf population in the state of Minnesota is approximately 3,020 animals
(or somewhere between 2,301 and 3,708 animals), a 23% increase since the last
major survey in the winter of 1997-98, according to John Erb, wolf biologist
for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Most of these wolves live
in about 485 packs averaging between 5 and 6 wolves each. The wolf population
in Wisconsin is approximately 425 animals living in about 109 packs. In
Michigan's Upper Peninsula the population is about 408 animals in about 86
packs. The main reason for the increased populations seems to be the abundance
of white-tailed deer, the wolf’s principal prey.
June 4, Lloyd
Skelton, an experienced 58-year-old outdoor adventurer, buys a day permit
to hike the 14-mile Angleworm Trail, deciding to delay his solo kayak trip
until the weather improves. On June 17 his daughter reports him missing. When
searchers find only his clothing and wallet, they assume he has succumbed to
hypothermia and "paradoxical undressing," an irrational behavior that
sometimes occurs when a person's core body temperature drops into the low 80s.
As reported by Larry Oakes in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, despite "a
thorough search of the surrounding area with the help of dogs," no sign of
Skelton's remains are found. "It's tough to talk about,"
says Lake County Sheriff Steve
Peterson, a veteran of many searches,
"but it's a reality that things don't
last long out there. There is decomposition. There are wolves, bears, ravens.
The longer it's been, the less the chance you'll find something."
August 6, after more than a month of drought, lightning ignites a fire
that sweeps across nearly 1,400 acres near the Canadian border between
Alpine and Seagull Lakes, an area with dead trees downed by the 1999
blowdown. The fire is the largest in 10 years and threatens 70 homes, cabins,
and businesses on the Gunflint Trail, a few miles to the east. Firefighters
set up containment lines with 35 miles of hose, 44 water pumps, and more than
100 sprinklers. With the assistance of three Bombardier CL-215 aircraft
capable of scooping 1,400 gallons of water in 11 seconds, they contain the
fire on August 19.
The 33 emergency
incidents in 2005 are nearly double the number of search-and-rescue
missions in each of the three
In 2005 there
were 21 medical evacuations, 12 search-and-rescue missions, and 1 fatality,
for a total of 33; in 2004 there were
0 medical, 14 search-and-rescue,
and 3 fatalities,
for a total of 17; in 2003 there
were 14 medical, 3 search-and-rescue, and 2 fatalities, for a total of 19; and
in 2002 there were 11 medical, 2 search-and-rescue, and 4 fatalities, for a
total of 17. According to Kris Reichenbach, a Forest Service spokesperson, one
possible reason for the increase in evacuations is that more people are
carrying cell phones and relying on them to call for help. Most deaths in the
Boundary Waters are from drowning, and the majority of reported injuries are
July 14, a lightning strike starts a
fire near Cavity Lake and expands north to Sea Gull Lake near the
end of the
Gunflint Trail, a 60-mile road that leads northward from Grand Marais
on Lake Superior into the wilderness area. The fire is one of at least eight
burning in the Boundary Waters and Quetico Park that week, all started by
lightning. Fueled by dry winds and timber blown down in the 1999 storm, the
Cavity Lake fire
burns about 50 square miles (about 39 square miles excluding lake surfaces),
an area that makes it the largest fire in the Boundary Waters since 1894.
About 60 campsites in the fire area are damaged or destroyed, but no one is
injured and there is no damage to private property. Smoke blowing east from
fire is so thick that motorists on the North Shore turn on their headlights to
drive during the day. A series of prescribed burns since the 1999 storm that
reduced the amount of downed timber on more that 37,000 acres prevents the
fire from consuming an even larger area. "It's a good thing this fire happened
when it did," says Jim Sanders, supervisor of the Superior National Forest,
"instead of two years after the blowdown." Although no evacuation of the
Gunflint Trail is ordered, the fire's eastern flank comes within a mile of the
trail, close to the "trigger-point" for an evacuation. As the fire continues
to expand, an elite team of firefighters known as the Pacific Northwest
National Incident Team No. 2, one of 17 such teams in the country, arrives to
fight the blaze. By August 4, the fire is reduced to hot spots and is declared
85 percent contained. By August 12, the fire is declared 95 percent contained,
and according to Warren Wolfe writing for the
Minneapolis Star Tribune there are signs the forest is rejuvenating:
"Small sprigs of grass, ferns, and geraniums already are pushing through
blackened soil, and tiny shoots of aspen and birch are emerging from charred
stumps and roots." The cost of fighting the fire to that point is estimated to
be more than $10.6 million.
