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Earth Team Volunteers in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

Individuals from all walks of life volunteer to help the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) carry out the conservation mission of “Helping People Help the Land.”  Such was the case with The Earth Team Volunteer (ETV) Program in the summer of 2013. For the field season of 2013, the Duluth, Minnesota Major Land Resource Area (MLRA) Soil Survey Office was charged with collecting soil data in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) for raster based soil surveys. 

The BWCAW is a million acre wilderness area in northeastern Minnesota managed by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS).  A partnership between NRCS and the USFS was made to collect soils data for 595,000 acres.  One of the biggest challenges to this project is the remoteness of the area that can only be reached by either canoe or on foot. 

Meghan Zenner- Recording soils dataThe Duluth MLRA office recruited ETVs for the wilderness expedition.  Aaron Janz, Dennis Meinert, Timothy Nigh, Kyle Lilly, Kim Steffen, Jeffery Alberts, and Meghan Zenner assisted NRCS on 5 wilderness expeditions, totaling 510 hours of volunteer service. 

The BWCAW expedition trips ranged from 5-10 days with average work days of 10 hours.  The volunteers assisted soil scientists by navigating, paddling canoes, bushwhacking to sample points, carrying soil sampling tools, digging soil pits, and recording soil data.  After work hours included wilderness cooking, chopping fire wood, hanging bear bats, and keeping the camp clean.

“The BWCAW project was successful due to the assistance of the volunteers,” said Larissa Schmitt, Soil Scientist Project Leader for the BWCAW soil survey.   “Crew members collected over 200 sample points for the 2013 field season.”

The BWCAW soil sampling project is an exceptional project since it is a national pilot project for digitally mapping soils to create raster soil survey products.  This pilot project is significant because effort has been made to write the stands for raster soil surveys.  As NRCS moves ahead with soil raster products, lessons learned from the BWCAW project are invaluable.  By having crew members from NRCS and the USFS working together with ETVs, NRCS has a much stronger partnership with the USFS. 

For additional information regarding the BWCAW volunteer project please contact Larissa Schmitt, NRCS Soil Scientist, Duluth, Minnesota.  Schmitt can be reached at