Wednesday, October 7, 2020
Posted by
Becky Rom - National Campaign Chair

Bruce Vento Tribute

Today we celebrate Bruce Vento, who was a tireless advocate for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. He was born 80 years ago today. 

Bruce Vento served as a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1977 until his death in 2000, representing Minnesota's 4th congressional district. Vento worked hard to protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and many other public lands across the country. His successor Rep. Betty McCollum continues to be a Champion for the Boundary Waters today. 

Read the tribute below that was given by National Campaign Chair Becky Rom at an event honoring Bruce’s years of public service shortly before he died. 


September 9, 2000 By Becky Rom

We gather tonight to say thank you to Congressman Bruce Vento and to celebrate his career as a champion of our cause. When Mr. Vento steps down this coming January, he will have served in Congress for 24 years.For every one of those years, Bruce Vento has held a pivotal position on the House Resources Committee. For over ten years, Bruce Vento chaired that Committee's Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands.As Subcommittee Chair, his inspired leadership resulted in the protection of hundreds of thousands of acres of America's lands and the enactment of over 300 laws protecting and preserving our natural environment.

Congressman Vento has been a tireless advocate for wilderness protection. Under his guidance, Congress protected the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of northern Minnesota, the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, and new parks and wilderness stretching from Alaska to Nevada to the American Samoa. Congressman Vento donned the mantle of protector of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageurs National Park when he stepped into the halls of Congress in 1977 and he wears it today. Bruce was a key player in the passage of the 1978 Boundary Waters Wilderness Act, known as the Burton-Vento bill, and during the past 6 years he has been an unparallelled and tireless defender during the bitter and divisive attacks on the integrity of the canoe country. During this last fight, motorboat advocates argued that there were three portages that were too difficult to traverse when pulling a motorboat mounted on portage wheels and that they needed trucks to haul the boats. Congressman Helen Chenoweth scheduled a field hearing, to be held on one of these portages. Congressman Vento and I were both there. The portage actually is one of the gentler portages in the wilderness and not particularly long; travelers with a canoe and packs-or a 14foot fishing boat, for that matter- would cross portages like this one without giving it a second thought. But the motorboat advocates were determined to prove that it was impossible to traverse this portage pushing a boat on portage wheels. To demonstrate this, they showed up with a large and heavy motorboat, loaded down with coolers and all sorts of miscellaneous fishing gear - and, to top it off, with three outboard motors attached. Cocky and grinning, they were convinced that they were about to show that Bruce Vento could not portage a boat across the portage. Bruce walked to the back of the boat- resting in the water- and, with determination and will-power, lifted that boat out of the water, and with Helen Chenoweth walking at the bow, pushed that heavy monster of a boat across the portage.

Congressman Vento fought relentlessly for the highest standards of stewardship at all four federal land management agencies - the Forest Service, the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. He led his colleagues on the Subcommittee to support ever-stronger wilderness bills while skillfully deflecting countless proposals for low-quality parks or commercialization of natural areas. He supported a broadening of the National Park Service mission to include social, industrial, and labor history, not just the "great men and the great battles." His bipartisan work eventually resolved a decades old dispute over Park Service concessionaires.

Congressman Vento is famous for mastering the details of every land use law in existence. Shortly after the Republicans took control of the House and Congressman Jim Hansen became Chair of the Subcommittee on National Parks, an obscure public lands issue arose during a hearing. Jim Hansen did not know the law; he turned to his counsel, who, with a shrug of shoulders, indicated that he didn't know it either. They whispered to each other for a moment, and then Jim Hansen turned, very reluctantly, toward Bruce Vento and said that perhaps the gentleman from Minnesota "could help us out." Well, Congressman Vento could, and he was off and running, talking nonstop for 15 minutes or so, completely in command of the subject. 

Congressman Vento stood firm against the "property rights" and "takings" movements of the early 1990's. Not just a public lands person, he led efforts in the House in the 1970's to strengthen the Clean Air Act to regulate more than just soot, as it originally did. 

He did all of this, protection of public lands and the environment, for no political gain, but from his deep and personal love of nature.

This past January Congressman Vento was diagnosed with a virulent strain of cancer. He is leaving Congress to devote his energies to overcoming this new and daunting challenge and for that reason also he is unable to join us this evening. Knowing full well of his courage and tenacity, we know that he will overcome this challenge as he has so many others.

Congressman Vento's accomplishments are great, but I want to tell you something about the man behind these statistics. Bruce was born on the East Side of the city of St. Paul, Minnesota, the second of 8 children. His four grandparents immigrated from the "old country." Some people ask, where did Bruce, a city boy, get his love of nature? Bruce tells this story in answer to the question. His love of nature grew out of his relationship with his Italian grandfather, who used to take Bruce mushroom picking. His grandfather knew all the different types of mushrooms that grew in the woods of Minnesota. After Bruce and his grandfather returned from mushroom picking, Bruce's Italian grandmother would cook the mushrooms. First she would feed some to the family cat, and then to Bruce's grandfather. If they both lived, she would then feed the mushrooms to the rest of the family. The East Side of St. Paul, where Bruce continues to live, is home to blue collar workers - and they have no better friend than Congressman Vento. After working in factories, he taught science in the public schools for ten years, a clear manifestation of his love for the natural world. Drawing on these roots, Bruce Vento has focused on improving the status of the ordinary working person in health, housing, and education. His vision was that everyone could get an education that would allow him to have a decent job, an affordable house, enough security to have the time to enjoy the natural wonders, and an education that included an understanding and appreciation of nature. Because of Congressman Vento, many more Americans can enjoy all of these, but most especially the natural world.

Please join me in expressing our gratitude to Bruce Vento, our champion of parks and defender of wilderness.