Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Keep the Wild in Wilderness: Stop the Tower!

Photo Courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service

"A world without huge regions of total wilderness would be a cage; a world without lions and tigers and vultures and snakes and elk and bison would be -- will be -- a human zoo. A high-tech slum.” --Edward Abbey

Back in 1964, our nation did something quite unique and remarkable: After gaining overwhelming bipartisan support from Congress and the American people, President Lyndon Johnson signed into the law the Wilderness Act, setting aside millions of acres of federal land to retain its “primeval character” and provide “opportunities for solitude" and a "primitive and unconfined type of recreation.”  It was a concept years in the making – long promoted by the likes of Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, Aldo Leopold and others who took pride in American traits such as "rugged individualism" and thought it important to leave places where Americans could still experience wildness, freedom and adventure.

After signing the Wilderness Act, President Johnson said this: “To the pioneer of history the wilderness was a foe to be conquered, so that he might make farms and pastures out of the endless forests. Today’s pioneer has a new purpose – to preserve some remnants of that wilderness from the onrush of modern civilization.  The ax and the plow will not serve us in this struggle. Today’s instruments are more subtle. They are progressive law and informed public opinion demanding that we maintain our wilderness birthright.” 

Writer and activist Sigurd F. Olson, who helped draft the Wilderness Act, and was instrumental in the protection of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota, put it this way:

“Wilderness to the people of America is a spiritual necessity, an antidote to the high pressure of modern life, a means of regaining serenity and equilibrium.” 

More than a million acres in size, with more than 1,000 lakes and 1,500 miles of canoe routes, the Boundary Waters definitely provides an "antidote" to the "high pressures of modern life." In fact, more than 250,000 Americans annually head into the Boundary Waters to "regain serenity and equilibrium."

Just imagine yourself canoeing and portaging through this wild country, getting away from it all, temporarily free of computers and cell phones, perhaps catching a trout or two for dinner, setting up camp on a beautiful remote lake, gazing at a brilliant night sky of stars, listening to the eerie calls of loons or the haunting howling of wolves, maybe being lucky enough to witness a spectacular display of northern lights, and gazing out across the lake towards the horizon to see  . . .  to see the bright, obnoxious blinking red lights of a large cell phone tower above the tree tops.

Yes, that’s right -- a cell phone tower!

AT&T  plans to build a 450-foot cell phone tower on the edge of the Boundary Waters, which would permanently mar the wild horizon of at least 10 wilderness lakes. Last year, a nonprofit group called Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness received a favorable ruling from a district court to stop construction of the tower, stating that it “Violated the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act because it would have a material impact on the scenic and esthetic resources of the protected wilderness of the Boundary Waters.” But AT&T took the case to the Minnesota Court of Appeals which overturned the district court ruling. On August 21, 2012, the Minnesota Supreme Court denied a request from the Friends of the Boundary Waters that the Court review the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling. In other words: AT&T has been giving the go ahead to build its obnoxious, intrusive, obstructive tower and diminish one of our nation's unique and special wilderness areas. 

This is not just a Boundary Waters Issue -- this is an affront to the very notion of wilderness, an assault against what little remains of wild places and solitude. It could set a precedent for similar rulings and actions near other wilderness and wild areas. The great majority of our nation has been paved over and built on; there are cell phone towers almost everywhere -- can't we have some places to get away from such things? Won't we survive as a people and a nation if we leave just a few wild places where we can't text our friends every minute, check and update our Facebook pages and download a new app?   

And here’s the saddest part about it: The tower won't even make much of a difference for our technologically-obsessed society of cell-phone junkies. 

Here are some facts laid out in the district court ruling that AT&T does not deny nor challenge: 
  • The 450-foot tower’s additional coverage would not extend to areas accessed by local residents or Boundary Water visitors. Compared to a now-existing 199-foot tower, AT&T’s new 450-foot tower would provide additional coverage only in uninhabited roadless areas that are either wooded or swamps.
  • The 450-foot tower would not provide more coverage to area residents than the 199-foot tower currently provides.  The 199-foot tower provides the same coverage for area residents compared to the 450-foot tower.
  • The 450-foot tower will not provide more coverage to the Boundary Waters compared to the 199-foot tower. The district court found both the 199-foot and the 450-foot tower leave “the vast majority of the Boundary Waters without cell coverage, with only a marginal difference between the two.”
  • Two 199-foot towers provide superior service to the single 450-foot tower.  A two-tower alternative, which the Friends of the Boundary Waters has supported since the beginning, would provide “approximately 100.6% of the coverage of the single 450-foot tower,” according to the district court.

So why would AT&T persist with their obnoxious, intrusive, obstructive plans to build a 450-tower that will tarnish wilderness values?  And why aren’t Americans in an uproar about it? Have we Americans become so complacent, so dependent and obsessed with technology, so detached from wild nature that we just don’t give a damn anymore? 

Surveys suggest otherwise. Numerous and recent public opinion polls conducted by commercial firms, the media and the federal government consistently find that about 90 percent of Americans treasure the heritage of wilderness on their public lands. And not just liberal tree huggers: Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and George Bush all expanded our wilderness system. Ronald Reagan signed more wilderness protection laws than any other president. Wilderness still receives overwhelming bipartisan support, just as it did when the Wilderness Act was signed into law.

So why let AT&T get away with this? The simple answer: We shouldn’t!  It’s time to call on AT&T and demand they do the right thing—to go with less obtrusive and viable options, protect wilderness values, and not build the unneeded, unnecessary, obnoxious 450-foot tower near the Boundary Waters Wilderness.

If, like most Americans, you care about wilderness, here’s three simple things you can do:

1) Sign this petition, post it on your Facebook page, share with friends and family and encourage others to sign it. Click here: PETITION TO STOP THE TOWER 

2) Learn more about the issue and support the Friends of the Boundary Waters by clicking here:     FRIENDS OF THE BOUNDARY WATERS WILDERNESS 

3) Write or call AT&T today and urge them to do the right thing. If you are an AT&T costumer, let them know you will no longer support them or do business with them if they don’t do the right thing. Here’s the contact information:

P. O. Box 68055
Anaheim Hills, CA 92817-8055
800-331-0500 or 800-888-7600


  1. I inquired on their FB page about the reasoning about the extension on the tower. Instead of defending their position, they just deleted my post. Cowards.

  2. It's not an issue of improved cell-phone coverage; it's an issue of corporate power and dominance.