PEOPLE AND THE ENVIRONMENT: The Global Pollution Perspective

     Environmental Studies 2925, 3 credits (BWCA Field Study)

            Dr. Patrick Welle, S126, BSU, Bemidji, MN 56601

                        Phone: (218) 755-4103    Fax: (218) 755-4107



(Syllabus for Wilderness Ethics is linked here.)  



   This interdisciplinary course will focus on environmental problems and their regional and global causes.  The impacts of these problems on different people, cultures and global society as a whole will be studied from varying perspectives based on different values and world views.  The course is designed to provide a forum for discussion, debate and critical evaluation, which will be provided by students exchanging ideas during this field study.  These discussions will occur during the pre-trip training sessions and while the group is in the BWCA.  This course satisfies the Liberal Education requirement (Area X) for an Environmental Issues course.  There are no prerequisites.



   The major purpose of this course is to heighten awareness of environmental challenges and the interconnectedness of human and natural systems in confronting these challenges.  Students will

integrate various disciplinary perspectives on environmental problems and solutions and employ critical thinking in reflecting on the value basis and ethical dimensions of environmental

decisions.  Students will gain an understanding of the bio-physical-ecological foundations for environmental processes and the social-cultural-institutional influences that shape human impact

on the environment.  In light of these impacts, possible improvements in these institutions will be considered.  Immersion in the BWCA Wilderness provides a unique venue for considering environmental challenges with a unifying theme of the meaning of wilderness in the modern world.



   The interdisciplinary survey of environmental issues will be provided through the series of instructional sessions preceding the BWCA trip.  These sessions will expose students to a breadth of multidisciplinary perspectives on environmental problems focusing on problems in northern Minnesota.  The learning method will be problem-solving oriented in that environmental problems are identified and related causes, implications and principles are evaluated. Integrative thinking is emphasized through the instruction connecting the pre-trip presentations and challenging students to synthesize the various perspectives provided.  Active learning will be enhanced not only through field study but also through exercises and group activities conducive to discussion, interaction and collaboration as goals of the liberal education experience.  Critical thinking and values clarification should also be enhanced by the blend of the multidisciplinary presentations and group discussions.



     The required readings will be mainly from the book, "Sustaining the Earth: An Integrated Approach" by G. Tyler Miller.  (6th edition, used copies of the 5th edition are okay, but confusing due to changes in numbering of chapters and pages.)  The schedule of assigned readings and topics is provided in the next section.  Students should rely heavily on this book as a learning tool in that it provides comprehensive coverage of the material for this course. 

     The instructor offers the following suggestions for learning from the book:

1.      Read the "Critical Thinking" questions at the end of the chapter first to focus your thinking on       

      the broad concepts in the chapter.

2.   Focus on fundamental concepts and basic principles in the chapters, especially those illustrated

      in the figures and diagrams.

3.      Learn key terminology by paying special attention to terms typed in bold face in the text.

4.      Reinforce your learning from each chapter by practicing the tutorial quizzes that are on the  

      book's website.  (See below.)

5.   Recognize that Chapters 2, 3 and 4 provide the foundation for the course through its  

      comprehensive coverage of ecological principles.  Please read the highlighted sections (see  

      content notes) from these chapters thoroughly twice and review.  Learning these fundamental  

      ecological principles will give you the building blocks for attaining the goals of this course.



(Watch sessions 1-3 & 6 on the CD. These correspond to Chs. 1-5 in Miller as listed below.)

Ch. 1  Current State of Environmental Problems (Watch CD session 1.)

Chs. 2, 3 & 4  Interconnections in Ecosystems (Ecology of Northern MN, CD sessions 2 & 3)

Ch. 14 Interconnections in Economic/Political Systems (Economic Pressures on MN Resources)

Ch. 5 Population Principles & Human/Social Dimensions (Pressures on BWCA, CD session 6.)

Ch. 7 Biodiversity Issues: Land (The Meaning of Wilderness, blowdowns, fires and human


Ch. 8 Sustaining Biodiversity: the Species Approach (the grey wolf, exotic species in Midwest)

Ch. 11 Air Pollution, the Greenhouse Effect & Ozone Depletion (Long-Range Transport of Air   

Pollution into BWCA: mercury and acid rain, problems related to burning fossils fuels.)



     There are two websites designed to assist students in learning.  The BSU website for this class can be found at: /academics/liberal_education/courses/people_environment/  It provides information and materials for the course in electronic form and provides links to this syllabus (click on BWCA Program) other websites pertinent to the course.  It identifies additional readings of interest.

     Students should also work with the website that accompanies the book.  It provides a variety of "Learning Tools" for the course.  In particular, we recommend that students practice the "Tutorial Quizzes" for each chapter.  Some of these questions will be used for exam questions.

