Studying the BWCAW and experiencing the wonder of wilderness

A group of students from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire traveled to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness last month to study biology; of course, they also experienced beauty and the joys of working as a team in a challenging wilderness environment.

The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram newspaper’s reporter Rob Hanson accompanied the group, and wrote a great report about their work studying lichens and invasive species:

In almost every aspect, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness seems to be on its own epic scale — from the vast forests and seemingly endless lakes and islands down to some of its most impressive of inhabitants, the moose and the timber wolf.

But on a recent trip, nine UW-Eau Claire biology students were more interested in the little things under foot and paddle.

The class, led by biology professor Todd Wellnitz, spent the last week of September paddling and portaging a roughly 40-mile loop northwest of Ely, Minn., with the goal of collecting unique data on lichen and crayfish species.

“The class is about doing research, developing a project, developing a protocol, learning how to collect data in the field and then taking that data and make something of it,” Wellnitz said. “In other words, look for patterns and find out what nature is doing.

“But it’s more than that,” he added. “It’s coming outside into the wilderness and being part of a group that is living and working in the out-of-doors. It sort of takes it to another level.”

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Hanson wrote an accompanying opinion piece based on the trip, discussing the rare experience for solitude that wilderness provides, and the need for society to protect it:

By now, we all should recognize the inherent value of wilderness areas, from essential ecosystem functions to just plain enjoyment. We should also realize the indelible impact of our actions, whether in a wilderness area or before we drive those two blocks to the convenience store instead of walking.

And while it may seem a bit strange to have a strongly hands-on approach with wilderness, in a era where not a corner of the globe has been spared from human impact, it’s also a necessity.

That’s why it’s so important to not only leave no trace while in wilderness areas, but also to support those who fight to protect them.

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