It’s a Jungle Out There

     Technically it isn’t a jungle, it’s a wilderness, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.  It’s a wilderness area.  What exactly does that mean?  This is wilderness according to Webster’s Dictionary:

1 a (1): a tract or region uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings (2): an area essentially undisturbed by human activity together with its naturally developed life community b: an empty or pathless area or region <in remote wildernesses of space groups of nebulae are found — G. W. Gray †1960> c: a part of a garden devoted to wild growth2obsolete : wild or uncultivated state 3 a: a confusing multitude or mass : an indefinitely great number or quantity <I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys — Shakespeare> b: a bewildering situation <those moral wildernesses of civilized life — Norman Mailer>
This definition of wilderness seems to describe the BWCA quite well.  If you combine all of the descriptions then you could say, "It’s a wild, confusing region uninhabited and undisturbed by human activity." 
     People who visit the BWCA should have a good idea of what the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness really is before they visit.  Not too many people plan to summit Everest or visit the North Pole without reading up on it but since the BWCA is in  Minnesota maybe people think it really couldn’t be a wilderness area.  
     Some people venture into the wilderness completely unprepared and then expect to be rescued.  It happens every year and the USFS has to pay for the expense of searching and rescuing these lost adventure seekers.  The USFS budget is depleted by those wilderness explorers who perhaps forgot what the word wilderness meant.
     I think our District Ranger for the Superior National Forest, Dennis Nietzke  knows what the word wilderness means, do you?
My real point for this discussion is that we have had our first search and rescue for the season. We worked with the Cook County Sheriff’s office to search for a person who was a couple days overdue coming out of the Boundary Waters. Our role was to put wilderness rangers into the Boundary Waters on what would be the persons entry point as well as the exit point and have them canoe toward each other. We also offered an aircraft (one of our deHavilland Beavers) to search from the air.

In this case the person’s campsite was spotted from the air, the beaver landed and after an assessment the person was flown out. All of this makes me ponder the decades old debate of are our expectation of visitors that go into the “wilderness”? I believe a common sentiment would be that a person who chooses to venture into the Boundary Waters should be self sufficient, work through all the challenges that might come with a wilderness experience and make their way back out again. There are times when a person finds themselves in a life threatening situation, immediate medical attention is required and rescue is appropriate. But what about those gray areas when the wilderness challenge turns into a struggle (let’s say a twisted knee makes walking very difficult and painful)? At what point do we say, “You’re in a wilderness, tough it out.” versus “We better medevac this person.”? We usually error on the side of caution, but then it always makes me wonder if then it really is a “wilderness challenge”? I’m not sure I have a clear answer on this one.