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Department of Politics

371. Wilderness Politics & Policy
A Seminar in Wilderness History,
Politics, Policy & Management
taught in part at the
Wilderness Field Station &
and in the BWCA Wilderness

September 2012

Dr. Craig W. Allin, Instructor








AUGUST 30, 2012
Animated Image Copyright by Paul Mason, Bill Mason Productions Ltd.
Good timing and torso rotation will move the canoe efficiently forward, but don't expect to become airborne.


The following Supplements to this Course Description can be found on the Web:

Calendar & Assignments

Academic Intregity


Good Advice

Accommodating Disabilities

Rules & Regulations


E-Mail Attachments

Flatwater Canoeing Videos
See especially # 3,4,10,12,13 & 15

Cornell Wilderness Term Web Site

Guide to Identifying Key Trees

How to Lift a Canoe

Basic Canoeing

Basic Navigation

When Europeans first arrived in North America, they viewed it as a continental wilderness populated by wild men (Native Americans) and wild beasts. By the late 19th century the continent had been tamed, and Americans were increasingly interested in preserving vestiges of their wilderness past. The purest expression of that impulse has been the political movement to preserve and protect large tracts of undeveloped federal lands in a National Wilderness Preservation System. Today there are 756 designated wilderness areas totaling more than 109 million acres. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is one of the oldest, one of the most heavily used, and probably the most famous of them all. As such, it is the ideal venue for an exploration of the politics and policy of wilderness preservation in America.

Our course will explore the wilderness concept, the history of wilderness preservation in the United States, the impact wilderness designation on national parks, national forests, and other public lands, and the host of controversies that inevitably arise when government agencies are directed to "preserve natural conditions." What is wilderness? Is preserving wilderness possible? Does wilderness preservation waste resources? To what extent should land managers interfere with natural forces? Should forest fires be allowed to burn? Should predatory animals be reintroduced? What is the appropriate place of people in wilderness areas? To what degree should we try to make the wilderness safe for visitors? To what extent should visitors be regulated to protect wilderness? Should concessions be made to Native Americans whose ancestors once called these "wilderness areas" home? Science is indispensable to thinking seriously about many of these questions, but ultimately the choices to be made are political choices. We will try to understand who is making these choices, how and why.

2012 Canoe Trip Map

As it happens, we are avoiding the Pagami Fire site as well as unburned areas within the blowdown zone. You will have to talk to and in a column students about hiking and camping in the ashes. Our route will skirt the southern and eastern edges of the Weeny Primitive Management Area, visit Rebecca Falls, as well as Curtain Falls in both upper and lower Basswood Falls. We will follow the international boundary through Crooked Lake and along the Basswood River, ultimately returning to the Wilderness Field Station through Jack Fish Bay and a number of smaller lakes and rivers. In the course of this trip we will visit some of the wildest and some of the least wild areas in the BWCA and have the chance to consider the impact of public policy choices on the preservation of this priceless landscape.


: Portions of this syllabus and some of your reading assignments are available in the portable document format (PDF). PDF files have advantages that might appeal to you: (a) You can save a PDF file to your hard drive and view it without being connected to the Internet; (b) PDF files have page breaks, so you can print selected pages if you like. PDF is also the dominant file type used for delivering facsimiles of paper documents, like court opinions and legislative reports, over the Internet. To read PDF files on your personal computer you need the Adobe Acrobat Reader, which you can download without charge from the publisher's web site. This software is already loaded on most college-owned computers.

Feedback: Whether or not you are asked to complete a standardized course evaluation, I am interested in your comments and suggestions for improvement of the course, the readings, the assignments and this course description. Feel free to send comments as you think of them. E-mail:

Instructor: Craig W. Allin, Room 113, College Hall. Telephone: Office, (895-) 4278; Mobile, (319) 431-1100. If I do not answer the phone, leave me a message or send e-mail to

Office Hours on Campus: If I'm not in class with you, you can probably find me in my office. Feel free to make an appointment or just show up. To help you find me, the most current version of my schedule is available for your electronic inspection over the campus network if you are using Microsoft Outlook (not Outlook Express or Outlook Web Access). From 8:00 a.m. to noon and 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m., Cheryl Dake, faculty secretary for South Hall (ext. 4283) can consult my calendar and make appointments for you.

