Bruce F. Vento, 60, a Minnesota congressman in the Democrat-Farmer-Labor Party since 1977 who was known as a protector of the wilderness, the homeless and small business, died Oct. 10 at his home in St. Paul.

He had malignant mesothelioma, a rare form of lung cancer caused by inhaling asbestos fibers, and treatment included removal of a lung, chemotherapy and radiation. He announced in February that he would not seek reelection.

A former science teacher and state House representative, Mr. Vento was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1976 after receiving the endorsement of the retiring Democrat, Joseph E. Karth.

Mr. Vento, who was reelected to the 11 succeeding Congresses, became chairman of the natural resources subcommittee when Democrats controlled the House. There, he once estimated that he wrote more than 300 bills enacted into law affecting national parks, public land and forests.

"Environmental issues are not subtle," he once said. "You talk to a 4-year-old child, they understand water pollution and air pollution."

He was the chief sponsor in 1978 of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act, which affected the 1.1 million-acre parkland along the Minnesota-Canada border. His other environmental efforts included bills to stem drilling on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and to preserve tropical rain forests.

At a tribute in June for the congressman, President Clinton praised Mr. Vento's environmental record and added, "The thing I like even more about Bruce Vento is he cares about people, especially people without a voice--the homeless."

At his death, the congressman was the second-ranking Democrat on the House Banking and Financial Services Committee, a perch from which he addressed issues involving the homeless and advocated reform in public housing policy. He also chaired the Resolution Trust Corp., a task force overseeing cleanup after the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s.

He was an original author of and a major force behind the 1987 Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, which established federal funding for emergency shelter grants for transitional housing and supportive services.

In 1990, he helped create a plan to keep premium payments low for first-time home buyers while ensuring solvency for the Federal Housing Administration.

An issue he successfully championed for the last decade--it became law in May--was waiving English-language requirements for members of the Hmong ethnic minority of Laos who wished to become U.S. citizens.

St. Paul, in Mr. Vento's district, has one of the largest U.S. enclaves of the Hmong, who were credited with aiding U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War.

Bruce Frank Vento was born in St. Paul, Minn. He received an associate's degree from the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis, where he later did graduate work, and was a 1965 graduate of Wisconsin State University. He was a National Science Foundation scholar.

He worked his way from brewery and refrigerator plant assembly lines to teaching middle school science class in Minneapolis public schools from 1965 to 1976. He served in the Minnesota House of Representatives from 1971 to 1976. He blamed his exposure to asbestos on his early years as a laborer.

He was a recipient in 1994 of the Wilderness Society's Ansel Adams Conservation Award and the National Parks and Conservation Association's conservationist of the year award in 1987.

Though Mr. Vento and fellow Minnesota Democrat James L. Oberstar have disagreed on motor-vehicle access to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Oberstar in April proposed naming Minnesota's highest peak, 2,301-foot Eagle Mountain, in Mr. Vento's honor. The matter is pending.

Mr. Vento's marriage to Mary Vento ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife since August, Susan Lynch Vento of St. Paul; and three sons from his first marriage, John, of Minneapolis, and Michael and Peter, both of St. Paul; his parents, Frank and Anne Vento of St. Paul; three brothers; four sisters; and four grandchildren.