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Local View: Protecting the Boundary Waters includes for veterans

From the column: "The Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center in Superior (hosts) all-expenses-paid canoe trips into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for Northland veterans."

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During August 1990 I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Duluth and pinned on second lieutenant bars after completing four years of Air Force ROTC and an undergraduate degree. A place I frequently visited during those years was nearby Superior, crossing over the Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge.

Bong was a World War II P-38 Lightning pilot in the Pacific Theater, the top American ace of the war (he was dubbed the “Ace of Aces,” with 40 confirmed victories) and a Medal of Honor recipient. He was also a deer hunter. “Dick got his first gun … when he was twelve,” wrote General George C. Kenney in “Dick Bong: America’s Ace of Aces.”

During recent years, the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center in Superior has offered all-expenses-paid canoe trips into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for Northland veterans. This year’s trip is July 11-17. The trip includes two nights at Veterans on the Lake Resort in Ely and four days in the BWCAW. Applications are due by May 31.

The Minnesota chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, in conjunction with Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters, has been fighting to protect the BWCAW from proposed sulfide-ore copper mines (in particular the underground mine proposed by Twin Metals). Every sulfide mine in a water-rich environment like Minnesota’s has contaminated surface and/or groundwater with toxic acid-mine drainage: The failure rate is 100%, according to a 2017 report from the group Water Legacy.

“There has never been a copper/sulfide mine that hasn’t leached. Never,” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers President and CEO Land Tawney said in the winter 2020 edition of Backcountry Journal. “Right now, the future of the Boundary Waters hangs in the balance. … There shall be no mine here … not ever … not on our watch.”

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At its 11th annual North American Rendezvous, held in Missoula, Montana, on May 12-14, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers recognized deserving hunters and anglers. Our Sigurd F. Olson Award recognizes outstanding effort conserving rivers, lakes, or wetland habitat. The 2022 Olson award was presented to Lukas Leaf and Spencer Shaver of Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters, both longtime advocates for the Boundary Waters.

“I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with both Lukas and Spencer,” Tawney said of the honorees. “It is an honor to recognize their steadfast contributions to the Boundary Waters. Their commitment, backcountry bona fides, and good nature helped carry the day for a 20-year moratorium on a mine proposed just a stone’s throw from the most-visited wilderness in America. For that we are grateful.”

“This place is sacred to me; it’s sacred to Minnesotans. … I will do nothing that puts at risk that sacred place,” Gov. Tim Walz was quoted as saying in a 2018 Boundary Waters Action Fund update. Walz is a hunter and angler who served 24 years in the Army National Guard. While in Congress, he was also the senior Democrat on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

“The right to self-govern was paid for by the blood of patriots,” Walz in a 2019 Twin Cities newspaper story.

“We are aware of the many issues facing veterans today,” former Bong Center Director Hayes Scriven said regarding the canoe trips for veterans in a May 2018 Superior Telegram story. “This is our small way to give back and raise awareness. … (Our veterans) have sacrificed so much.”

At Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, we are working every day to honor their sacrifice by ensuring the Boundary Waters remains wild and unpolluted for veterans and all Americans.

For additional information about the Bong Center’s BWCAW trip visit: bongcenter.org/boundary-waters-canoe-area/ .

David Lien of Colorado Springs, Colorado, and formerly of Grand Rapids, is a former Air Force officer and the founder and former chairman of Minnesota Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. He's the author of six books, including "Hunting for Experience: Tales of Hunting & Habitat Conservation." He wrote this for the News Tribune.

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David Lien
David Lien

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