Boundary Waters Discussion at OWAA in Duluth, Minnesota.




Minnesota DNR Fisheries Biologist Discusses The Important Fight To Protect Nature Beauty In Minnesota During OWAA

Campers & Canoeing Hang Out At The Boundary Waters In The Mid 90s. [Photo Credit: AG/CC]

One of the elements facing Minnesota both as part of the public/private land debate is the balance of industry. Currently the Boundary Waters which serve as a spawning and rearing estuary for many fish species is being threatened by the possibility of new factories which will both improve the economy but hurt the environment. Fisheries Biologist John Lindgren from the Minnesota DNR spoke with Editor In Chief Of The Buzz: Tim Wassberg at OWAA in Duluth, Minnesota about balance, ecology and current threats to the system.

The Buzz: The thing is that Minnesota is built on the outdoors so protecting it, especially this estuary and the boundary waters, is so important. How do you have to look at this sort of ecosystem to help maintain it in the face of industry

John Lindgren:  Well that gets right to the heart of the matter. Here in Duluth, we're the largest freshwater shipping port in the United States. I mean, you can't just turn that off. It's going to continue and that's the beauty of it. But I think, in the modern era, you can have both. You can have modern industry, and you can have what you see here. You can have high levels of tourism, and you can have a functioning ecosystem.

The Buzz: We are right on the corner of Lake Superior with the coast snaking around to Wisconsin. How does that works in terms of the ecosystem?

JL: We're the head, the very head of the Great Lakes. The water that comes in here flows all the way down to the Atlantic Ocean. This is the top of the table, where you want to have it the cleanest. If you're going to clean, you might as well clean from the top down. And the river that flows into here also the largest freshwater estuary in Lake Superior. And it borders two states, Wisconsin and Minnesota – which makes it interesting because you need to partner and work together with a lot of different folks in this community, certainly with Wisconsin DNR and entities over in Wisconsin, and Minnesota DNR as well. It's been a challenge. One other thing is that with the orientation of Lake Superior from northeast to southwest. Birds migrating from the Boreal, they hit Lake Superior. They really don't want to fly all 100 miles over a lake, so they all just follow down along the shoreline in a huge line. All of the birds that are coming from the north come along the shore and they pass right around the corner.

The Buzz: We’re also talking about the fish because the fish don't know what's being put in the water. So you have to look at the food chain.

JL: That was one of the big problems of the expansion stage of capitalism was "Out of sight, out of mind." If you had a river, you’d just throw your junk in the river and it goes downstream. That’s what happened here in spades, we flooded billions of feet of lumber down the river and then we put these industries: U.S. Steel, coal, tar and other gas industries along the shoreline.

The Buzz: Before we knew the impact…

JL: Before we knew the impact. Meanwhile, the talk that we gave at the Outdoor Writers Association was on the Clean Water Act. I don't fault anybody for what they did under regulation, and that's what everybody had done up until that point. You look back now and it looks ridiculous, that you would just dump coal tars into the water thinking that that was a good thing. But that's just how they did things. But the estuary, being so important to the fisheries of Western Lake Superior-- we have a lot of fish that move in and out of the estuary to use the spawning grounds primarily lake sturgeon, walleyes and long-nose suckers primarily. But even though the  fish move in and out of the estuary to spawn, they use the estuary as a rearing ground. It's like a nursery type area for young life stages before going back out into Lake Superior. What interesting is that in the 1970's nobody cared to be near this estuary. People didn't come here to walk hand-in-hand romantically along the St. Louis River estuary (laughing).

A river flowing in the Minnesota DNR territory. [Courtesy: John Lindgren]
John Lindgren out driving the boat in Minnesota. [Courtesy: John Lindgren]
John Lindgren and fellow associate out fishing. [Courtesy: John Lindgren]
The Buzz: And now they do.

JL: Now they do. There’s a lot of advocates, especially in Duluth. Folks like their environment, and they like to take care of the things that they love. People aren't bashful about standing up and expressing their point of view about something that challenges a natural beauty that they have grown accustomed to.

The Buzz: The big discussion now is private versus public, of course. People can love privately, but do they have the power to protect it publically? The debate here is drilling and building factories in the boundary waters. The question is can it remain protected?

JL: That gets to the heart of it. If you're going to be an advocate, those are the questions you'd want to ask. What do the protections actually afford? The arguments that get thrown out about public-private are insidious and can be confusing,  It's very gray. And it can actually be very black in 20, 30 years. It seems to be harder these days to determine the appropriate response because the information can get so confusing. Not just for me. I work with these things as my career, and I can't imagine someone that's not maybe a trained biologist or an ecologist or whatever. It's hard to figure out what the truth is. Or even explain it.

The Buzz: Can you talk about where your connection to the outdoors, both personally and then in government.

JL: What engaged me was a father who brought me up in the outdoors. I mean, we had a cabin in Northern Minnesota and we went there all the time and I just developed a certain love for being outside. And then as I went through high school and into college, you say, "Well, I want to work outside. I want to work in the natural resource field," so that's what I did. And then you go through undergrad and then grad school and get a job. I was lucky enough to come here right away and work with the fisheries, the St. Louis River estuary, and then got involved with the Area of Concern project. I grew up about 40 miles east of Fargo, which is a couple hundred miles from here. But yeah, I guess I'm an advocate at heart? And I'm a member of the Izaak Walton League of America also, and some folks there say you got the sickness where you have a hard time not raising your hand (laughing). So sometimes you'd be better off just sitting on your hands.

The Buzz: But if you don't do that…

JL: But back to the thing now. It can be increasingly frustrating after you've got 30, 40 years of progress since the 70's, since the green revolution, and now to see this where it's being dialed back, it can be frustrating that at this stage of your life and your career it seems to be going the other direction. But who knows.


Tim Wassberg

A graduate of New York University's Tisch School Of The Arts with degrees in Film/TV Production & Film Criticism, Tim has written for magazines such as Moviemaker, Moving Pictures, Conde Nast Traveler UK and Casino Player. He enjoys traveling and distinct craft beers among other things.

Bear Head State Park

Make Sure To Check Out:

Bear Head State Park, which is secluded in the Northwoods and located just south of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, contains pristine lakes and is home to black bears, nesting eagles, wolves and moose. Stands of white and red pine trees tower over the birch, aspen and fir trees.

Download PDF File