“So often we are tempted to be ashamed of sentiment; at my age I’m no longer ashamed. I think we do not wear our sentiments on our sleeves as often as we should. We seldom pay tribute when it should be paid.”
Sigurd F. Olson
One of the greatest champions for wilderness preservation in America was Minnesota’s own Sigurd Olson. This teacher from Ely, Minnesota played a critical role in the preservation of the BWCAW and the creation of Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota’s only national park. In addition to being a best-selling author, he served as president of the Wilderness Society and the National Parks Association.
In his role with the National Park Association, he attended many National Park Service planning sessions. Many of the Park Service field staff were feeling demoralized at the October 1963 conference due to some substantial negative changes being forced upon them. As the conference wound down, many credited Olson with reviving the morale of the Park Service employees with a 20-minute speech where he paid tribute to their commitment to protecting and restoring some of our critical outdoor treasures.
In the same vein as the 1963 speech by Olson, it has been the annual tradition of this blog to give the “Sig” award, named in honor of Sigurd Olson, to an outstanding environmental champion at the legislature. It is always difficult narrowing it down to one legislator to recognize, but after some consultation with my colleagues, we have chosen the 2013 Sig recipient.
This year’s “Sig” goes to Rep. Joe Atkins (DFL-Inver Grove Heights). Rep. Atkins was the chief author of the bill banning BPA from containers for infant formula and baby food. Despite repeated attempts by special-interest groups to water down the ban and several last-minute attempts to kill the bill, Rep. Atkins held firm. One of the most important rules legislative lobbying is to pick a good author; Rep. Atkins did not fail. As a result, Minnesota continues to lead the nation in consumer protection for infants from toxic chemicals like BPA.
Additionally as the chair of the House Commerce and Consumer Protection, Rep. Atkins provided leadership on other environmental legislation. In the past this committee was where good environmental protection legislation would go to die, but that was not the case under Rep. Atkins leadership. He displayed fair and bold leadership in the 2013 session and Minnesota’s environment is the better for it.
For that reason, Conservation Minnesota is not ashamed to be a little sentimental and pay tribute to Rep. Atkins as our environmental champion for 2013. Sig would’ve been proud and my guess he would be a little sentimental about it too.