Dennis Anderson: DNR's wilderness place raises questions

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 16, 2011 - 12:52 AM

A cabin owned by the agency got noticed when it burned. Some wonder why that structure and another were allowed in the BWCA.

hide

This cabin owned by the DNR and used as an outpost by conservation officers in the BWCA burned in the forest fire that still threatens the area. Virtually all other cabins in the wilderness were removed following passage of the 1978 law that governs the area, but the Forest Service allowed the DNR to keep its cabin. An addition was built onto it four years ago.

Photo: Special To The Star Tribune, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Though only a footnote to the big fire that has engulfed more than 100,000 acres of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the recognition, now widespread, that the Department of Natural Resources kept a cabin within the wilderness as an outpost for its enforcement officers has surprised some people.

According to the Forest Service, the cabin, one of two in the BWCA owned by the DNR, burned down.

"I didn't know it was there,'' said Paul Danicic, executive director of the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. "It would seem [incongruous] that [the DNR] would keep a cabin there, in the wilderness. A lot of families and resort owners sacrificed their homes and businesses'' when the wilderness was established.

The Lake Insula cabin sat as much as 200 yards from the lakeshore and wasn't readily visible to passersby. Its existence was viewed by some in Ely with derision because resorts and private cabins within the wilderness boundaries were bought by the government and either burned down or removed after enactment of the 1964 and 1978 laws governing the BWCA.

DNR Operations Services Director Laurie Martinson said Thursday it's unknown whether the cabin will be rebuilt.

Four years ago, the DNR spent $5,000 to add a room onto the cabin, build a deck and make other repairs. The cabin's gas stove and oven were fueled by a 100-pound LP gas tank. A wood stove provided heat. An outhouse sat nearby.

Though motorized travel in the wilderness generally was phased out after Congress approved the 1978 law, DNR enforcement officers in recent years have traveled into the BWCA on snowmobiles, in some cases on routine patrols to check winter anglers.

Since 9/11, the DNR officers have at times been accompanied by U.S. Border Patrol and Forest Service officers.

Dog mushers in particular have protested the officers' snowmobile travel because dog teams and sleds don't readily fit into snowmobile tracks left on portages.

A spokesperson for the Forest Service in Duluth said a memorandum of understanding between it and the DNR allowed the DNR to keep the Insula cabin in the wilderness, as well as the agency's second cabin, on Little Saganaga Lake.

"The [Insula] cabin was to be used only for administrative purposes and for other uses as part of the DNR's mission,'' said Kris Reichenbach of the Forest Service.

When Dorothy Molter and Benny Ambrose, the last permanent residents of the BWCA, died, the Forest Service removed their cabins and other structures over the protests of some in Ely and elsewhere who said one or more structures should be left standing to honor the wilderness spirit the two embodied.

Outfitters, resort owners and others who make a living in the BWCA who were contacted about the DNR cabin wouldn't speak on the record. Their work is heavy regulated by the Forest Service and overseen by the DNR, they said, and they need to get along with both agencies.

One outfitter who travels in the wilderness in winter by dog sled reported being checked by as many as five law enforcement officers riding snowmobiles, some from DNR, others from the Border Patrol and Forest Service.

"That's how they got to that cabin in winter, on snowmobiles,'' one said. "They rode up through Thomas [Lake] and into Insula.''

This past winter, at least one DNR conservation officer traveled by dog sled to check BWCA anglers. Attempts to reach area officers Thursday were unsuccessful.

Reichenbach of the Forest Service said the DNR is required to tell her agency if its officers enter the boundary waters on snowmobiles. "Unless it's a matter of hot pursuit or a safety issue, they are required to communicate with us,'' she said.

Border security in the BWCA has taken different tacks in recent years. Some outfitters say the federal Department of Homeland Security has flown drones over the area, similar, apparently, to those used in Afghanistan. And some outfitters report seeing a small jet, similar to a private jet, patrolling at low altitudes.

"About a month ago, I was fishing on Basswood, and out of nowhere this jet came over me at about 500 feet, following the border,'' one said. "When it got up to U.S. Point, it turned sharply and came back.''

DNR enforcement director Jim Konrad said Thursday the money spent to fix up the cabin four years ago came out of his department's budget.

The work was done in part by the Minnesota Conservation Corps, a youth outdoor working group.

