Statement by State Senator Bob Lessard
House Resources Committee
March 2, 1995

(From: Trends in federal landownership and management : hearing before the Committee on Resources, House of Representatives, One Hundred Fourth Congress, first session, on the effect that federal ownership and management of public lands and the condemnation and restriction of private property has on local areas, March 2, 1995--Washington, D.C.)

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, my name is Bob Lessard and I am a member of the Minnesota Senate and chairman of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee. However, more importantly, I'm here today testifying before you as a private citizen who has had to live with national park service Management practices by virtue of having been a landowner adjacent to Voyageurs National Park and a fishing guide and tour boat operator on Rainy Lake which is one of the principle lakes in Voyageurs National Park.

To orient you geographically, Voyageurs National Park is on Minnesota's international border with Canada stretching eastward where it nearly abuts the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Outside of my political career in the senate, I have a real job as a fishing guide where I operate a fly-in fishing camp just across the border and have guided on both Rainy Lake and adjoining lakes since I was 12 years old. And by the way, I'm good at it.

The reason I ran for public office 20 years ago and the reason that I still serve in the Minnesota Senate today is because of these types of issues which are before the committee today. The facts are that Voyageurs National Park should never have been designated a national park in the first place but rather a national recreational area.

Let me explain, from its inception we in northern Minnesota were told by the Park Service that the designation of Voyageurs as a National Park would be was suggested to be an economic boom for northern Minnesota. According to the Congressional Hearing Record Voyageurs was projected to get 1.37 million visitors annually within 10 years of its establishment. As a part of the enactment of the park the State of Minnesota was asked to donate tens of thousands of acres of land to the park. The State of Minnesota did so because of the promises of accrued economic benefit which would result from this designation. Indeed, the expectations for windfall recreation and economic benefits to the state were even reflected in state statute where it says and I quote:

Well let's look at what happened? What's actually happened since the park was designated. What's happened is we have not realized even a fraction of the visitor use or economic benefits the park service promised when the Federal government tried to sell us on the notion that this park would be good for us. In fact, now nearly 20 years after its establishment the total annual visitation is less than 20 percent of what they promised. As a matter of fact, the visitor use is so dismal that in 1982 then director of the National Parks Service, Russ Dickinson proposed Voyageurs National Park as a pilot project for increased federal cooperation and attention to develop its outdoor recreation potentials. He did so because Voyageurs was so woefully underutilized.

So here we sit nearly 20 years later, and over $50 million spent by the Park Service on facilities and land acquisition yet we only have 1/5 of the public use that was predicted. What has resulted is less and less accessibility and opportunity for general public use and enjoyment of the park. With each year since designation came more and more regulations restricting public use and more and more proposals for lock out of traditional recreational use of the park.

For example, in 1982 the Park Service proposed we have International Biosphere Reserve for the park which would have drastically restricted public use. Shortly after this proposal mercifully died a deserving death the Park Service came with another proposal, this time they offered up a major wilderness designation area within the park which again would have further restricted public use. The Park Service is still pushing for Wilderness Area Designation of a large segment of the park notwithstanding the fact that this is a proposal so bad that even former Governor Elmer L. Anderson, who is known as the father of Voyageurs National park opposed this wilderness proposal. Severe restrictions have been placed on snowmobiling and other recreational uses of the park. When it comes to this park, one thing is clear. The Park Service has never seen a restriction on public use and enjoyment of it that they didn't like.

For these reasons I was stunned to recently read a statement made by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt at a June 1994 Parks and Public Lands Subcommittee Hearing:

Obviously, Secretary Babbitt has never been to northern Minnesota because Voyageurs National Park gives the lie to such a statement.

But Mr. Chairman it doesn't stop there. Voyageurs is just one domino in the Federal governments game plan to lock up northern Minnesota from Lake Superior to North Dakota. In fact, right next door to Voyageurs lie the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and this federally managed wilderness was one of the original units included in the 1964 Wilderness Act. It had, at the time of designation, exceptions which allowed for same continued multiple use. But, in 1978 the so-called Vento compromise restricted motorboats and other uses of land and water which were specifically provided for in the enabling legislation. These restrictions proved so politically unpopular that it resulted in what became known as the "Minnesota Massacre" whereby a Republican Governor and two U.S. Republican Senators were elected as a backlash to the new wilderness restrictions called a compromise. This area too has seen a never-ending series of restrictive regulations placed on its use.

And to the west of Voyageurs, the National Park Service together with the U.S. Forest Service proposed the designation of a "Voyageurs National Historic Trail" along the entire Minnesota/Ontario border taking in Lake of the Woods. One can only surmise from all of this that there is in the Federal Resource Management Agencies agenda a strong desire to regulate and depopulate the borderland of northern Minnesota.

Given this history, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I see no real prospect for workability and cooperation for the betterment of the people of Minnesota or elsewhere under the current management structure and management plans for these existing federal units. For these reasons then, I recommend to you that new management plans and designations be considered by the Congress. Only this tine with such congressional consideration having full public participation. By that I mean Mr. chairman, that full public participation should mean the redrafting of management policies with the active participation by those whose lives and livelihood are directly affected and including the full range of outdoor user groups and sportsmen and women, snowmobilers whose views were never seriously considered in establishment of these areas. I couldn't be more certain that the kind of congressional initiative that I'm recommending to you today would be welcomed by the broadest range of Minnesota outdoor recreationist and local governments.

On behalf of myself, my community and sportsmen and women of Minnesota I sincerely thank you for the opportunity to present this testimony before you today.


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