Mediation is key to endBoundary Waters feud

After several months of anticipatory cackling and rubbing of hands, several Minnesota delegates are dejectedly walking away from the 104th Congress without a battle over the motorization of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Proposed legislation opening parts of the Boundary Waters to motorized use was dropped from the parks bill after the White House threatened a veto. Make no mistake, though, the issue is far from settled and sure to rear its ugly head again in the coming months.
Boundary Waters use has been a festering issue since 1902, when the state set aside 500,000 acres of public land in northern Minnesota. Now, because of Sen. Paul Wellstone’s, D-Minn., unconventional request for mediation, there may actually be an opportunity to resolve the perennial Boundary Waters issues. But to reach any balanced and lasting resolution, it is necessary that “all” affected parties participate in mediation.
Bruce Kerfoot and Todd Indehar, leaders of Conservationists with Common Sense, an outspoken 3,000-member group of northern Minnesotans supporting motorization, have refused to take part in the mediation, claiming that the groups invited to the mediation table are too heavy on the status quo and too light on pro-motor. But a list of the mediators tells a markedly different story. Those invited to the table represent not only a broad cross-section of sentiments on the issue but an effort on the part of federal mediators to be sure all voices are heard. Kerfoot and Indehar are more interested in belligerently getting their way than they are in reaching a compromise.
This is further evidenced by their recent ultimatum: They would participate in the talks only if Congress opens certain portages and lakes to motorized traffic. Of course, their demands go entirely against the spirit of the mediation process and increase the struggle to resolve the debate.
It would be easy to continue the mediation without the participation of Indehar and Kerfoot; however, their presence not only allows their voice to be heard but also validates the process. Conservationists with Common Sense needs to stop playing political games and take a seat at the mediation table on an equal footing with the other participants.
Minnesota’s legislators also play a crucial role in the success of the mediation. Sen. Rod Grams, R-Minn., Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., and Rep. Bruce Vento, D-Minn., have spent the last session butting heads over Boundary Waters issues and largely ignoring any headway made by mediators. In pushing their own hard-line agendas, the congressmen have upset and alienated many of the factions, making compromise more difficult. These congressmen would best serve their constituency by allowing the mediators to reach a compromise and wait to introduce Boundary Waters legislation based on those results.
Polls indicate that a majority of Minnesotans support the federal mediation process. Mediators won’t be able to reach a compromise until they start receiving the participation and support that they’ve lacked until now. Mediation could be the way to an end to the Boundary Waters debate, but only if it is given a chance to work.