Asked whether anyone from the DNR used the cabin for reasons other than official duties, Konrad said no.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

Baltimore - LP: K. Gausman 1 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - WP: J. Arrieta 4
Houston - WP: T. Sipp 5 FINAL
Cleveland - LP: C. Allen 1
San Francisco - WP: T. Hudson 10 FINAL
Washington - LP: D. Fister 3
St. Louis - LP: A. Wainwright 4 FINAL
Philadelphia - WP: K. Kendrick 5
Chicago WSox - LP: D. Webb 3 FINAL
NY Yankees - WP: D. Robertson 4
Tampa Bay - WP: D. Smyly 8 FINAL
Toronto - LP: M. Stroman 0
Atlanta - WP: D. Hale 3 FINAL
Cincinnati - LP: M. Parra 1
Seattle - WP: D. Leone 5 FINAL
Boston - LP: K. Uehara 3
Kansas City - WP: Y. Ventura 6 FINAL
Texas - LP: C. Lewis 3
Pittsburgh - WP: J. Locke 8 FINAL
Milwaukee - LP: Y. Gallardo 3
Detroit - LP: R. Ray 6 FINAL
Minnesota - WP: R. Pressly 20
Miami - WP: H. Alvarez 13 FINAL
Colorado - LP: F. Morales 5
San Diego - LP: O. Despaigne 1 FINAL
Arizona - WP: J. Collmenter 5
LA Angels - LP: J. Grilli 3 FINAL
Oakland - WP: S. Gray 5
NY Mets - LP: J. Niese 2 FINAL
Los Angeles - WP: D. Haren 6
Carolina 7 FINAL
New England 30
NY Giants 35 FINAL
NY Jets 24
Jacksonville 12 FINAL
Detroit 13
Oakland 21 FINAL
Green Bay 31
Chicago 6 FINAL
Seattle 34
Tampa Bay 8/23/14 3:30 PM
Buffalo
Tennessee 8/23/14 6:00 PM
Atlanta
Dallas 8/23/14 6:00 PM
Miami
Washington 8/23/14 6:30 PM
Baltimore
New Orleans 8/23/14 7:00 PM
Indianapolis
Minnesota 8/23/14 7:00 PM
Kansas City
St. Louis 8/23/14 7:00 PM
Cleveland
Houston 8/23/14 8:00 PM
Denver
San Diego 8/24/14 3:00 PM
San Francisco
Cincinnati 8/24/14 7:00 PM
Arizona
Atlanta 8/28/14 5:00 PM
Jacksonville
Detroit 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Indianapolis 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Kansas City 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Green Bay
NY Jets 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
St. Louis 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Miami
Carolina 8/28/14 6:30 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 8/28/14 6:30 PM
NY Giants
Washington 8/28/14 6:30 PM
Tampa Bay
Baltimore 8/28/14 7:00 PM
New Orleans
Chicago 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Cleveland
Denver 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Dallas
Minnesota 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Tennessee
San Francisco 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Houston
Arizona 8/28/14 9:00 PM
San Diego
Seattle 8/28/14 9:00 PM
Oakland
(21) Texas A&M 8/28/14 5:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Wake Forest 8/28/14 6:00 PM
ULM
Boise State 8/28/14 7:00 PM
(18) Ole Miss
Tulane 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Temple 8/28/14 8:15 PM
Vanderbilt
Rutgers 8/28/14 9:00 PM
Washington St
Weber State 8/28/14 9:30 PM
(19) Arizona State
BYU 8/29/14 6:00 PM
Connecticut
(6) Jacksonville St 8/29/14 6:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Bowling Green 8/29/14 6:30 PM
Western Ky
TX-San Antonio 8/29/14 8:00 PM
Houston
Colorado State 8/29/14 8:00 PM
Colorado
UNLV 8/29/14 9:30 PM
Arizona
UCF 8/30/14 7:30 AM
Penn State
Real Salt Lake 1 FINAL
FC Dallas 2
Montreal 16 FINAL
Winnipeg 24
Toronto 8/23/14 3:00 PM
Edmonton
Calgary 8/24/14 2:00 PM
Ottawa
Saskatchewan 8/24/14 6:00 PM
Brt Columbia
Ottawa 8/29/14 6:30 PM
Montreal
Winnipeg 8/31/14 2:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Toronto 9/1/14 12:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 9/1/14 3:30 PM
Calgary
Chicago 80 FINAL
Atlanta 77
Los Angeles 72 FINAL
Phoenix 75
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close