Sierra Club: The Planet--1996
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The Planet

By Becky Steckler

Trouble in Paradise

Haleakala National Park's serene, otherworldly beauty attracts thousands of visitors to the Hawaiian island of Maui every year. Unfortunately, its flora, fauna and ecosystems, shaped by millions of years of isolation, would be threatened by foreign invaders if an airport extension is approved.

"An expansion of our airport would open up a Pandora's box of potentially destructive pests," said Lucienne de Naie of the Maui Group conservation committee. Hawaii's overworked customs inspectors already allow 20 new alien organisms a year to slip by their scrutiny. More frequent flights from Asia and the South Pacific could introduce dangerous diseases and pests, such as malaria, the highly destructive browntree snake and agricultural blights to Haleakala National Park and the rest of Maui.

The controversial project would expand Maui's small, 11-gate Kahului airport to a booming 42-gate transportation hub. Proponents of expansion include Maui's Visitors Bureau and Chamber of Commerce, who hope to boost visitor counts regardless of environmental cost.

In 1992, the Maui Group allied with Maui Malama Pono, a local citizen's group formed to help stop the airport expansion, challenged the project's environmental impact statement. A federal judge agreed with environmentalists that the original document was inadequate and ordered a new study.

However, de Naie said the new study dismisses environmentalists' concerns. "Maui's airport is surrounded by Kanaha Pond Wildlife Sanctuary, Kanaha Beach Park and open cane fields," said Bob Coffey of the Maui Group. "We're a perfect breeding ground for escaped species and we just can't afford to take the chance."

Motorized Madness in Minnesota

A peaceful paddle in Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) and Voyageurs National Park may soon become impossible if pro-motor forces have their way.

Last year, motor advocates mounted an effort to radically open both Boundary Waters and Voyageurs to snowmobile, motorboat and truck traffic and demanded that control of these lands be transferred from the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service to local authorities.

This year, Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Rod Grams (R- Minn.) introduced legislation that does more than appease pro-motor interests. Oberstar's bill, H.R. 3297, would open up portages in the million-acre BWCAW to trucks and four- wheel drive vehicles and expand motorboat use. It would also establish an "intergovernmental council" that could dictate management of the BWCAW to the federal government. Another Oberstar bill, H.R. 3298, would establish the same type of local-control in Voyageurs National Park. In May, Grams introduced a comparable bill in the Senate, S. 1738.

The hero in this Midwest wilderness drama is Rep. Bruce Vento (D-Minn) who has introduced a bill, H.R. 3470, to further restrict motorboat access in the BWCAW, add 14,000 acres of wilderness and designate the 74,000-acre Kabetogama Peninsula in Voyageurs as wilderness.

Oberstar and Grams are listening to a loud but small group of local motor proponents instead of their constituents. A St. Cloud State University poll found that four out of five Minnesotans want protection of BWCAW and Voyageurs maintained at current levels or strengthened.

"We need to convince Congress to listen to the majority of Minnesotans and citizens across the country who believe it is critical to preserve and protect these wilderness areas," said Jill Walker of the North Star Chapter.

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