  1. On the File menu, point to Open, and then click Other User's Folder.
  2. In the Open Other User's Folder box, click Name and select Craig Allin from the list.
  3. In the Folder box, select Calendar from the pull-down menu.

Office Hours off Campus: Sunrise to one hour past sunset.

E-Mail Attachments: Please deliver your paper by means of e-mail attachment. Please save your paper in Microsoft Word (*.doc or *.docx) or Rich Text Format (*.rtf) which supported by virtually all word processing programs). Attach your file to an e-mail addressed to . If you are unfamiliar with e-mail attachments, click here for instructions.

Class Meetings: TBA, when on campus. Consult Course Calendar & Assignments for times.

Focus & Approach: My intention is to expose you to the politics of wilderness preservation while allowing you to experience first-hand the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, which in terms of history, law and politics is probably most important wilderness area in the United States. In order to do that, we will, for the most part, abandon the classroom, our computers, and our Internet connections. You and I will read, think, present and discuss. For a week we will live and travel together in the wilderness, sharing the intellectual responsibilities of students, the management responsibilities of federal officials, and the domestic responsibilities associated with cooking, cleaning and camp life generally.

READING. We will work from two books and a number of scholarly articles and primary documents. Some of the materials listed below will be assigned to everybody, and some to an individual. Many are relevant to your policy paper assignment, and some are general references which will be available to be borrowed from Craig. Remember, there will be no opportunity to print these documents once we leave campus.

Allin, 2nd ed.

Allin, Craig W. 2008. The Politics of Wilderness Preservation. 2nd edition. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press.

Dawson, Chad P. and John C. Hendee. 2008. Wilderness management. 4th edition. Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing. [available in bookstore]

Readings for Discussion & Policy Paper [a work in progress]
The selections in green below are assigned reading either here or at the field station. Many are also relevant to your policy paper. Make sure you have access to a copy.
The selections in red are potentially important sources for your policy paper, but you will be able to use them on line after we return to campus.

