West End News March 3

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

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I've noticed that many people are starting to feel cranky about winter. I'm feeling a little cranky too, but not about the cold weather and plentiful snow, which always me happy - even at the end of the season.

The first thing I'm cranky about is the reservation system for Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness entry permits. In the distant past, the Forest Service decided to contract out the reservation system. At some point it was acquired by a division of Ticketmaster, a company notorious for their high prices and terrible service. They make the phone companies look like the helpful folks at the corner grocery store.

For a number of years, there was a $12 nonrefundable fee that you paid to reserve a permit. This week, out of the blue, the Forest Service announced that the reservation fee was dropping by half - down to $6 for each permit reserved. This is, of course, good news in itself. What makes me cranky about it is that none of the outfitters, who reserve a large percentage of the permits on behalf of the canoeing public, were notified of the change. Even more annoying, this came two months into the permit reservation season. This catches all the outfitters and the Forest Service with their brochures and web sites all set with erroneous information. In my opinion, common courtesy would require a little "heads up" to the people most affected by the change. In fact, we are hearing through the local Forest Service offices that a large number of wilderness rangers, the people who actually work in the wilderness, have been laid off for the upcoming season. Couldn't that six dollars have been redirected to rehire those critical staff people?

A spokesperson for the Forest Service, in an interview here on WTIP, said the fee reduction was due to the efficiency introduced to the system be putting it on the internet. The system has been online for a number of years. I wonder how many millions of dollars the no-bid contract brought to the Canadian based Ticketmaster conglomerate over the past several years? It galls me that unearned dollars are pouring into distant corporate coffers while local people are being laid off.

Simultaneous with the reservation fee reduction, the permit reservation web site has undergone a recent overhaul and is now not working properly. We're told that the company is working on it, but it may be a while until it is fixed. I know a couple of local 13 year olds that could fix it for them in a heartbeat.

The second thing I'm cranky about is the recent announcement that the moose hunting quota for this year is being cut by half. The moose population in northeastern Minnesota is crashing. I rarely see any moose while driving the back roads of Cook County any more. In fact, I rarely even see the tracks. Even more disturbing, is that fact the moose population in northwestern Minnesota showed a similar decline a decade ago and moose are now virtually extinct in that part of the state.

I am not anti-hunting, but it sure seems like common sense that if an animal population is crashing, and a nearby population has recently gone practically to zero, and no one really knows why, that you would stop shooting them. If the moose disappear from Cook County, it will be a profound loss - for our culture, community and economy.

The third thing I'm cranky about is the childish anti-tax philosophy that seems to have an iron grip on our nation. Taxes that are fair and pay for things that are outstanding public investments are a good thing. As the former Republican Governor of Minnesota, Elmer L Anderson said, "Taxes are the way people join hands to get good things done. That's the tradition of Minnesota."

The reason I bring this up is not to touch off a debate about taxes or democracy, but to highlight an opportunity for the township residents of Cook County to take part in the uniquely grass roots process of Minnesota township government. The old saying that "the world is run by the people who show up" is literally true at the township level. Every year, the townships hold an annual meeting to which all township residents are invited. This year, the date is March 8th. The annual meeting is what really sets townships apart from other forms of government. At the meeting, the residents have a direct voice in how the township will be run. Citizens can propose township actions and have them voted up or down right then. Most importantly, the people at the meeting pass the levy of property taxes that the township is allowed to collect. The town board can only spend what has been authorized by the voters. It also allows your neighbors, friends and relatives - also known as the township board of supervisors - to explain what the town does and why. This is a wonderfully direct, effective and community building form of democracy. Just thinking about it causes me to forget my crankiness - that and the stunning blue sky with the golden, late winter sun shining down above the brilliant snow blessing our lakes, streams and trails.

Airdate: March 3, 2011

Photo courtesy of ShakataGaNai via Wikimedia.

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