Local Izaak Walton League chapter celebrates 100 years of advocacy

Julie O'Leary

Members of the W.J. McCabe Chapter of the Izaak Walton League at work on one of their sponsored projects, moving a section of ladyslippers from the path at Brighton Beach.

The W.J. McCabe Chapter of the Izaak Walton League is a community-based organization that has worked for decades to protect the natural resources of the Duluth area and northeastern Minnesota.

The McCabe Chapter, one of 16 in Minnesota, is part of the larger Izaak Walton League of America, founded in 1922 to conserve outdoor America for future generations. The League is one of the nation’s oldest and most respected conservation organizations, with chapters in 25 states and more than 40,000 members nationwide. The League’s founders, who were avid anglers, named the organiza-tion after Izaak Walton, the 17th century conserva-tionist and author of The Compleat Angler, a classic book about the art and spirit of fishing.

Familiarly known as the “Ikes,” the Izaak Walton League became one of the earliest conservation organizations to set an aggressive course to defend wild America by changing public policy. Almost every major, successful conservation program this country has in place today can be traced back to a league activity or initiative.

The McCabe Chapter, based in Duluth, was founded in 1923 and celebrates 100 years of grass roots activism in 2023. Our members are individuals who enjoy hunting, fishing, canoeing and all types of outdoor recreation.

Our work involves advocacy for clean air and water, healthy soils, fish and wildlife habitat, public lands and outdoor recreation values.

The chapter has a rich history of engagement on behalf of the Boundary Waters and the Superior National Forest, beginning in the mid-1920s with efforts to pass the first legislation that provided protections for the area (the Shipstead-Newton-Nolan Act was eventually enacted in 1930).

The Ikes have worked to oppose many threats to the Boundary Waters through the years – logging, dam-building, road building and airplane travel, in addition to purchasing privately held lands for preservation, supporting government acquisition of lands and wilderness designation, and raising money for legal actions when necessary.

In recent years, the McCabe Chapter has been active in the campaign to protect the Boundary Waters from copper-nickel mining.

The Ikes also advocated for establishment of Voyageurs National Park and were early supporters of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which has channeled millions of dollars in federal funding to the clean-up and restoration of the St. Louis River estuary.

The Ikes count many natural resource professionals among our ranks who contribute their expertise to our efforts to influence management of parks, trails, wetlands and trout streams, and to protect important natural areas from harmful development.

Members of the Ikes meet with elected officials and government agencies; attend public hearings and testify on legislation affecting resource management; review and comment on proposals for fish and wildlife management plans, permits for power plants and mines, and development proposals.

Although this work is not glamorous and generally behind the scenes, participation in these types of activities is a major way citizens can have an impact on decisions that have consequences for water and air quality in our communities, access to parks and trails, energy policies and action on climate issues.

Recent projects the McCabe Chapter has provided comments on include the proposed Lutsen Ski Hill expansion, which will impact the Superior National Forest; changes to the Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Management Area plan that will impact forests and wildlife habitat throughout the state; the use of dredge spoil to restore beaches on Park Point; the ongoing process to remove impairment designations from the St. Louis River Area of Concern; the reintroduction of elk to northeastern Minnesota' and withdrawal of mineral leases for the Rainy River headwaters.

Other current priorities are supporting the City of Duluth’s work to implement the recently adopted Duluth Natural Resources Program Plan and the Climate Action Plan; working collaboratively with other organizations to facilitate the region’s move toward solar energy and electric vehicles; and protecting the Boundary Waters and the St. Louis River from mining pollution.

In addition to our policy work, the McCabe Ikes have regularly conducted outdoor youth expos to engage young people in shooting sports and fishing, activities that have been on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As opportunities have returned for gathering, the chapter is working to engage members in hands-on projects to support restoration activities.

Last year the chapter “adopted” a forest restoration site along Knowlton Creek and is working with City of Duluth staff to protect water quality and a unique white pine-white cedar forest community by protecting seedlings that will expand the forest. Volunteers assist with site maintenance projects such as placing tree cages on seedlings, removing them when no longer needed and removing invasive species. More such projects are planned for 2023.

The conservation challenges we face today are more numerous and complex than those the Izaak Walton League set out to tackle a century ago, but community-based activism has never been more important to our democracy.

As the Ikes enter our second century, we look forward to continuing our work to support citizens, shape conservation policy and advocate for places that allow everyone to enjoy outdoor recreation.

If you would like to learn more about the McCabe Ikes and how to get involved in our work, we invite you to join us at one of our monthly member meetings – the third Wednesday of each month at 6:30 pm at Hartley Nature Center.

Member meetings feature a speaker on a current topic, updates on activities the chapter is working on and opportunities to get involved, and a chance to socialize with others working to protect the great outdoors. Meetings are held in a hybrid format to allow those who are unable to join us in person to participate.

Check out our website at duluthikes.org for more information and how to become a member and support the work of the Izaak Walton League.

Julie O'Leary is the president of the W.J. McCabe Chapter of the Izaak Walton League. A biologist by training, she is recently retired from a career that included work in local government, non-profit advocacy, and education. She continues to pursue her interests in education and the environment.