  • Ahlgren, Clifford & Isabel. 1984. Lob trees in the wilderness: the human and natural history of the Boundary Waters. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. [Craig's personal copy available as a reference work]
  • Allin, Craig W. 2002. Burn, baby, burn? fire in the wilderness, Mount Vernon, IA. Department of Politics, Cornell College. [download]
  • Allin, Craig W. 2008. The politics of wilderness preservation. 2nd edition. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press.
  • Allin, Craig W. 1999. "The triumph of politics over wilderness science." In Wilderness Science in a Time of Change, edited by Stephen F. McCool, et al. vol. 2, 180-85. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. [download and print for your use]
  • Allin, Craig W. 2002. Understanding the Wilderness Act, Mount Vernon, IA. Department of Politics, Cornell College. [download]
  • Breining, Greg. 1995. Minnesota: Among the motorheads. Wilderness, 59 (Winter): 30-33. [available from EBSCO Host. Database: Academic Search Premier]
  • Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act. Public Law 95-495. 1978. Statutes at Large, 92 (21 October): 1649. [download and print for your use]
  • Dawson, Chad P. and John C. Hendee. 2008. Wilderness management. 4th edition. Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing. [available in bookstore]
  • Duncan, Richard A., and Kevin Proescholdt. 1999. Protecting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness: Litigation & legislation. Denver University Law Review, 76: 621. [download from LEXIS-NEXIS® Academic Universe and print for your use]
  • Frelich, Lee and Carlton, Don. 2001. Ecological and Fire Conditions in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. U.S.D.A. Forest Service. Superior National Forest. [download]
  • Friends of the Boundary Waters v. Bosworth (2006) [download]
  • Grumney, Ray. 2011. Underestimating the Pagami Creek Fire. Star Tribune (Minneapolis), 28 October. [download]
  • Heinselman, Miron. 1996. The Boundary Waters Wilderness ecosystem. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. [Craig's personal copy available as a reference work]
  • Kennedy, Tony. 2011. Forest Service Way Off on BWCA Fire Projections. Star Tribune (Minneapolis), 31 October. [download]
  • Meersman, Tom. 1999. Scars won't fade quickly. Star Tribune (Minneapolis), 11 July, Sunday, Metro, News: 1B. [download from LEXIS-NEXIS® Academic Universe]
  • Mlot, Christine. 2003. The perfect windstorm study. Bioscience 53 (July): 624-629. [download]
  • Rybak, Deborah Caulfield, and Robert Franklin. 1999. Canoeists relate tales of terror. Star Tribune (Minneapolis), 7 July, Metro, News: 1A. [download from LEXIS-NEXIS® Academic Universe]
  • Tillman, Edward M. 2000. Current public law and policy laws: The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness: Arguments for eliminating motorized recreation. Hamline Journal of Public Law and Policy, 22: 87. [assigned to one student for Campfire Talk, available from LEXIS-NEXIS® Academic Universe ]
  • USDA-FS. 2007. Chapter 2320 - Wilderness Management. In Forest Service Manual. Washington, DC: Author. [download]
  • USDA-FS. Superior National Forest. 1996. BWCA Wilderness Campsite & Portage Monitoring Manual. Author. [download and print for your use]
  • USDA-FS. Superior National Forest. 2000. Fuels risk assessment of blowdown in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and adjacent lands. Author. [download]
  • USDA-FS. Superior National Forest. 2001. Record of Decision for fuel treatment in
    the BWCAW.
  • USDA-FS. Superior National Forest. 2001. BWCAW prescribed burning monitoring plan. Author. [download]
  • USDA-FS. Superior National Forest. 2001. Final environmental impact statement for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area fuel treatment. Author. [download]
  • USDA-FS. Superior National Forest. 2002. After the storm. Author. [download]
  • USDA-FS. Superior National Forest. 2002. Blow down fuel reduction monitoring summary. Author. [download]
  • USDA-FS. Superior National Forest. 2003. Management direction for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. In Proposed forest plan. Author. [download and print for your use]
  • USDA-FS. Superior National Forest. 2012. Pagami Creek Wildfire. Author. [download]
  • USDI, et al. 2001. Review and update of the 1995 federal wildland fire management policy. Author. [download]
  • White House. 2002. Healthy forests: An initiative for wildfire prevention and stronger communities. [download]
  • Wilderness Act. Public Law 88-577. 1964. Statutes at Large, 78 (3 September): 890-96. [reprinted in Allin 2008, Appendix A]
  • "Wilderness - Primitive Areas", Code of Federal Regulations, Title 36, §293. [download]


  • Attendance: You are expected to attend every class, unless you have been excused, and to participate actively in classroom discussion.
  • Reading: You are expected to complete all reading assignments prior to the class period for which they are listed in the syllabus.
  • Attitude: You are expected to be good wilderness citizens and to contribute to positive group dynamics. You are expected to do your share of camp and travel chores--including cooking, cleaning, and carrying--and to brighten the lives of those around you.
  • Wilderness Management Service Project: Ironically, it takes a lot of management to keep a "wilderness area" wild. In the BWCA, as in most wilderness areas [other than those where mining or livestock grazing is permitted], the greatest localized threat to naturalness is the cumulative impact of recreational users on the area's biological resources. In theory, deviations from naturalness must be monitored so that appropriate management actions can be initiated. In practice, government agencies rarely have the resources required to do the monitoring that they should. As we travel, we are going to do some campsite monitoring. We will learn the techniques required to measure human impacts at campsites and collect data that the Forest Service can use to compare the current condition of those campsites with conditions in the past or future.
  • Course Journal: Obviously this course has a significant experiential component. You are supposed to learn from the experience and to integrate what you experience with what you read. To encourage systematic thoughtfulness, you are expected to keep a daily course journal. You may write anything you like so long as it is related to the experience of the course. Record your observations, your insights, your questions, your feelings. This writing is primarily to help you focus your thinking, but it's not a "secret diary." It's not the place to write about things you regard as private and personal. Hopefully writing in your journal will help to crystallize your thinking, improve your memory of the course, and prepare you to be a better participant in group discussion. Please write at least 250 words every day, beginning on the first day of the class and concluding the last day we spend up north.

