Listen: BWCA Protection...Vento's political snarl

Congressman Bruce Vento has introduced legislation to provide greater wilderness protection for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyaguers National Park. The bill is intended to counter legislation introduced by Representative James Oberstar to increase motorized use of the two areas.


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MARY LOZIER: Vento's bill would close part or all of several border lakes in the BWCA to motors. It would also add 14,000 acres to the million-acre wilderness. Vento's bill would designate 78,000 acres of Voyageurs National Park as wilderness, a move which would effectively prohibit snowmobiles from the park's inner peninsula. Vento says he expects the legislation to be controversial, and that may be an understatement. State Representative Tom Bock calls Vento's bill an outrage, a federal land grab directed against the people of Northern Minnesota.

TOM BOCK: I mean, the areas that they love and a large part of the reason that they live here, that they've recreated in for generations, are being taken away by people like Congressman Vento. And people are just getting pretty sick and tired of it. And if he's intent is to want to create some kind of a war between north and south, he certainly has fired the first shot. And he can expect to have a fight.

MARY LOZIER: Announcing the bill in Saint Paul, Vento conceded it may be difficult to pass in the Republican-controlled congress. But he said it will refocus what he called a one-sided debate, concentrating only on what protections to drop and what concessions to make to motorized interests.

BRUCE VENTO: It's going to obviously serve notice to my colleagues in Congress and to others that I intend to pursue this vigorously. Whether or not it can be enacted, whether anything can pass the Senate under these circumstances, whether there'll be hearings, whether there'll be action in the House are not questions that I can determine. All I know is we will try to make-- this will be part of the debate. We will-- if in fact, legislation is moved, we hope to have an impact on it.

MARY LOZIER: The bill goes head to head with legislation introduced by Vento's fellow Democrat, James Oberstar, whose Northern Minnesota district includes both Voyageurs and the BWCA. Oberstar's bills would increase motorboat use in the BWCA as well as snowmobiling in Voyageurs National Park. When Vento was asked if his bill would cause problems within the Democratic party, he had this response.

BRUCE VENTO: My job in life is not to necessarily just back up and let for the purpose of political peace to prostitute the Boundary Waters Canoe Area for whatever some local interests wish.

MARY LOZIER: The split between Vento and Oberstar on Northern Minnesota Wilderness issues is nothing new. The same issue, Northern Minnesotans wanting more motorized use, environmentalists wanting less, was bitterly fought in the late 1970s. This time around, the politician with perhaps the most to lose is Senator Paul Wellstone, whose traditional support base includes both Northern Minnesotans and environmentalists.

In response to Vento's bill, Wellstone released a statement saying he does not intend to support either the Vento or the Oberstar legislation. The statement says Wellstone will try to help mediate the dispute and search for common ground on the deeply divisive issue. I'm Mary Lozier, Minnesota Public Radio.


In 2008, Minnesota's voters passed the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution: to protect drinking water sources; to protect, enhance, and restore wetlands, prairies, forests, and fish, game, and wildlife habitat; to preserve arts and cultural heritage; to support parks and trails; and to protect, enhance, and restore lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater.

Efforts to digitize this initial assortment of thousands of historical audio material was made possible through the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. A wide range of Minnesota subject matter is represented within this collection.

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