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At 90, Izaak Walton League keeps focus on outdoors

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON
  • Star Tribune
  • August 4, 2012 - 5:22 PM

Anger can be a powerful motivator, and it was that emotion early last century that drove fisherman, conservationist and writer Will Dilg to gather sportsmen to found a national conservation group to fight the "commercial exploiters of America."

The year was 1922. The month, January. The place, Chicago. The organization was the Izaak Walton League. Its rallying cry: "to defend soils, woods, water and wildlife."

Nearly from the outset, the "Ikes," as they would come to be known, worked in Minnesota, blocking a plan in 1923 to build roads into the state's boundary waters, or what is now the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

The Izaak Walton League is now recognized by many as an "environmental" organization, rather than the hunting and fishing group its originators might have envisioned.

In Minnesota, that's perhaps because the Ikes played such prominent roles in BWCA policy fights over the past century, most recently questioning whether mining of precious metals should be allowed near the wilderness.

Though organized at local levels, much like Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever chapters, Ike chapters are in many ways conservation entities unto themselves.

Grassroots in every respect, each chapter decides how it can best improve the environment and outdoor heritage in its area. Then goes about doing it.

League conservation victories in Minnesota, in addition to those it counts in the boundary waters, include the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge, created in 1924, Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge, Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge and Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge.

These and many other accomplishments aside, in 2012 the group finds itself at a bit of a crossroads. Unlike Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever, the Ikes aren't species-specific in their concerns. Thus, to a degree, the group lacks a widely recognized conservation identity.

Hoping to burnish that image, reinvigorate its state membership and attract still more followers, Minnesota Ikes are hosting a 90th anniversary banquet and bash Aug. 25 at the Holiday Inn-St. Paul, at Interstate Hwy. 94 and McKnight Road.

Keynote speaker will be Don Shelby, retired WCCO-TV anchor. Tickets are $50 for adults, $20 for kids under 16.

More information is available online at www.minnesotaikes.org or by phoning 651-221-0215.

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