Minnesotans For Sustainability©
Sustainable: A society that balances the environment, other life forms, and human interactions over an indefinite time period.
Sundown, Ogishkemuncie Lake, July
Congressman Bruce Vento:
Friend of the Boundary Waters Wilderness
Congressman Bruce Vento died at his St. Paul home on
October 10th after a valiant fight with a rare form of lung cancer. He was the
leading expert on parks and public lands in the entire Congress, a champion for
the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and my good friend.
Bruce had contracted malignant mesothelioma, a rare form of lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. He announced in early February that he would not seek a 13th term in Congress and embarked on an aggressive series of treatments to fight the disease. Surgeons first removed one of his lungs, and Bruce then went through chemotherapy and later radiation treatments. The prognosis was guardedly optimistic at that point, and his doctors could find no evidence of cancer after the treatments. At mid-September, however, Bruce was unable to attend a large dinner honoring him due to fluid build-up on his remaining lung. When the doctors treated him for this fluid, they discovered that the cancer had recurred in this lung.
Bruce had a special commitment to the Boundary Waters Canoe
Area Wilderness, and maintained a special relationship with the Friends of the
Boundary Waters Wilderness during his entire 24-year career in Congress. Bruce
had a strong commitment to the environment long before he reached Congress, of
course, coming from his childhood visits to the St. Croix River, through his
career as a junior high science teacher, and from his six years in the Minnesota
As the only Minnesotan on the House Interior Committee, Subcommittee Chair Rep. Phil Burton (D-CA) drafted Bruce to chair the stormy subcommittee field hearings on the Boundary Waters in St. Paul and Ely in July of 1977. He did so with cool determination, despite the massed logging trucks outside the Ely auditorium. Sigurd Olson and Bud Heinselman were hung in effigy outside, and Bruce himself was angrily attacked by one witness in her testimony. Bruce helped craft the subcommittee bill (the Burton/Vento Bill) that became the legislative vehicle to save the BWCA from logging, mining, snowmobiles, and motorboats.
At many points during his first term in 1977-1978, Bruce faced
challenges with the huge Boundary Waters fight that showed the steely resolve of
his character and his commitment to save this precious wilderness for future
generations. At one point, for example, Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill heavily
pressured Bruce to compromise on the BWCA because the Speaker didn't like to see
Democrats fighting in public. The Speaker is someone who can make or break a
Congressional career, particularly a first-term freshman like Bruce was at the
Bruce maintained a particular affection for the Friends of the
Boundary Waters Wilderness throughout his entire career. He nearly always
attended the Friends annual meetings, a commitment almost unheard of for a busy
Member of Congress.
When the Boundary Waters was again under attack in Congress by
Sen. Grams and Rep. Oberstar from 1995-98, it was Bruce who once again
championed protection for the area. In a 1997 visit to Trout Portage, the motor
advocates had prepared an enormously heavy motorboat with three outboards for
the Congressional delegation to try to push across the trail on portage wheels.
Over the years, Bruce became a special friend to me. Always
friendly, always willing to take a few minutes to chat even on his busiest days
in Washington, Bruce continued as my teacher, my mentor, my champion, my friend.
I'll miss him deeply, but I'm also deeply grateful that the incredible natural
legacy he leaves behind will benefit not only my girls (who knew and liked
Bruce, too) but generations yet to come. Thank you, Bruce!
Congressman Bruce Vento (left) with Kevin Proescholdt.
Courtesy of Friends of the Boundary Waters
BWCA Wilderness News, Autumn 2000.
Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness
401 North Third Street, Suite 290
Minneapolis, MN 55401-1475
Please visit the Friends website: < http://www.friends-bwca.org >.
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