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What is wilderness?

Everyone might have their own answer, but here is Congress’ official definition from the Wilderness Act of 1964:

 “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation; (3) has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition; and (4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.”

What others say about wilderness

“We need the tonic of wildness... At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”

Henry David Thoreau, 1854, in “Walden; or, Life in the Woods”

“If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.”

President Lyndon Johnson, Sept. 3, 1964, on signing the Wilderness Act

“I believe we have a profound fundamental need for areas of the earth where we stand without our mechanisms that make us immediate masters over our environment.”

Howard Zahniser, principal author of the Wilderness Act

“… wilderness holds within itself all the mystery of the universe, the story of evolution, of growth and change and beauty from the beginnings of time. Wilderness is more than lakes, rivers, and timber along the shores, more than fishing or just camping. It is the sense of the primeval, of space, solitude, silence, and the eternal mystery. It is a fragile quality and is destroyed by man and his machines.”

Sigurd Olson, testimony to Congress, 1964

Wilderness conference to be held Friday, Saturday

The Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute at Northland College in Ashland is hosting a two-day seminar on wilderness in the Lake Superior region, bringing together researchers, experts, agencies, nonprofits and nature enthusiasts.

The Lake Superior Wilderness Conference, to be held Friday and Saturday at Duluth’s Inn on Lake Superior, will include more than 20 presenters on topics that include wilderness values, mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the future of wilderness and wilderness history.

Events run from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day.

Partners in the event include the Friends of the Boundary Waters, Listening Point Foundation, Minnesota Division – Izaak Walton League of America, National Parks Conservation Association, North Country Trail Association, Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, Sierra Club, Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute, Wilderness Society, Wilderness Watch and the Aldo Leopold Foundation.

To register or for more information, go to or call (715) 682-1223. Registration closes Wednesday.