David Lien was careless with his thoughts and words in his June 3 commentary in the News Tribune - and it wasn't the first time. (The column by the former chairman of Minnesota Backcountry Hunters & Anglers was headlined, "Thank veterans for privilege of hunting, fishing on public lands.")
Ely had the highest per-capita military enlistment during World War II. Most of these unselfish men were miners. Miners also supplied the country with the iron needed to build everything the military consumed in order to "git 'er done." The column disrespected the miners who supplied the most important raw material needed by every war effort.
From pre-World War II and into the 1960s, Minnesota's iron mines roared at maximum output and with few regulations. Miners knew what worked to keep our lakes and rivers clean: Ranger logic and good common sense. Since 1886, that has been the mantra of mining in the Arrowhead.
Yet Lien wrote about coming to the Northland a few weeks a year, sidestepping the fact that Rangers live there 24/7/365, and we have a much greater stake in preserving the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness than anybody else. The "B'Dub" is actually our backyard. If we turn it into a cauldron of waste, it's on us, and we'll just have to sleep in it.
But we will not let that happen. You might think the "B'dub" belongs to the world, but it's the Rangers of Minnesota who babysit it every day of the year. The "B'Dub" was nearly clear-cut twice, and the only reason it looks like a wilderness today is because scouts, church groups, school kids, and others planted trees on thousands of acres, knowing full well that if we didn't the area would wind up as 1.3 million acress of popple, tamarack, swamp cedar, spruce, and a lot of other crappy snags and underbrush.
Lien and others can stop calling it a "wilderness," as if it's untouched virgin acreage. It is not. Approximately 400 businesses were forced to leave the Superior National Forest so visitors could spend a few days a year there pretending to be Lewis and Clark.
Lien seemed to want us to connect the dots between World War II flying ace Richard I. Bong of Poplar, the bridge between Duluth and Superior named in Bong's honor, Lien's own Wisconsin grandparents, and Gov. Tim Walz's service record. He then seemed to want us to tie it all to the sacrifice made by the men who worked in the Arrowhead's iron mines. Try as I might, I couldn't quite figure that out.
Before there was the Mine Safety and Health Administration, hundreds, if not thousands, of men were killed in mining accidents. Some historical texts say one per day perished. They are buried in cemeteries across the Iron Range. Theirs wasn't unlike the sacrifice made by the men who fought to save our great nation. We rightfully honor our fallen soldiers on Memorial Day, but there is no recognition for miners killed in the mines that supplied the ore to make tanks and ships, planes and bombs, bullets and the myriad other life-taking/life-saving supplies. Sacrifice they did.
This was the fourth missive I have read from Lien, and I conclude that he must live in a Walter Mitty world of make-believe, a world where he is the savior of the BWCAW - a 1 million-plus acreage that doesn't need saving, thank you very much. It's doing just fine on its own.
Surface and underground mining that encompasses today's best practices will leave no irreversible damage either over, under, or within the great former playground affectionately known as the Superior National Forest.
Bob Colombo was born and raised in Ely and is living now in Brazil, working with mining companies through a U.S.-based oil company and its distributor networks. He has worked as a contractor in the global mining industry for 42 years.