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Ed Finklea, of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, discusses the potential impact of Representative Jim Oberstar's plan to change the status of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area from a wildnerness designation to a recreation one. Also discussed is private mining rights and related court cases in regards to the same area.


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SPEAKER 1: Well, it's somewhat of a threat in the virgin timber areas, and it's a serious threat in some of the second-growth areas in the basswood region, which have almost returned to their original vegetative state. They were logged in the 1890s and now have almost a full force on them. Now, if those areas are taken out of the Boundary Waters Canoe area, they would be open for logging.

SPEAKER 2: Now, part of the problem is that some of the wilderness area that is now wilderness area would no longer be wilderness area under Oberstar's proposal, but would be included in the national recreation area. How much land are you talking about? How much virgin timber?

SPEAKER 1: Well, in terms of virgin timber, we're talking about small areas. In terms of the entire Boundary Waters Canoe area, we're talking about 403,000 acres of 1 million acres that are now the Boundary Waters Canoe area, which would be declassified from a wilderness status to a recreational status.

SPEAKER 2: Is Emperor conceptually against some sort of national recreation area? Are you prepared to live with the idea of a national recreation area?

SPEAKER 1: Well, our feeling would be that a national recreation area on the periphery of the existing Boundary Waters Canoe area would be a proposal that could satisfy the desires for recreation in Northern Minnesota as well as protecting the Boundary Waters Canoe area, which we now have as 1 million acres. And we would really oppose declassifying the existing Boundary Waters Canoe area from a wilderness status to a recreational status.

[? But ?] we recognize the demand for recreation in the area, and we recognize that not everyone enjoys the primitive recreation that a lot of people in this state do enjoy. The canoe travels, cross-country skiing, but rather would like mechanized travel in some areas. We recognize, though, that there is a large area in the State of Minnesota, in fact, all of the State of Minnesota, with the exception of the million acres that is open to this kind of travel.

And perhaps if the recreational conflicts are the only conflicts, we could work out a proposal so that the Boundary Waters Canoe area in some areas would be open to motorboat travel. We do protect the environment of that area from mining and from logging. Those are really the two major environmental concerns, not the-- the recreational conflicts are another issue, really.

SPEAKER 2: And mining was another point brought up this morning. The fact that, perhaps, some of the language in the bill could leave open the question as to whether or not private rights now held in the BWCA could eventually be mined.

SPEAKER 1: We absolutely oppose any mining in the Boundary Waters Canoe area, and it would just be absolutely against any sort of wilderness protection in that area.

SPEAKER 2: Well, Congressman Oberstar, however, seems to agree with you on that point. He has agreed that there should be no mining allowed within the BWCA. Where does the problem come in?

SPEAKER 1: The problem comes in with private existing mineral rights, which are held by two or three companies in the area, and the court suits that have been involved since 1964 have been over whether or not these people have existing right to mine the areas that they hold mineral rights for.

Now, the thing that's kept mining out of the areas for the last 10 years, at least, as a result of Judge Neville's decision, is that the wilderness philosophy of protection-- which the Wilderness Act governs the policies of the Boundary Waters Canoe area. So the wilderness philosophy there is that Congress has zoned the area against mining because it's included the area in the Wilderness Act.

Now, if we remove 403,000 acres of the area from the Wilderness Act, we may open up the possibility of mining in this national recreation area, not by new companies, but by the two or three companies that do hold existing mineral rights in the area.


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