Dispatches from BWCA (5×8 – 9/20/11)

A half-full/half-empty look at the fire, peer pressure 101, Minnesota moments, Canada’s parental support law, and gays in the military.


The BWCA fire is 23 percent contained, we’re told this morning. An odd statistic — fire officials don’t round up or down — and with the damp weather, we can probably go back to DEFCON 3; it’d take a lot right now to become the threat it was a week ago.

A story MPR’s Tom Robertson did yesterday about the economic impact of the fire in Ely provides an instructive tale of the power of the headline writer. The original story on the MPR News website featured this headline:

Boundary Waters firefighters boost Ely’s economy

Visitors to Ely have dropped in the last few weeks — tourists don’t like wildfires – but business in the town has picked up a bit, thanks to the influx of firefighters to douse the blaze.

Overnight, the Duluth News Tribune picked up the story and changed the headline this way:

Tourism merchants worry about impact of Pagami Creek fire

Neither headline is wrong, per se. The story is exactly the same and notes that the fire efforts have brought some money to the town and merchants are worried about the future.

More fire: Southwest Minneapolis Patch carries the first-person account of a man who escaped the fire.

As my five friends and I paddled through the protected wilderness, we never knew the exact nature of the monstrous blaze until we witnessed flames licking the trees at the portage routes.

A choking mixture of smoke and fog reduced visibility to less than 10 feet on the water and, amidst the silence of the BWCA, the mirror-like lakes created an eerie calm.

But the finest piece of writing — along with fine photography — comes from Brian Hansel at the Paddling Light blog (Fire Management in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness after the Pagami Creek Fire). Peppered with history and science, the article tackles the simmering question of what to do about a wilderness area that’s more than just a wilderness area.

In my opinion, the Forest Service needs to manage the fires in such a way that achieves forest restoration without harming tourism. It seemed like the Forest Service was trying to achieve that when they set fires to protect Lake One and Lake Two from the Pagami Creek lightning strike. Unfortunately, they attempted the prescribed burns during conditions that weren’t perfect and we suffered the consequences of their actions when their burns burst out of control. So, what went wrong? Who knows. I’m sure we’ll find out after the fire is out, but normally fire fighters carry out prescribed burns after lots of planning and weeks of monitoring the weather. They preform the burns under perfect conditions that mitigate the risk of one going out of control. In the past, the Forest Service has safely carried out many prescribed burns in the BWCA under the right conditions. In the Pagami Creek fire, they didn’t have the right conditions.

So what to do? My gut tells me that the Forest Service should put out natural fires, especially when fire conditions are high, and then later carry out prescribed burns when the conditions are right. They should use a controlled method that would mimic the natural progression of smaller fires while protecting the shoreline, portages, trails and campsites.


Whenever great issues face us, little issues — in the big scheme of things — surface. NPR reports on a Pledge of Allegiance flap in Brookline, Mass., a man wants the Pledge banned from classrooms, even though students are already given the option whether to say it.

“You’re asking kids in school to take a loyalty oath in front of their classmates,” Martin Rosenthal says. “I just don’t think that’s right.”

The issue is peer pressure, he says. Students may not want to say the pledge, but feel compelled to do so. That prompts a classic response from another resident.

“Grow up,” Sandra Maloney said. “Part of growing up is having pressure put upon you so that you are able cope with life as you get older. We are trying to teach our children to stand up for themselves. This is part of education.”

Flag news: A man in Hong Kong has been jailed for burning the flag of China. It’s the first sentence of its kind. He says he was exercising his right to free speech, but a judge said, “every freedom comes with restrictions.”



Just west of Dundas last weekend, the past became the present. John and Debbie Becker brought the barn dance back to the farm once owned by his father, according to Minnesota Prairie Roots.

“It’s a dream come true,” John said several times through-out the event which brought the barn back full circle to his father Herb–who died in 2009–and those long-ago barn dances.

I bet Herb would have been pleased with the party that drew family, friends and neighbors of the Beckers together on a cool autumn evening to visit, eat and dance the night away in the old hay mow. My husband Randy and I were among our friends’ invited guests.

Everything about the celebration in this 1915 barn spoke to the kind of down-home neighborliness and love of family that define the Beckers and the Malechas (Debbie’s family). These are good, honest, hard-working people of faith with their roots planted deep in the earth. I doubt I stopped smiling all evening.

In New Prague, meanwhile, it was Dozinsky Days. Polka, baby!


In British Columbia, a man who was abandoned by his mother when he was a teenager, is being sued by his mother for parental support, the CBC reports today. Here’s the thing: It’s a case that’s been going for 11 years.

Shirley Anderson wants $750 a month from each of her two kids. The law in Canada requires children to support parents who are “dependent on a child because of age, illness, infirmity or economic circumstances.”

“I had to make my own way in life and now she’s coming back for … a free living from us kids,” the son said.


The military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy ended at midnight (Check out the Pentagon’s quick reference guide to gayness in the military). Gay people are now free to serve in the military and be open about their situation.

And so, today we’re hearing that there are gay people in the military, serving honorably:

From the BBC

From NPR

From MPR

The Associated Press

And look what appeared over the fairgrounds this morning… (h/t: Brian Lebakken via Twitter)


And in Rochester… (h/t: Elizabeth Baier, MPR)

More ban news: Wisconsin is about to repeal its ban on margarine.

Bonus: The Netflix-Qwikster “apology” explained in a way that makes no sense. That is to say: It’s perfectly accurate:


President Obama’s deficit reduction plan envisions a combination of tax increases, changes to entitlement programs and reductions in military spending. Today’s Question: What’s your reaction to the president’s plan to reduce the deficit?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: Technology in the classroom: Help or hype?

Second hour: Nuruddin Farah, Somali-born novelist and visiting professor of creative writing at the University of Minnesota. His newest novel is “Crossbones.”

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: TBA

Second hour: Former Minnesota congressman Vin Weber, speaking at the U of M Humphrey School about the 2012 presidential campaign.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: The teenage brain.

Second hour: The limits of exploration.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – A key Republican lawmaker’s campaign against school district tax increases could be a tough sell among some of his own GOP colleagues. House Education Finance Chair Pat Garofalo has been critical of districts seeking additional operating money after getting a boost in state funding this year. But many of the legislators who represent those schools aren’t singing the same tune. Education reporter Tom Weber will have the story.

Contingency money for Central Corridor light rail totals about $155 million. That money is now available for use and the Met Council will be discussing/deciding the issue this month. Project director Mark Fuhrmann says part of the money may purchase of additional light rail vehicles, other funds may be used for upgrades. Dan Olson will report.

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