CASE MEMORANDUM: One goal of this course is to look at a single case closely enough so that you can begin to understand how the three branches of government interact to create the public policy that we so often attribute to "the government." The "chain-of-lakes" issue in the management of the BWCAW is a good example. Your reading for days 2 and 4 will familiarize you with some of the legal documents that govern management of the BWCAW. In an essay not to exceed 1000 words, please summarize the origins, development, and resolution of the chain-of-lakes issue giving attention to the participants in the process, the legal issues that arose, and the current status of public policy with respect to the issue.

PRE-TRIP EXAM: There will be one exam in the course, sometime before we begin our wilderness trip. It will test your mastery of the assigned readings.

CAMPFIRE TALK: Out in the wilderness, we will have limited opportunity for reading and discussion. Your only formal "academic" responsibility during our wilderness trip is one "campfire" talk. You will be assigned an article or book chapter, which you will read, contemplate, and discuss with the group one evening after dinner. Each of you will need a photocopy of your assignment (in a ziploc bag). You will not need your textbook or any other official course reading on the canoe trip. Your job at the campfire talk is (a) to report what you read and to summarize its major points, (b) to relate your selection to the assigned readings we have all done, to the specific circumstances of the BWCAW, and/or to our field experiences, (c) to share the lessons you learned from the selection, and (d) to answer questions from the other participants in the seminar. You should plan on talking for 15 to 20 minutes excluding the time you spend answering questions.

POST-TRIP POLICY PAPER: The final policy paper addresses management of flammable materials in that portion of the BWCA Wilderness that suffered the massive blowdown on July 4, 1999. The assignment is described in detail below.


Class Participation


Chain-of-Lakes Case Memorandum


Pre-Trip Exam


Campfire Talk


Post-Trip Policy Paper





"He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that."
--John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1859)

portaging through blowdown
Portaging through the Blowdown Area

Assignment: This is a public policy course, so you should not be surprised that you will be writing a short public policy paper: 1500-2500 words. Of course, you will need to read, think, assess, and write persuasively, but this paper will be unlike any public policy paper you have previously written for me.

First, you will be writing a policy analysis rather than a policy proposal. Major events – some would say natural calamities – have taken place, and public policy decision-makers have responded to them. Your job is to assess decisions that have already been made rather than to propose a policy for the future.

Second, because this is a field course with limited time on campus and limited access to the library, I have shortened and streamlined this assignment in a variety of ways. There will be no need to to do research in the conventional sense or to submit a topic and bibliography. The topic has been chosen for you, and I have done the initial research, located your sources and prepared your bibliography. I will not ask you to submit an outline of contentions, but you should study carefully the material and links provided below to be sure that the paper you write is in good form. You should be thinking about the paper from the first day of class, as you read your assignments and experience the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Mark your texts, take notes, and jot down your ideas throughout the course. You will write the paper after we return to Cornell, and it will be due on the final day of class. There will be no opportunity to rewrite.

Introduction: "Heavy rain and straight-line winds in excess of 90 miles per hour hit north central and northeastern Minnesota on July 4, 1999, blowing down trees and causing severe flooding. On the the Superior National Forest, 477,000 acres (more than 600 square miles) were impacted by the blowdown, including one-third of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW)" []. This was an amazing freak weather event. Click here for a discussion by scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. For contemporaneous news coverage consult these articles in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

  • Rybak, Deborah Caulfield, and Robert Franklin. 1999. Canoeists relate tales of terror. Star Tribune (Minneapolis), 7 July, Metro, News: 1A. [download from LEXIS-NEXIS® Academic Universe]
  • Meersman, Tom. 1999. Scars won't fade quickly. Star Tribune (Minneapolis), 11 July, Sunday, Metro, News: 1B. [download from LEXIS-NEXIS® Academic Universe]

With literally millions of trees blown down, there was and is a significantly increased risk of a major forest fire in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Such a fire would be very expensive to fight, and it might be difficult or impossible to extinguish. (When giant fires broke out in Yellowstone National Park in 1988, they were not extinguished until the first snows fell despite the efforts of more than 10,000 firefighters and the expenditure of more than $100 million.) The BWCA had such a fire in late summer of 2011. The Pagami Creek Wildfire began unobtrusively on August 18, and remained completely unremarkable for four weeks. On September 12, the fire exploded, burning over an area of 93,000 acres – in one day! [photos] (If this blowup had happened on the same date in 2006, the Wilderness Politics Class would have been there!) Did the Forest Service make a huge mistake in management of the Pagami Creek Fire [the local newspaper thinks so] or is this simply an example of nature at work in a wilderness area? The BWCA Wilderness is supposed to be managed as a wilderness, an area where nature is allowed to take its course. The July 4 storm was certainly a natural event, and the Pagami Creek Fire was started by lightning.

