In the early 1970s, the U.S. Forest Service planned to allow private logging in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of northern Minnesota. One million acres of conifer forests and hundreds of pristine lakes were at risk.
In 1972, attorneys with the newly formed Minnesota PIRG took legal action to forestall logging. In a federal lawsuit, PIRG charged that the Forest Service had approved logging without filing the required Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Almost immediately, PIRG won a temporary injunction against logging and, later, PIRG won the case. When the Forest Service eventually filed an EIS that justified logging, PIRG sued again, arguing that the EIS was inadequate.
By the time PIRG lost its final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1978, Minnesotans had heard enough about the Boundary Waters to become convinced that it was worth protecting. Even as the legal battle transpired, MPIRG students were busy developing alternative strategies. Students and others copied lists of users of the Boundary Waters from the Forest Service, then sent out a mailing. With the money they raised and the support of other preservation groups, a new organization — Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness — was formed.
PIRG's efforts also got a boost from a passionate defender of the wilderness: retired forester and professor Bud Heinselman.
“He’d come to MPIRG, wait until the staff had left for the day, and stand at the copy machine for hours to send mailings to the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness,” said Minnesota PIRG director Jon Motl. “Everything happens because a human being appears and does something extraordinary. It was Heinselman. Students and staff loved him, and he loved MPIRG.”
By 1978, the work of Bud Heinselman, PIRG students and others had built the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness into a strong organization. The Friends led the drafting of federal legislation to permanently protect the area and lobbied Congress to support it. Meanwhile, PIRG students built support on their campuses, collecting more than 14,000 signatures on a petition in support of preserving the Boundary Waters.
The bill to protect the Boundary Waters passed Congress in October 1978. Today, the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness remains a watchdog and steward of the area, while the wilderness itself remains what it always has been — an unspoiled natural treasure
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