September 15, about 200 people evacuate
a 10-mile stretch of the
Gunflint Trail at the "strong suggestion" of Cook County Sheriff Mark
Falk because a long, narrow finger of a
fire is moving northward toward the dead-end trail. About 14 people decide to
remain on their properties. The fire was started
by a lightning strike
near Famine Lake, north of Brule Lake,
on September 7 or 8. A smaller fire at Redeye Lake started around
the same time. It is the fire's location rather than its 3.9-square-mile
size that prompts the voluntary evacuation, the first evacuation since the
mid-1990s. The Famine Lake fire eventually consumes more than 6.5 square
January 29, Deputy Secretary of the Interior
Lynn Scarlett announces that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is
"de-listing" or removing the western Great Lakes population of gray
wolves from the federal list of threatened and endangered species. The
Service is also proposing removal of the northern Rocky Mountain population of
gray wolves from the list. Both actions are taken in recognition of the
success of gray wolf recovery efforts under the Endangered Species Act. Gray
wolves were previously listed as endangered in the lower 48 states, except in
Minnesota, where they were listed as threatened.
May 5, following a prolonged drought, a fire
apparently from an unattended campfire.
Before it is extinguished, it becomes
Minnesota's largest and
costliest forest fire since the 1918 Cloquet fire.
a mandatory evacuation order is issued to about
100 people on the last seven miles of the Gunflint Trail as the rapidly
spreading fire is fueled by strong winds.
As with the
Alpine Lake fire in 2005 and the Cavity Lake fire in 2006, the fire's
intensity is at first limited because the fuel load
of downed trees on its eastern
flank had been reduced
from prescribed burns,
but four structures near Sea Gull Lake
are destroyed. Many
buildings in the fire's path, however, are spared, probably because of
propane-powered outdoor sprinkler systems installed since the 1999 blowdown.
On May 9, firefighters conduct an intentional "burnout" in the fire's path to
rob it of fuel.
On May 10, Twin Cities residents can smell smoke carried by northeastern
winds. By May 11, the fire has grown to 55,000 acres, or nearly 86 square
miles, and it has moved 13 miles into Canada and 12 miles down the Gunflint
Trail, destroying 138 structures worth $3.7 million, including the Seagull
Superior North Canoe Outfitters, 44
structures in the 51-year-old Wilderness Canoe Base on Sea Gull Lake, and 62
cabins and homes. According to Matt McKinney, writing for the Minneapolis
Star Tribune, residents who saw the blaze described it as "a roiling black
monster throwing off green clouds, white thunderheads, and a noise like a a
freight train." By May 15, the fire has consumed 93 square miles or 59,611
acres of forest and is only 15 percent contained. On the U.S. side of the
border, 700 firefighters battle the blaze, some climbing atop buildings and
dousing them with fire
hoses as their own cabins burn. Finally,
on May 22, after consuming
nearly 119 square miles in
Minnesota and Canada, the fire is
contained, and the last seven miles of the Gunflint Trail are reopened.