     The tutorial quizzes and other "Learning Tools" can be found at the web address shown on the back cover of the book.  Follow these steps:

1.   open file

2.      at this screen click on Brooks/Cole Biology Resource Center

3.   at screen titled "Brooks/Cole Biology Resource Center" click on  the icon of a globe titled 

      "Ecology and Environmental Science"

4.   at screen titled "Ecology and Environmental Science" click on    Miller, "Sustaining the Earth"

5.      You are now at the website designed for our textbook.  To access the tutorial quizzes you need 

       to highlight the desired  chapter in the box titled "Chapter" and highlight "Tutorial

       Quizzes" in the lower box titled "Resources" and click GO.



     The following five major themes of the course are explored in a multi-cultural context:

* Cultural Ecology: Interconnectedness of Humans and their Environment,

* The Wilderness Act: Critiques and Endorsements,

* Environmental Ethics and the BWCAW,

* Uncertainty and Risk in Environmental Decision Making,

*  Identification of Basic Species in Northwoods Ecosystems.


     Students will have a great deal of influence over the topics and issues that are covered through their participation in discussions.  Students will identify environmental problems of interest.  These topics will be used to develop the five major themes noted above.  These topics will be developed in conjunction with ideas from the assigned readings from Miller and additional readings below.



(Costs covered in program fee.)


Adams, David. Season of the Loon. St. Cloud: NorthStar Press, 2001.

copy covered in program fee. Recommend entire book, but not covered on exams.  Chs. 1, 8, & 10-15(pages 9-14, 70-82,88-193 ) required and should  inform your 10-page paper. 


Program Reader 

(Contents in the following order.  Readings 1, 2 and 4 required.)


 1.        Duncanson, M. Paddler’s Guide.  pp. 1,28 & 29.


2.         Furtman, M. Canoe Country Camping. “On Wilderness” pp. 176-181.


3.         Furtman, M. Magic on the Rocks. Pp. 134-142 & 145-149, about pictograph sites we’ll visit


4.         Backes, D. Canoe Country: An Embattled Wilderness.  Preface iv-vii & pp. 158-167.


5.         Tribute to Sigurd Olson, Wilderness Society and Friends of the BWCAW.


6.         Olson, Sigurd. Open Horizons. New York: Knopf, 1974, pp. 69-73, 91-5, 123-6, 178&9, 193-211.


7.         Wilderness News. Issue on Plan to Deal with Blowdown.


8.         Selected short articles from the Boundary Waters Journal.  We’ll meet the editor.


Purposes of the Field-Study Program:


1)      Promote environmental stewardship and critical thinking to aid the protection of our wildlands.


2)      Create a field experience to fulfill the Liberal Education requirement (Area X) on environmental issues..


3)      Orient students to the rich cultural and natural history of north-central and northeastern Minnesota


4)      Create a student-friendly field-environment wherein both incoming and current students can meet and help to ease    

      the transition for those entering a new college.


5)      Provide an interdisciplinary approach to the Wilderness idea and promote critical evaluation of wilderness policy.




Overview of Locations




BSU campus is the starting point for our two-week chautaqua. “Bemidji” is an Ojibwe Indian word that means “lake with a river running through it.” Lake Bemidji was rated by Con De Naste Travel Magazine as one of the ten most scenic lakes in the country. With city parks lining its shorelines, the lake is student friendly and offers countless opportunities for recreation. We will rendezvous at the BSU Campus then set up camp at the Bass Creek Group Campsite at Lake Bemidji State Park.




Charles Kuralt of CBS’s On The Road fame loved Ely so much that he bought the radio station. Kuralt saw in Ely blueberry festivals, polka bands playing to folks who knew the words, cedar strip canoes. He would say of its residents:


Ely is a town full of good people. I know all towns are, but Ely has always seemed to me especially rich in neighborliness and good nature and the salt-of-the-earth virtues. It’s hard to be a stranger there. If your name is Charles, everybody in Ely calls you Chuck.


The Boundary Waters


The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness lies 180 miles to the northeast of Bemidji. The largest designated Wilderness east of the Rockies and north of the Everglades, the BWCAW encompasses one million acres of lakes, rivers, forests and marshes. As the nation's only canoe country and lakeland Wilderness, the region is definitive of “primitive America.” Home to over 1,000 lakes ten acres or larger, when combined with the hundreds of backwater ponds and countless miles of navigable rivers leading into and out of the lakes, what you arrive at is a stand alone recipe for a canoe country Wilderness experience.




Days 1-2: BSU Campus and Lake Bemidji State Park


Our Northland Heritage Program begins at Lake Bemidji State Park.  Over the first two days, we'll engage in activities creating a Northwoods sense of place. Discuss the Northwoods in the context of global environmental issues.  Our geology overview will walk you through the Ice Age and the formative period that created a Land of Lakes. Next, share in the rich history of Northland human habitation that dates back to the Woodland Indians. Finally, spend an afternoon searching out the birds of the Northcountry as you learn about biological succession following the retreat of the glacier.


