Minnesota students lobby in Capitol for BWCA

Lynne Kozarek

Thirty members of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, including six from the University, spent the weekend lobbying federal representatives in Washington, D.C.
The student group pressed their case for limiting motorized access to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota before 19 senators and congressmen. The students brought petitions and met with the representatives to make their pitch.
“This has been a very positive experience,” said MPIRG member Annie Briese, “and most people are saying they lean toward pro-wilderness.”
The group, which left Wednesday and returned Sunday, lobbied several congressmen from Minnesota and senators from around the country. In the Senate, the group focused on Democrats from Wisconsin and the Dakotas, also speaking with Democratic members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee from Hawaii, Arkansas and Florida.
The student-lobbyists spent about 30 minutes with each representative, but were unable to set up meetings with Sen. Rod Grams, R-Minn., and Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., who drafted legislation increasing motorized access into areas of the Boundary Waters.
The Grams-Oberstar legislation, introduced last year, is likely to come before Congress again because a federally-sponsored effort to mediate a solution to the controversy has broken down.
“I think this has done a lot of good, especially because the mediation is crumbling,” Briese, a student in the College of Liberal Arts, said. “We got out here before the opposing parties did.”
The mediation will officially terminate April 28, whether or not the opposing sides have reached an agreement.
“Some people are relying on mediation to determine their position,” Briese said, “so whatever the outcome they would come down on that side.”
Larry Romans, administrative assistant to Congressman Bruce Vento, D-Minn., said that Vento supports MPIRG’s position and it was good to see the group out lobbying for the Boundary Waters.
“(Vento) was the author of legislation to support a pristine Boundary Waters in the last Congress,” Romans said. “He supports the mediation process and will look at anything they decide on.”
Romans said that Vento has not decided what he will do if the mediation breaks down once again.
Marcie Rudy, a senior in the College of Liberal Arts at the University, said she believes that the Boundary Waters should remain an untouched wilderness.
“I don’t believe they should allow the motorized vehicles in that area,” Rudy said.
The trip was funded by a $350 grant from the University’s administrative grants for student initiatives. MPIRG, which is supported in part by student service fees, also donated money.