August 7, traveling in two motorboats, five
Barney J. Lakner, 37, Jay A. Olson, 19,
Zachary R. Barton, 19, Travis J. Erzar, 20, and Casey J. Fenske, 19
and one 16-year-old juvenile, who come to be
known as the "Ely Six," go on a rampage on Basswood
Lake. During a night of drinking beer and discharging firearms, they
terrorize and harass dozens of campers, including families with children. They
use foul language, shoot a flare that
explodes in the air, on two occasions release gasoline onto the lake and set
it on fire, and occupy one campsite for 45 minutes, threatening to rape and
kill the three
a retired schoolteacher from suburban Chicago,
his 26-year-old daughter, and his 11-year-old son, who hide deep in the brush
during the ordeal. During the spree the men are reported to have shouted,
"Fucking tourists . . . get the hell off our fucking property," and
using local slang for "environmentally
"go home, fucking enox tree-huggers." After
some of the campers report the disturbance by calling 911,
the five men and the teenager
within the hour
not far from Basswood Lake.
From the two boats authorities recover
a high-powered, semi-automatic
assault-style rifle with three 30-round clips, a .45 caliber semi-automatic
pistol, a .22 caliber rifle, a .22 caliber pistol, ammunition, spent shell
casings, fireworks residue, beer, and items stolen from one campsite.
Lake County authorities file 79 charges against
the six including terroristic threats, aggravated harassment, criminal
damage to property, reckless discharge of firearms, underage possession of
firearms, and underage alcohol consumption.
The group also faces
felony counts and charges from federal and Canadian authorities because they
crossed into Ontario's Quetico Provincial Park, where they continued their
rampage. Newsweek and other publications link the night of terror to
deep-seeded resentment on the part of local people who oppose the 1978
restrictions limiting their access to the area. Some of these people were
forced to sell their resorts and cabins when the area was set aside as
protected wilderness. As reported by Larry Oakes in the Minneapolis Star
Tribune, "Lakner, a bread-truck driver, husband, and father, paid a $275
fine in 2004 for driving a snowmobile in the BWCA and [in July] Olson and
Fenske were fined $225 each for driving ATVs in the BWCA in May."
Perplexingly, five of the six members of the group were not yet born when the
area was set aside. Newsweek asks if the behavior was "just youthful
indiscretion or a troubling community character flaw?" Local outfitter Nancy
Piragis says, "They learned these attitudes." Mayor chuck Novak says, "If
what's in those complaints is proven true, I don't see any public support for
this around here." The Timberjay, the community newspaper, says in an
editorial, "While there has long been a tendency in our area to paint youthful
rebels who run afoul of the Boundary Waters regulations as folk heroes, this
is a different situation entirely . . . This wasn't . . . like motoring in a
paddle-only lake, or a late-night border run on a snowmobile . . . This isn't
folk hero material. Such actions should horrify everyone."
September and October, near-record rainfall
ends a nearly two-year drought in the boundary waters area, but fire
danger remains. As reported by the Associated Press, "The Forest Service
is more than halfway toward its goal of purposely burning 109 square miles to
create a strategic series of firebrakes across the  blowdown area."
But the danger
may remain elevated through 2017 or longer, according
to Jim Sanders, supervisor of the Superior National Forest,
of all the dead timber that remains,
especially in western parts of the forest closer to Ely, an area that has been
mostly spared by fires.
According to Cook County Sheriff Mark Falk, "The Ham Lake fire wasn't the big
blowdown fire we've been talking about for so many years. That's still out
there, still a possibility."
Ernest "Ober" Oberholtzer
"The gift of language"
Copyright by Stephen Wilbers
First published by the Minneapolis Star
Tribune: December 19, 2003
Oberholtzer was 17, he suffered a severe bout of rheumatic fever that weakened
his heart. His doctors told him he wouldn't survive the year.
On June 6, 1977,
after a lifetime dedicated to preserving the Minnesota-Ontario lakes region as
wilderness, his damaged heart gave out, and he died at the age of 93.
Ober was a man of
many passions. At 28 he paddled with Ojibwe trapper and guide Billy Magee
across the Canadian Barrens to Hudson Bay and back, completing the 2,000-mile,
four-month exploration in freezing temperatures and blowing snow just before
the onset of the sub-Arctic winter.
