Should people who live near a wilderness area be willing to accept a lack of technology?

The Court of Appeals has reversed a lower court’s ruling against a 450-foot cell phone tower near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. AT&T says the tower, which will be visible from within the BWCA, is needed to improve cell phone coverage. Today’s Question: Should people who live near a wilderness area be willing to accept a lack of technology?

  • In this case local residents are not giving up cell phone technology as ATT was allowed to build a 200′ tower and it provides 83% of the same range as the obnoxious 450′ tower would. The difference will only be seen at distant points in the Boundary Waters and that difference is minimal (17%). In general communities across this country have rejected new cell towers as visual impairments of the landscape near wilderness or not. Even the Koochiching County Board rejected ATT last year because a tall tower too close to Voyageur Park is inappropriate. ATT is less concerned about local residents than they are about coloring in a huge swath of the map to show their coverage area and compete against Verizon in the war of the maps.

  • reggie

    Today’s question has it backwards. The correct question is, “should people who choose to live in wilderness areas be able to fend off the incursions of technology?” Not to sound too much like Ted Bundy, but to that I’d answer a resounding, YES!

    It is in everyone’s long-term interest to protect what little bit of wilderness remains unsullied.

  • Matt

    In a society where property rights matter, as opposed to a govt controlled society where the opinions of a few are all that count, this is an easy question to answer. Does the construction of the tower encroach on anothers property or diminish the value of their property? If so than a remedy must be found, if not the tower could be built. Common sense approaches such as this would drive more effective and less obtrusive cell towers as carriers would not rely on a govt decision to allow them to build monstrosities and campers in BWCA would not have to without cell coverage (but to them I say “leave it home, you’ll survive”)

  • Bill

    Yes, isn’t that the one of the reasons folks move to semi-remote areas in the first place?

  • kurt

    Yes. A wilderness with technology is no longer a wilderness.

  • Ann A

    Most of us do accept, even embrace, it. It’s hard, though, when the world around you seems to change at an ever increasing pace and you seem stuck in time. Charming, yes. Sustainable and reasonable, I’m not sure. I really do think that is for us to decide. It’s appreciated when people remember that this area is our home, and not just their playground. Likewise, we try to remember why so many are beckoned to play here.

  • Chris

    This question is poorly worded in order for people to make an easy “arm chair” answer of yes/no when they don’t have the facts. We should be talking about how residents near the BWCA are impacted by special interest groups who don’t always have their interests in mind.

    I regularly enjoy the BWCA and the Superior National Forest and want to see if preserved but this lawsuit is wrong on many levels.

  • Jim G

    The cutting edge of technology slices both ways. We fondly remember the days when being at the cabin meant being out of beeper range. Now, we have few areas that can be a refuge from the daily onslaught of chimes, rings, and chirps that confirm our slavery to these technological wonders. By the way, at the deer shack I still don’t get ANY reception.

  • Duane

    It is so easy for many of us to make an issue where none really exist. Rather than join the group of people that feel that the towers are contributing to the destruction of our natures beauty, they should step back and appreciate the majestic beauty of the tall slender tower with a light in the darkness, standing as a beacon of safety and direction for people in need. They also need to appreciate the appeal of a wind generator lazily working to supply renewable energy to this country, economical energy for people that find meeting the utility bills is sometime a problem. I have been to the BWCA, but I have also been to the inner cities of DC, St Louis and the Twin Cities. There is more destruction to the beauty of our country in those areas than a tower.

  • Steve the Cynic

    Wilderness is a myth. There’s not a square inch of the surface of the earth that hasn’t been affected by human activity of one kind or another. And the idea that human activity is unnatural is mere ideology. Why is the building of a tower by humans any less natural than gophers digging holes or beavers building dams? The difference between a South Dakota prairie dog town and downtown Manhattan is one of degree. Altering the environment is natural behavior, and not just for humans. Your existence alters the natural world. Get over it.

  • todd

    I believe most residents would be willing to live with restraints on the available technology. However, the legal question here is – do they have the RIGHT to restrain technology adjacent to a wilderness area? The answer, as affirmed by the Appeals court, is no. Where would it stop? Rerouting satellites so their flashing path across the night sky doesn’t take them within view? Fellow portagers being required to hide their GPS as they pass me on the trail? It might be understandably sad or even depressing, but as in the case of the St. Croix bridge, denying it doesn’t pass the reasonable test.

  • kurt


    And, by extension, get over your anthopogenic global warming!

  • Paul

    People are entitled to what they pay for. Or, in this case of conflict, to what the highest bidder pays for.

    Bidding is why it is not enough to me wealthy, you must be MORE wealthy than the other guy.

  • Steve the Cynic


    The difference is that anthropogenic global warming has the potential to cause a lot of human suffering. A tower visible from the boundary waters does not. (Duh!)

  • kurt


    What difference does it make? ‘The idea that human activity is unatural is mere ideology’-you said so yourself just moments before. One persons prairie dog town is anothers metropolis. DUH!

  • JasonB

    No, but as technology expands there will be new conflicts like this tower dispute that did not exist before.

    Until I read the question I had not considered those who live ‘near’ the BWCA, not live within or use it, and who would benefit from the tower. I suspect many of those people have been there before it ever became a wilderness, and they deserve coverage as much as anyone.

