Boundary Waters

by Emily Dalnodar

Wear comfortable shoes, because two days of hitting the marble floors can take a toll on one’s feet. This is just some of the advice two students got before leaving for Washington D.C. on Saturday.
The two women, one from the University and the other from St. Olaf College, are at the nation’s Capitol today lobbying against the Grams-Oberstar Bill, which would reinstate motor usage in some parts of the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area. The bill has received much criticism.
The women will meet with several members of the Legislature today and Tuesday to discuss issues and ask for a commitment of opposition to the bill.
“I’ve never been there, but I’m excited to get out there and lobby and actually do something and affect change,” said Patience Olson, a University junior in the College of Natural Resources.
Olson is also a state and local board member of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, which organized the trip.
Although Olson has never been to Washington D.C., her travelling partner, Tamara Sisson, a senior in biology and environmental studies at St. Olaf, has already done lobbying at the Capitol.
“The experience last year was very empowering. I felt like I was doing something tangible for what I believe in. Even those who don’t agree are very nice,” she said.
There are 11 scheduled meetings for the two days and hopefully a few more, said Mike Rentz, MPIRG campus organizer.
The women will speak to three different groups. They will talk to known supporters and thank them for their advocacy. They will talk to undecided politicians, attempting to persuade them into opposing the bill. Finally, they will meet with bill supporters to urge them to vote it down.
Going with them are more than 4,000 signatures, 3,000 of them collected in a two-day period at the University, from people who want to keep the bill from being passed.
The Grams-Oberstar bill has two goals. If passed, it would open the three closed portages (Trout, Prairie and Four Mile Portage) to motor vehicles that haul boats.
It would also eliminate the 1999 phase-out of motor-boat use on most of Seagull Lake which was written into the 1978 BWCA Wilderness Act.
One of the challenges opponents of the bill face stems from Rep. James Oberstar, DFL-Minnesota, who oversees allotments of money for road, bridge and other such projects in individual states. Officials are concerned of Oberstar’s political influence.
While speculations run amok from opponents as to the range of his political power, Oberstar’s bill does have support from various groups and individuals, including Conservationists with Common Sense and some Minnesota delegates. These groups claim allowing vehicles would make the area more handicap accessible.
Although convictions differ about how the Boundary Waters should be operated, some believe it will be a long and challenging battle. “(Oberstar) is a formidable opponent,” said Adam Sokolski, community organizer for Friends of the Boundary Waters.
Even if the bill is contested in the House, the battle is far from over, he said. He said he would continue to challenge the bill for as long as it survives.
This is something people need to do, Sokolski said, or wilderness will be lost. “There are 15,000 lakes in Minnesota, why can’t we leave 1,100 alone?” he said.