He fought to
protect an area he considered "one of the rarest of all regions of the
continent, if not the world," spearheading the 1930 defeat of a plan to
convert the boundary waters lakes into a four great storage basins for the
production of industrial hydroelectric power.
Native Americans and wildlife. He gathered Indian stories and legends. He
studied the Ojibwe language at a time when our national policy was to suppress
native culture and languages among Indian children. He played classical
violin, collected books, and entertained friends by the dozen on his small
Rainy Lake island.
More than anything
Ober wanted to write. He wrote dozens of articles, thousands of letters to
friends, and thousands more in support of his plan for wilderness
preservation, but he never achieved his lifelong ambition: He never wrote a
book about his travels with Billy Magee or about Native American legends. This
failure haunted him as one of the great frustrations and disappointments of
In his final years
Ober was robbed of his ability to speak by a series of minor strokes. As
reported by Joe Paddock in Keeper of the Wild: The Life of Ernest
Oberholtzer, however, he still had good days.
Once, the late Ted
Hall, a former correspondent and deputy New York bureau chief for Time-Life
and publisher of the Rainy Lake Chronicle, was pushing Ober in his
wheelchair down a sidewalk in International Falls.
According to Hall,
"The whole morning there hadn't been a word you could understand. He just
communicated by signs. And as we were crossing the street, an Indian woman
called out to him and started a conversation.
Ober's friend had gone did Hall realize that, in Ojibwe, Ober had been
"completely, absolutely articulate." After the conversation Ober once again
"couldn't get a word out."
Ernest Oberholtzer webpage
Brule Lake Fire
"Forest Fire in the Woods"
Sawbill: History and Tales
Copyright by Mary Alice
In 1929 there were
no automobile roads in the forest area. However, the General Logging Railroad
stretched across Cook County from Four Mile Lake (just over the Lake County
line) all the way up to Rose Lake near the Gunflint Trail. Sparks from the
stacks of the locomotives which were pulling carloads of logs through the
woods were a serious fire hazard. This was especially true on uphill grades
where they poured on the coal to build up power causing fire to pop right out
of the stack. Although there were rules about screening the stacks, the
practice was not always observed. The General Logging Company, a branch of Weyerhauser, was cutting the last of the big white pine stands, with hundreds
of lumberjacks working. The area was littered with white pine
slash. Frank Kelly, the General Logging Company's superintendent in charge of
the operation, had formerly been with the Forest Service and was very much
aware of the fire danger and totally cooperative in trying to prevent fire. He
had a speeder patrol follow each logging train to watch for stray sparks and
he had arranged to have slash removed from the right of way and from other
hazardous areas. Slash removal was also the subject of a Minnesota state law
but it was not being consistently followed by all loggers.
In spite of all
precautions, it was at 11 a.m. on July 22, 1929, when the Cascade ranger
station received a call that there was smoke along the railroad spur near Star
Lake, just south of Brule Lake. Five minutes later, the Pine Mountain Lookout
also called in to report the smoke. The ranger and two other men immediately
left by speeder, arriving at 11:30 a.m. They found a camp foreman and 30
lumberjacks fighting to control the blaze, which, fanned by west winds, had
already jumped to the east side of Star Lake. The ranger, recognizing
how serious the situation was, made his way up to the lumber camp and called
back to Cascade for more help. He was able to get the message through just
before the camp's telephone line burned out. The Grand Marais ranger got
the message and immediately ordered a substantial fire-fighting crew to be
sent to Brule.
difficulties prevented a speedy response. Firefighters from Duluth and Ely had
to drive long distances to the intersection of the railroad and the Sawbill
Trail. There a logging train was waiting to take the first 70 men another 16
miles to the scene of the conflagration. Meanwhile, 186 more firefighters from
the logging company's camps at Swan and Flour Lakes in the Gunflint area came
south by railroad. By evening, a substantial fire control force was assembled.
