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What Would Sig Have Done; by Mike Hillman

By Mike Hillman:

I was sitting with Bill Magie during the summer of 1973 when Congress passed the Wilderness Bill setting aside over a million acres of Northeastern Minnesota as the only area, east of the Mississippi River, large enough to claim to be a true wilderness area.  Taken in combination with the Quetico Provincial Park, of approximately the same size, the Canoe Country is truly a remarkable place.  Each year hundreds of people come to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Quetico Park, to get away from civilization, in order to experience something of the world, the way it used to be.

I was a young man back in 1973 and Bill Magie was an old man.  Bill was one of the men, along with people like Sig Olson who worked hard to convince Congress that the Canoe Country was a unique place worthy of being set aside as a wilderness area, for all people down through the generations.  I remembered telling Bill that with the passage of the Wilderness Bill, at least two percent of Minnesota was safe from being bought and sold.  Bill Magie told me that the Canoe Country would never be safe.  I was surprised by what he said that night. I asked Magie why he felt that way.  “Someone will always want something from the country, that isn’t good for it.  That’s why people like you have to stand guard to protect it, when people like me and Sig Olson aren’t around anymore.”

I didn’t know what Bill Magie meant back in 1973. It’s taken many years for the wisdom of his words to manifest themselves.  But now, with the talk of opening up large areas of the Superior Natural Forest to sulfide mining, the truth of what Bill Magie told me almost forty years ago is sinking in.  I am one of those people who think that there is no good way to mine sulfide ore in a state with so many lakes and rivers, and so little soil to absorb the sulfuric acid and heavy metals, which are an inevitable by-product of sulfide mining.  At first I didn’t know how to oppose those who want to allow this dangerous business from happening. I asked myself what Sig Olson would have done if he were still alive.

That’s why I started writing articles, I hope will make people who love the Canoe Country aware of the danger we are facing from the proposed sulfide mining in the Superior National Forest.  I wanted people to know that all the hype and spin the mining companies are claiming about them operating, in a new and better way, aren’t true.  One spokesperson for the mining companies, Dr. Kent Kaiser, raised the question that this matter would be best served by leaving it up to the people of Northeastern Minnesota to decide, because they are better informed about the matter.  He implied that people living in the Twin Cities or Chicago shouldn’t have a say in making this decision.  I don’t agree.

I think Sig Olson would have pointed out that this is the 100th Anniversary of the Superior National Forest.  The Superior National Forest was created by President Theodore Roosevelt on the recommendation of the newly created Forest Service, when they found out that close to a million acres of Northeastern Minnesota was left a virtual waste land, after private logging companies devastated the last great eastern pinery, and then moved west; leaving little else but stumps and slash in their wake.  Roosevelt created the Superior National Forest in order to insure that when private companies harvested trees, or used the National Forest in any way, that they would be held accountable to insure the continued integrity of a national treasure.

I believe Sig Olson would have done his homework, to try to give the mining companies the benefit of the doubt.  He would have realized how much Northeastern Minnesota needed high paying jobs.  But he wouldn’t have wanted those jobs if there was an inevitable danger of seriously harming the country he loved.  I don’t think Sig Olson would have placed his trust an industry that has never done anything other than take the money and run. With a history of degradation and exploitation Sig Olson would be filled with doubts about all the mining companies’ empty promises.  He would have asked the mining companies to show him one good example of where they have left the place in the same condition it was, when they finished mining it.  Sig would still be waiting for that answer if he were alive today.  I think Sig would have told us to leave the Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area like they are.

Sig Olson would have read and listened to what the mining companies said, but he also would have looked at what they have done to other places.  He would take his pipe out of his pocket, strike a farmer match on his canvass pants, and lit his briar pipe.  Then he would think the matter over. Sig would sit down at his type writer in the writing shack, and write his concerns to any who would listen, that proposed sulfide mining in the Superior National Forest is a matter of great national interest.  Sig Olson would point out that the issue is greater than a fifty year period of prosperity, and that the real value to America isn’t the area’s minerals, which can be gotten in other places, but rather the billions of gallons of fresh clean water, which are unique to Minnesota, and are of great importance to millions of Americans.  Those billions of gallons of clean water are only found in Northeastern Minnesota.  Our clean water is a true national treasure beyond price.  The Superior National Forest and Boundary Waters Canoe Area are places deserving of our protection now; and for all the generations to come.

1 comment to What Would Sig Have Done; by Mike Hillman

  • Jim Turchi

    While I understand the concern many people feel about the proposed mining project, I would like to offer the viewpoint of a person who has worked in manufacturing for 20 years. It is hard for me to believe that any industry could escape notice for long in our current times. At my current company, we have no processes that present any real danger to the environment, yet we are constantly monitored for both storm water and waste water discharge. Our major issue being the runoff of the rust from our iron castings. We will most likely need to find a way to minimize the amount of iron that that leaves our yard.

    My point is, there is no shortage of State and Federal agencies and employees looking to raise revenue by fining private companies for any minor violations. It seems extremely unlikely that something as high-profile as sulfide mining could sneak under the radar.

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