and he would fight today’s threat from beyond the grave, if he could
Sigurd Olson strongly opposed copper-nickel mining near the BWCA when it first became an issue in 1957. International Nickel Co. had detected a potentially large deposit of low-grade copper and nickel sulfides along the Kawishiwi River. The company applied for a hundred-year mining lease on eight thousand acres of land right at the edge of the BWCA.
As I wrote in my biography of Sigurd, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s denial of the lease was a direct result of Sigurd’s strong working relationship with Interior Secretary Fred Seaton.
Sigurd opposed it again in 1969-1970
But a dozen years later two New York men announced that they intended to prospect for copper-nickel on 30,000 acres right in the heart of the wilderness near Gabimichigami Lake. Sigurd, who at the time was president of the Wilderness Society, denounced the plan in articles for the group’s magazine, The Living Wilderness, and for Audubon. He minced no words in the summer 1970 issue of Living Wilderness:
Must we repeat over and over the ghastly mistakes of the past, desecrating the landscape, destroying its wildlife, poisoning its clear waters, and leaving scars that will take thousands of years to heal?
Today’s copper-nickel sulfide threat is the worst yet
Once again, those fighting for wilderness and ecological integrity won. But, as Sigurd knew, the battles go on endlessly, and today the BWCA is again under grave threat from those who want to mine the low-grade deposits of copper and nickel sulfides. Pollution from the proposed mines will flow right into the wilderness, and will contaminate it for centuries. The type of mining being proposed has never been done before in Minnesota. And wherever it has occurred, it has polluted the waterways. In fact, this type of mining is responsible for more Superfund toxic waste sites than any other activity.
Sigurd’s family has often told me that I know him better than they did. I can tell you without a single doubt, he would fight this from beyond the grave, if he could. It is an existential threat to the wilderness he loved and spent most of his life protecting.
Photo: Sunset over the wilderness? By David Backes.
This post is about wilderness and environmental protection, and belongs to the gold portion of the singing wilderness spiritual map.