On the fire lines, though, things were going badly. About 4 p.m., the wind
shifted to the northwest, threatening another logging camp and the company's
main base at Cascade Lake. At 5:30 p.m., the clerk at Camp One called
headquarters in great alarm asking that an engine be sent immediately to pump
water. The superintendent who was at dinner did not feel the situation could
be all that serious and failed to take action. At 6:10 p.m., 40 minutes
later, a second desperate call came through saying that the whole camp was in
flames. Fortunately, all personnel escaped before the camp burned.
The attack on the
fire began in earnest at 3 a.m. the next morning with more than 200 men on the
fire lines. Although the crews worked eighteen hours a day, the fire
continued to spread west and north during the next three days, jumping Homer
Lake. On July 26, 70 more firefighters were sent from Duluth. A seaplane,
which arrived from Ely with supplies, was used to scout the fire. Nevertheless, it burned over two more square miles to the north, approaching
Juno Lake. On the night of July 27, the wind shifted again, threatening the
town of Cascade. Superintendent Kelly directed a dramatic fight to save
the village, but elsewhere the fire raged out of control. Two small logging
camps on the south shore of Brule were destroyed. Lumberjacks from one of
these camps were being evacuated by barge when the barge caught fire out on
Brule Lake. They were rescued by an alligator boat and death was averted. By
July 31, the fire was completely in Forest Service territory and they assumed
full charge. The situation was complicated by a spot fire two miles north of
Brule Lake which necessitated shifting crews back and forth across the lake. Seventy more firefighters arrived from Duluth on August 1. In response to
pleas for help, other US Forest Service personnel arrived along with equipment
from the State of Minnesota and other agencies.
Still the fire
raged on and was only brought under control when a substantial rain fell on
August 7. Workers spent four more days grubbing out fire lines around the
area to prevent further spreading. Over 25,000 acres burned and the cost to
the government was estimated at well over $50,000 in 1929 dollars.
Back to Chronology
Sawbill History and Tales
Cherokee Lake Fire
"Forest Fire in the Woods"
Sawbill: History and Tales
Copyright by Mary Alice
In 1936, there were three serious fires in the Sawbill area, devastating
nearly ten thousand acres. The afternoon of Saturday, July 11, was
exceptionally hot with large thunderheads in the sky. Shortly after noon, a
light shower began, preceded by heavy flashes of lightning somewhere north of
Sawbill Lake. The tower man at Kelso Lookout reported several lightning
strikes a few miles northeast of his post, but no smoke was visible. At 3:45
p.m. the next day, he sighted a gray-white plume rising to the northeast and
notified Sawbill camp of his discovery. Simultaneously, the Brule Lake Lookout
reported the smoke. A cross-reading placed the fire near the portage between
Gordon and Cherokee Lakes. D. M. Williams was the Tofte ranger who immediately
requested help from Grand Marais, Ely and Duluth. Reaching the fire was a
difficult matter as all those canoeists who have made the trip to Cherokee and
Gordon Lakes can attest. Two principal routes were used. The shorter one involved a truck trip
to Sawbill Lake then a canoe trip up Sawbill, through Ada and Scoop Lakes, and
then through the Cherokee River and Cherokee Lake to the scene of the blaze.
This entailed making three or four portages as well as paddling miles across
the lakes. The second route was by truck and logging railroad from Grand
Marais to Brule Lake. From there motor boats, barges and canoes were used to
transport people and equipment through North Temperance and Sitka Lakes to
Cherokee. This trip, including two difficult portages, took about eleven
hours compared to four or five hours from Sawbill. Ranger Williams was the
first to reach the fire, arriving by seaplane about three hours after
receiving the first report of smoke. The blaze already covered about 60 acres
and was threatening the Cherokee ranger cabin. Williams immediately sent the
plane to Seagull Lake for a fire pump and by 8 p.m., he and a mechanic had it
in operation. They saved the Cherokee cabin and a few virgin white pines.
Fire crews came in from Sawbill and worked all through the night to build
fire lines. Progress was good until Monday morning when a 20 mph wind arose
from the northwest. As the day proceeded, the temperature soared into the
nineties. With little warning, the fire roared out of control, jumped across
the east bay of Cherokee and went racing down the eastern shore of the lake.