    I still don’t like how visually intrusive that tower will be. The intent of the wilderness should be maintained regardless of any new technologies that will continue to change the built landscape. I wish AT&T could have worked with those concerned to find a more creative solution rather than use their finances in court to bull their way in.

  • GregX

    stone tools and animal hides for human use are technology. the question posed resolved to… is this next thing the “too much” point? Answer – as it stands perhaps, but long term … this will happen because a person may resist but people persist.

  • David Poretti

    Isn’t that the point of choosing to live in a wilderness area – to minimalize the intrusive technology of society? Yes I understand that the BWCAW is not an untouched, pristine wilderness, but it is not Lake Minnetonka or Lake Street, either. If a cell tower is OK, why not billboards or a junk yard? If visual pollution is ok, why not sound pollution? (Is it OK if I blast my boom box while I’m camping? After all, only a small percentage of the BWCAW will be able to hear it!) Regarding the camper safety argument, if someone thinks that a cell phone makes one safer in the BWCAW, they are going to eventually learn the hard way that help is at best many, many hours away. I would argue that being in a situation without a technological crutch will foster a greater respect for the situation and environment you are in, and in turn force you to develop your own problem solving skills.

  • Steve the Cynic

    Unlike prairie dogs, Kurt, we are capable of foreseeing the consequences of our choices. Equally ideological is the assumption that “natural” and “unnatural” are synonyms for “good” and “bad.” We don’t have to blindly follow our insticts if we don’t want to. In particular, if it’s true that anthropogenic climate change is happening and that it’s dangerous, we can make choices about how we behave in the future so as to mitigate it.

    You still don’t get it, Kurt. You seem to be assuming that if I don’t hew to your ideology, I must be hewing to an opposite one, but that’s not the case, unless you consider pragmatism an ideology, which is not the usual meaning of that word.

  • kurt

    I am merely pointing out, Steve, the disparity between your first statement espousing the ethical relatavism of human activity as opposed to your second statement arguing that its “different” with global warming. Your ideological neutrality seems to have deserted you as you claim that AGW has the ‘potential to cause a lot of human suffering’. And whether you hew to my ideology or not doesn’t particularly concern me.

  • Steve the Cynic

    I don’t see any disparity, Kurt, between pointing out that preserving “wilderness” is not a moral absolute, on the one hand, and insisting that we should consider how our actions affect future generations, on the other. A healthy ecosystem is valuable to humanity, because we humans are part of it. It’s not an either-or choice; it’s a question of optimization and sustainability. Having some relatively wild places is good, but it’s unreasonable to insist on “unspoiled” wilderness, as if human activity amounts to spoilage. Exploiting natural resources is good, but we should do so in a way that doesn’t disrupt the ecosystem to our long-term detriment. Both extremes, either that wilderness is an absolute good or that ecological concerns are irrelevant, are mistakes. As with the left-vs.-right political debates, I refuse to accept the false dichotomy.

  • david

    I personally do not want to see a red flashing beacon the next time I am in the BWCAW. Part of what makes that place so cool is the fact you can’t see such things. What i don’t get is the fact there’s enough demand to justify the lack of compromise and the cost this pissing contest has had to cost at&t. Not to mention the cost of the tower. I wish they put as much effort into fixing the dead spots around the cities.

  • Kurt Nelson

    I agree with Steve the Cynic regarding how we view nature in the abstract. There are very few places, especially in the lower 48 that are free of human intrusion.


    When I go into the BWCA, I have an absolute expectation that I am in fact getting away from it all. This does not mean I expect not to hear voices, or cringe if I encounter others on the lakes. The problem with the tower is not the blinking red light, (I can turn my head if I don’t want to see it) but it is what that tower brings into the area.

    Ringing phones, kids playing nofriendo, and the other cacophony of this technology.

    Should those living close expect technology, maybe, but they are not without. I drove to western Montana in May for a couple of weeks vacation. I stayed off the Interstate mostly, and there were great chunks of land where I had no cell service. Those ranches I passed, did, however have land lines, and probably satellite service at their homes.

    My buddies house, 20 miles north of Whitefish is pretty remote. closest neighbor is about 2 miles away, his driveway is almost a mile long, and it is quiet most of the time. He has no cell service, and no expectation for such. He has a land line, and if you stand on the deck and point your phone to the sky, sometimes you get a signal, but again, no expectations.

  • Kurt

    Spending time in the BWCA I suppose is akin to attending a performance of the MN Chamber Orchestra. In both instances, one is usually seeking a form of sanctuary. And just as cell phones intrude on that sanctuary during a concert, so do cell phones and cell towers in “wilderness” or what passes for it these days. Compromise doesn’t work especially well in these instances. It is like being a little pregnant.

  • Jack

    FACT: The cell tower IS NOT being built IN the BWCA. FACT: There is no buffer zone around the BWCA.

    FACT: The few places inside the BWCA that the light will be visible from are mainly motorized zones.

    FACT: It will take less than a half a day to paddle out of the line of sight of the tower.

    I have lived on the edge of the BWCA all my life. My family has been here for generations. Why shouldn’t I be able to enjoy the convenience and safety that modern technology provides whilst residing in the area that my family has called home since the late 1800’s?

    My family also worked in the mines in this area for generations. It will be nice to see the new mine opening up near Ely soon. It will not only provide lucrative employment, it will also help preserve the areas heritage.