Conservation Minnesota

Why Wilderness?

“We see these interests constantly at work backed by powerful lobbies . . . They make the preservation of any section of wild country a constant battle, and place the comparatively small reservations we have set aside, in constant jeopardy. The existence of this element in our population makes necessary the utmost vigilance on the part of governmental agencies in charge of the administration of our parks and forests, as well as on the part of those organizations scattered throughout the land that understand what is at stake.”
Sigurd Olson
1945

It was in 1938 that Sigurd Olson, the great conservation advocate and writer, was beginning to find his stride when he penned a short essay for the preservation of the wilderness as a 40-year-old college professor in Ely, Minnesota. The essay appeared as an article for a small periodical American Forests entitled “Why Wilderness?”. The executive director of the National Parks Association happened upon the article and liked the message so much he asked Olson to rewrite the article for their publication in 1945.

Olson wrote the new article while preparing to Europe to assist American troops in reintegration back to civilian life as World War II neared its end. The new 1945 article was entitled “We Need Wilderness” and focused on the rejuvenation of the human spirit that occurs with the wilderness experience. At the end of the long and terrible world conflict in 1945 Olson recognized the need for this rejuvenation and the role wilderness played in this endeavor.

The National Park Association was thrilled with the rewritten article, indicating that it had a wide effect on its readers and reprinting the article as a pamphlet for all its new members. One of the central aspects to this article was the need for the utmost vigilance in order to preserve our remaining wilderness opportunities. Olson understood that there were “interests constantly at work backed by powerful lobbies” motivated by corporate profits who would continue to place in jeopardy this wilderness solitude. No truer words were spoken.

Some 57 years later the battle for wilderness solitude is being challenged by new mining operations that have consistently in the past created substantial water pollution that will threaten the pristine waters of Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Olson so loved. Additionally a threat that Olson would have a hard time conceiving is the construction of a large cell tower on the edge of the wilderness. AT&T has proposed to build a 450-tower on an elevated ridge within two miles of the Boundary Waters that will loom approximately 600 feet above the surrounding wilderness landscape, a height that rivals some of the tallest skyscrapers in the Twin Cities. The tower will be illuminated day and night with strobe and beacon lighting, and will be visible for miles inside the wilderness area on several popular lakes, including Basswood, Fall, Ella Hall and South Farm Lakes.

Olson called upon “those organizations scattered throughout the land that understand what is at stake” to continue to be vigilant. Thankfully on the issue of the cell tower the Friends of the Boundary Waters has stepped to the defense of wilderness solitude. They filed suit in Hennepin County District Court alleging a violation of the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act. The trial court declared that the construction of the proposed tower would violate this law. Instead of being good corporate citizens and using the other alternatives that were available, AT&T appealed the decision. Unfortunately, the Court of Appeals inappropriately substituted their judgment for that of the trial court and overturned the injunction on the construction of the new tower. The matter will now go before the Minnesota Supreme Court with the Friends vowing to continue their defense of the wilderness. Thanks Friends for your “utmost vigilance” in the preservation of our precious “wild country”.

About John Tuma

John Tuma
John is a former state legislator and litigation attorney. He served in the Minnesota House of Representatives for eight years from the Northfield area, beginning in 1994. Elected as a Republican, John was known for his independent thinking and ability to work across party lines. He is well-known in Minnesota state government circles.
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