The 295 fire fighters who had arrived by this time were forced to take refuge
on the islands. By late afternoon, the magnificent white pines of North
Temperance lake were engulfed and the fire was rolling toward Brule Lake. By
3:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning, the firefighters were back in action building
fire lines around the lake. Once again, heavy rain which arrived on Tuesday
night was the deciding force in stopping the spreading fire. It took four more
days and a total of 619 men before the fire was completely trenched and under
The Cherokee fire
burned 3,200 acres of forest and was responsible for one death. G. H.
"Jerry" McDonald, superintendent of the Sawbill CCC camp disappeared on Friday
night, July 27, during the final stages of the battle. His body and his
overturned canoe were found on Sitka Lake on Sunday. Apparently his canoe
swamped and he was too exhausted from a solid week of fire fighting to save
himself. Roger McKeever now of Schroeder was an enlistee of the CCC, Sawbill
Camp. He ran the speeder between Cascade Lake and the Sawbill CCC camp where
someone else usually took over and took it on to Wanless Lake. Sometimes Roger
made the whole trip.
When fire broke out
on Cherokee Lake in 1936, the CCC men were enlisted to fight it along with
other recruits from Duluth and elsewhere. Roger remembers that they walked all
the way from Sawbill to Cherokee on a rugged path through the woods. This was
known to locals as the Hudson Bay Trail because it supposedly went all the way
to Hudson Bay. It had been cleared by CCC crews and was used by local
trappers. Roger's job on the fire scene was to make sure the pumps were
running. When the fire was out, everyone was expected to hike out and each one
was expected to carry a tool, perhaps an axe or a pulaski. The plane which
had been used to dump water on the fire was about ready to take off when Roger
asked the pilot if he could ride back. The pilot said he wasn't allowed to
carry any passengers but that if someone stowed away behind coils of rope in
the back of the plane he wouldn't be likely to see that person. The pilot
walked away and Roger climbed in. Back at camp, Roger received a tongue
lashing from the ranger. As punishment, he was told to report
immediately to the Gunflint Trail area where another fire was in progress on
an island. When he got over there, he found they had a big boat capable of
carrying 25 men but no one could get the brand new motor to start. Roger
offered to try. He was able to turn it over in short order. As a reward, he
got to be the skipper of the boat which delivered the fire fighters to the
island. After it was all over, someone asked Roger how it was that he always
got these good driving jobs.
hot summer of 1936 contributed to a record number of fires all over the
forest. On July 18, there were thirty small fires in the eastern part
of the Superior National Forest. On August 6, another large fire broke out
north of Timber Lake. Reinforcements of men and equipment were brought in
from Duluth and by August 11, that fire was under control. Further trouble
developed the next day. On August 12, a smoke was reported at Frost Lake.
Three Forest Service workers who were already nearby were dispatched to take
initial action with reinforcements promised. Everything went wrong. The first
three decided to wait for the reinforcements but these fellows got lost in the
dark on unmarked, difficult portages. By the following evening, the fire had
already burned 250 acres. Troubles increased as strong winds kept changing
direction. On August 18, a fire camp on Long Island narrowly escaped
destruction when the wind suddenly shifted, and flames surrounded the camp.
In the end, 3400 acres burned leaving only charred rubble between Gordon and
Long Island Lakes. Eight hundred men helped to fight the fire at a cost of
$25,000 plus a timber loss of $46,000. Equipment transported into this remote
area included thirteen pumps, 41 canoes, four boats, two radios and a portable
Sawbill History and Tales
Plouff Creek Fire
"Forest Fire in the Woods"
Sawbill: History and Tales
Copyright by Mary Alice
The Plouff Creek
fire in 1948 crossed the Sawbill Trail, stranding guests at Sawbill
Lodge for several days. The Forest Service placed a marker on the
Sawbill Trail telling a bit about this fire. For the next 40 years, the gap
in the vegetation was very noticeable to anyone driving on the Sawbill Trail.