Fire Footprint from Space
Pagami Wildfire Burn Scar from Space
credit: NASA (

Topic: Your topic is wilderness fire management, specifically did the United States Forest Service mismanage the Pagami Creek Fire and/or the post-blowdown fuel situation that preceded the fire? In answering this question I expect you to take into account United States Forest Service preparation for the possibility of a major fire in the years since after the great blowdown; Forest Service management the Pagami Creek Fire per se [see official United States Forest Service post-fire reports available here]; the nature of the BWCA ecosystem; the philosophy of wilderness preservation; and the various laws, policies and management guidelines applicable to the BWCAW.

Bibliography: Your bibliography is the list of sources printed above. Feel free to cut and paste it into your paper. Since it is in Turabian format, your citations should use the same format. In Turabian format a citation to a general idea or to an entire work must include the last name(s) of the author(s) and the year of publication. For more specific facts and all quotations, the page number must be included. Information contained in the body of the sentence is not repeated in the citation. Consult the examples below.

  • David M. O'Brien (1990) discusses the role of the Supreme Court in American society.
  • An important treatise has recently been published on the role of the Supreme Court in American society (O'Brien 1990).
  • According to David M. O'Brien (1990), "the Senate Judiciary Committee spent little time on Scalia" (105).
  • "The Senate Judiciary Committee spent little time on Scalia" (O'Brien 1990, 105).

Policy Assessment & Outline of Contentions: Your policy assessment must answer the question posed above: "did the United States Forest Service mismanage the Pagami Creek Fire and/or the post-blowdown fuel situation that preceded the fire?" Please note that articulating a good thesis for your policy assessment will require you to have already completed your reading and thinking. Your paper should present your thesis followed by supporting arguments and evidence. The best way to think about the supporting arguments is as a hierarchy of contentions. Before you organize your contentions into an outline, consult A Good Argument Is a Hierarchy of Contentions.

Policy Paper: Your policy assessment and supporting arguments will be presented in a formal paper with appropriate manuscript format, proper citations, etc. Remember, answering the question you have been assigned requires you to take a position and make a case for it. Your policy assessment is the conclusion that you have drawn after examining all of the evidence. Your job in the paper is to state that conclusion and explain how you reached it. In otherwords, you need to set forth arguments and facts that demonstrate persuasively that your assessment is not merely an opinion but rather the correct assessment based upon the totality of the facts. Papers that take a position and argue a case are very common at all levels in law, business, journalism, and government. They may be called briefs (law), decision memoranda (business), editorials (journalism), or policy papers (government). Whatever they are called, good ones have certain characteristics. They are:

  • Convincing: They state a conclusion and back that conclusion with reasoned argument. The purpose is to convince the reader, and the better the argument, the higher the probability of success.
  • Well Researched: They are firmly rooted in careful research. You must have a command of the relevant facts. In this case the relevant facts include everything you know about the BWCA Wilderness and about the laws, policies, and procedures which govern its management by the United States Forest Service. You must understand your own position and the positions of those with whom you disagree.
  • Concise: They are not always short, but they must be concise. That means no padding and no B.S. Papers such as these are meant for the eyes of very busy decision makers: the judge, the corporate executive, and the high government official. If you want to convince such a person, you ought not waste her time.
  • Hierarchically Organized: They organize the arguments to be made into the strongest possible hierarchy of contentions. Refer again to A Good Argument Is a Hierarchy of Contentions.
  • Well-Written: Because of the unique format of this course, you will not have the opportunity to rewrite your paper in light of my critique. I remain ready, willing, and able to provide guidance as you work on your paper. To get that help, however, you will have to seek me out prior to the time the paper is due.

Please deliver your policy paper in the form of a single e-mail attachment. Consult POLICY PAPERS: How to Succeed for more detailed instructions. To view a sample policy paper written for another course click here.

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