MPIRG starts BWCA petition

by Lynne Kozarek

The Minnesota Public Interest Research Group began gathering on Monday what members hope will total 5,000 signatures on a petition they plan to take to Washington, D.C. in April.
The group, which receives funds from a voluntary student fee, began collecting signatures Wednesday from people opposed to opening up the Boundary Waters Canoe Area for increased use by motorized vehicles.
The petition drive is being conducted at the Twin Cities campus student unions. MPIRG collected 2,760 signatures yesterday.
In April, MPIRG members will take the signatures to Washington, D.C. and meet with Congress members, including members of the House and Senate environment committees.
The group has a history of involvement in the Boundary Waters debate. During the 1970s, MPIRG members from the University supported what became the Boundary Waters Act of 1978, which originally closed the motorized portages.
Heather Cusick, executive director of MPIRG, said the motorized portages were closed in order to fulfill the original 1978 agreement that created the northern Minnesota parks.
“When you start mixing in trucks and noise you start messing with the pristine wilderness,” Cusick said.
Lawmakers have been trying for the past two years to gain motorized access to the Boundary Waters and Voyageur’s National Park, but environmental groups have lobbied against it.
In January, Senator Rod Grams, R-Minn., announced plans for a measure to increase motorized access by re-opening three portages for motorized vehicles.
Peter Hong, Grams’ press secretary, said Grams believes that closing the portages was not part of the original plan for the park and that the portages should be re-opened.
“The Boundary Waters only allows for the young and the strong to visit,” Hong said. “Senator Grams wants access for families with children, the elderly and the disabled.”
Hong said the portages were originally closed because of a court order sought by an “extreme fringe of preservationist groups.”
Leila Midelfort, environmental task force leader at MPIRG, said they hope to provide a way for students to voice their concerns about the Boundary Waters.
“We are working on the legislative end of the issue,” Midelfort said. MPIRG has already sent more than 100 letters to Senator Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., she said.