Ten years after the fire, there was still a mostly bare swath. Then the jackpines which had reseeded as a result of the fire began to be evident. It
looked like a big plantation. By 2000, the trees are mature enough to blend
in with the rest of the forest and the site is not so obvious.
wildfires, the Plouff Creek fire burned in a mosaic pattern. In some places,
the fire burned so hot that it consumed the forest floor duff and the organic
material in the soil. In other places, it moved through the forest understory
and left the big trees untouched. A stand of red pine next to a swampy area
survived the fire. Bruce Giersdorf, USFS fire officer, measured some of the
trees in 1998 and found them to be 85 to 90 years old. The pattern of growth
which can be read in the rings of the wood showed that the trees had
experienced a growth spurt after the fire.
This is because the
fire released a burst of nutrients into the soil. This all started on June
11, 1948, when careless smoking ignited a blaze two miles northeast of the
former CCC camp located at the intersection of the Sawbill Trail and the Grade
Road. The blaze was quickly attacked and brought under control but it led
indirectly to the main disastrous fire. A logger on Plouff Creek, who had
sent his regular bulldozer to fight the first fire, continued to haul logs
with a spare tractor. This extra machine, which had no exhaust pipe, apparently dropped sparks into the dry undergrowth, quickly resulting in
flames. Fire was soon racing south along the Sawbill Trail. The efforts of
200 fire fighters with five bulldozers and a dozen pumpers were ineffective in
stopping the fire. Urgent appeals for help were answered by the Duluth office
of the Forest Service and by neighboring forest installations who sent 852
men, 21 bulldozers and 29 pumper units. In two days, twenty miles of fire line
had been built and the flames had been checked. Even so, 1200
hundred acres were burned.
This fire was
notable for the developments in fire fighting. Large scale resources were
quickly brought to the scene and damage to the forest was limited. The
ability to control fire was well demonstrated, but this type of fire fighting
was becoming increasingly expensive, with costs to the Forest Service on this
occasion topping $100,000. Since the Fourth of July, 1999 blowdown, fire
has become a more serious threat to the BWCA because of the abundance of fuel
now lying on the ground. Lightning strikes are more likely to cause
significant fire and the fire will burn with much more intensity. Studies
predict that fire will now be much more difficult to control. The Forest has
alerted people who own property near the BWCA, urging them to be vigilant and
to take additional steps to prevent fire damage such as installing metal roofs
on buildings. They are encouraging campers to use stoves instead of building
campfires. They have hired loggers to clean out the blowdown outside the BWCA
in order to decrease the fuel available in case of a fire. They have
increased their own vigilance and have brought in extra personnel for the
times when fire danger is usually highest. The fire seasons of 2000 to 2003
passed without major fires occurring, much to everyone's relief.
Sawbill History and Tales
Magic on the Rocks: Canoe Country Pictographs (Birch Portage Press,
Mary Alice Hansen,
Sawbill: History and Tales (Sawbill
Heinselman, The Boundary Waters Wilderness Ecosystem (University of
Minnesota Press, 1996)
Duane Lund, Our
Historic Boundary Waters (Adventure Publications, 1980)
Keeper of the Wild: The Life of Ernest Oberholtzer (Minnesota Historical
Society Press, 2001)
Rip Rapson, and Miron L. Heinselman, Troubled Waters: The Fight for the
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (North Star Press of St. Cloud,
Saving Quetico-Superior, A Land Set Apart (Minnesota Historical Society
Jerry Stebbins &
Greg Breining, Boundary Waters (Nodin Press, 1983)
Journal articles by Larry Ahlman,
Michael Furtman, Mary King Hoff, Patrick Karns, Helen Sue Manzo, and Jon
Friends of the
Boundary Waters Timeline for Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and
Superior National Forest at
W. J. McCabe
Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America at
Forest History at
Please send comments, information, and
corrections to me at
Thanks. Stephen Wilbers