Topics of Interdisciplinary Presentations

Overview of Environmental Issues

Environmental Education

Geology and the Northwoods Environment

Lake Ecology: Pontoon Tour of Lake Bemidji

Nature Tour on State Park Trails: Plant and Wildlife Identification

Global Environmental Threats to Northern Minnesota:

     Climate Change, Mercury Contamination in Lakes, Acid Deposition

       Population and Environmental Concerns

       Social and Economic Pressures on the Environment

       Perspectives on Wilderness


Days 3-5:  The Edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness


Leave the sandy outwash plains of north-central Minnesota for the granite bedrock of Minnesota’s

Arrowhead Region. Before entering the Boundary Waters, make a stop over in the border town of

Ely for a few nights of camping.  Here we will learn about a variety of wilderness perspectives including:

the U.S. Forest Service, outfitters, pro-wilderness and wise-use special interest groups.


What Charles Kuralt failed to mention was that the town is also a hotbed of political activity. The

most recent political skirmish centered around the presence of trucks on Wilderness portages.

Pro-wilderness advocates have lobbied for the absence of other motorized vehicles; wise

use proponents favor motorized access. You will have the opportunity to hear from both sides in

this wilderness debate and other perspectives on environmental issues.


Topics of Guest Workshops

       Environmental Challenges Confronting the BWCAW

       Population, Social and Economic Pressures on the BWCAW

       Environmental Ethics

       Further Perspectives on Wilderness


Days 5-11: Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness


Leaving the town of Ely, take to the stern of a canoe for a seven-day journey through unspoiled lands.  Seasoned backwoods instructors will lead discussions on humans and their environment.  Discussions will also focus on the Wilderness Idea and wilderness policy.  Calling upon a variety of Northwoods perceptions, consider the meaning of Wilderness as both a cultural construct and natural entity.  Nights will be spent around campfires in the company of fellow students and calling loons. Continue discussions of course topics and issues around the campfire or at the shoreline.


Program Fee: A program fee of $400 per student covers the following expenses:

Instructor/Guide costs

Rental of Canoes, Tents and Group Gear

Food in the BWCA

Ground transportation

Camping and Permit fees

Museum fees

Program reader and David Adams book

Institution costs            

Tuition for three credits is extra.


Course Requirements:


Two tests, keeping a journal, and a 10-page summary paper comprise the workload for the program.


Tests: Exams will include multiple choice questions from the Miller text.  The first exam (on Chs. 1-5 & 14) will be held in Ely the day before we enter the BWCAW.  The second exam will be held upon return to BSU.  Other than the multiple choice questions from Miller chapters, essay questions will be comprehensive and will cover material from the Miller text, the program reader, selected sessions on the CD, guest presentations and field activities during the program. (Each of 2 exams will comprise 20% of grade and remaining 60% will be for the summary paper.)


Short essays/Journal Writing: Throughout the program, “take-home” or reflection questions will be suggested.  These should be incorporated into the summary paper and hence will help you to progress steadily in writing material for the paper.


Term paper: A ten-page paper is due one month after the end of the field study.  This will allow enough time to write a quality paper.  The topic of the paper is your overall notion of “wilderness” and the theme of “Sustaining the Earth” as shaped by the field study. 


Course Conduct:


The program takes place in a wilderness setting. Loud and unruly behavior cannot be tolerated at our lakeside campsites. Underage consumption of alcohol or possession of illegal drugs is expressly forbidden. Failure to obey state laws and the program rules will result in immediate dismissal without compensation.


RECOMMENDED WEB READINGS:  These will enrich the field study experience and can be included in the paper.


Boundary Waters Reservation Site


Magazine devoted to the Boundary Waters, we’ll read some of these articles


Friends of the BWCA


Site where people report on trips they’ve taken


Bemidji Co. that makes camping food, will teach us some of their coking secrets on Mon. June 3rd


Nice personal site heralding BWCAW


International Wolf Center


Pat Welle’s written testimony supporting Mn Public Service Policy to approve new power plants with lowest social and environmental cost, not commercial cost


Ottertail Power Co. website on wind energy program


Indigenous Environmental Network. International Environmental Organization Headquartered in Bemidji, we’ll visit their office


MN Fish Consumption Advisories, check your favorite lakes and a few we’ll visit on our canoe trip (Fall Lake, Basswood, Crooked, Horse, Fourtown)


Climate Change Calculator composed by reforestation advocacy group American Forests or go directly to list of top recipients


MN Office of Environmental Assistance webpage promoting non-toxic fishing tackle and reporting scientific results on loon research, etc.


Bird songs on the net (from NY but many species found in MN)

& gov. site from Midwest