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Lack of common sense leads to another black eye for Forest Service

For 38 years people in Ely have had to swallow a bitter pill. Finally feeling their stomachs settle down, the Forest Service dumps fuel on the fire again. Nope, not an intentionally set fire that got away, this time it was giving a group of disabled veterans a BWCA ticket.
Each year groups of disabled veterans come to Ely and stay at Veterans on the Lake. Located on Fall Lake, it’s a two portage haul to get to Basswood. With some help, there are disabled veterans who can make the arduous trip.
These disabled veterans have a tough enough time just getting in and out of the boat. They served our country and came out worse than when they went in.
The decision to go to a group size of nine with four boats wasn’t popular in the first place. Heck, the BWCA act in 1978 wasn’t a highlight for many people. But we have always hoped there would be a modicum of common sense along the way.
But when an overeager Forest Service employee decided to strut his stuff and issued a ticket to a group of disabled veterans, it just feels wrong.
There’s no disagreement among those involved that there were more than nine people on a campsite. But they were having lunch, not setting up camp for a week. And yes, there were guides who knew the rules.
And maybe those guides were just a bit too patriotic and respectful to those who have served. When you’re fishing with a guy who was shot in the back while serving in the Mideast and that guy spent three years learning to walk, you don’t worry too much about having too many people on a campsite.
The Forest Service’s answer has been the guy who wrote the tickets is a disabled veteran too. Doesn’t that make all the more reason to be empathetic? What kind of veteran would give a ticket to a group of fellow servicemen?
We know the Forest Service has bent the rules in the past when common sense was applied.
Three years ago a group of people illegally brought a remote control helicopter on a BWCA trip. Totally against the rules and definitely warranting a ticket.
As luck would have it one of the group’s members broke a leg. Camping up on Agnes Lake, there was little to no cell service so they used the helicopter to lift a cell phone up in the air to send a message.
Common sense would say yes they shouldn’t have had the helicopter but it helped rescue an injured camper so no ticket should be issued. In fact, as far as we know, that’s what happened.
Discretion can be a good thing when black and white rules make problems for enforcement officers. Unfortunately in the case of our disabled veterans, that discretion didn’t happened.
The group was left with a sour taste instead of simply enjoying a shore lunch on a fishing trip. The Forest Service ends up with another black eye. And 38 years later, the bad feelings return.
Give a group of disabled veterans a break? You bet. Every day of the week.

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