How The Environment Has Shaped the State

From Sustenance to Leisure on Minnesota Land

Expert Essay: Associate professor of history Michael J. Lansing, published in Environmental History as well as Ethics, Place, and Environment, highlights the many ways people have made use of Minnesota's flora and fauna over time and reviews the state's more recent efforts at conservation.

Watercolor painting of Lake Minnetonka as it appeared when Joseph Israel Lobdell guarded a claim there in late 1856. By Edwin Whitefield, ca. 1856–1859.

Cabin on Lake Minnetonka

Watercolor painting of a cabin on Lake Minnetonka as it appeared when Joseph Israel Lobdell guarded a claim there. By Edwin Whitefield, ca. 1856–1859.

Black and white photograph of the first mine on the Mesabi Range, near Mountain Iron, ca. 1892. Photographed by Louis Perry Gallagher.

First mine on the Mesabi Range, near Mountain Iron

First mine on the Mesabi Range, near Mountain Iron, ca. 1892. Photographed by Louis Perry Gallagher.

Black and white photograph of Mesabi Mountain open pit mine in Franklin, 1936. Photographed by Thor L. Nielsen.

Mesabi Mountain open pit mine in Franklin

Mesabi Mountain open pit mine in Franklin, 1936. Photographed by Thor L. Nielsen.

Black and white photograph of an Ojibwe family in canoe on Lake Vermilion, ca. 1905.

Ojibwe family in canoe on Lake Vermilion

Ojibwe family in canoe on Lake Vermilion, ca. 1905.

Minnesota Public School Fund

In 1854, the United States took the mineral-rich lands of northeastern Minnesota Territory from the Ojibwe Nation after the signing of the Treaty of La Pointe. Four years later, it granted to the new state of Minnesota sections 16 and 36 of every one of its townships, either to be held in trust or leased to support state schools. Close to three million acres were dedicated to a public school trust fund, and the iron ore and forest lands of the Ojibwe generated over 85 percent of its value. In 2017, it is worth over a billion dollars.

Survey of the confluence of the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers at Point Douglas in Survey of Upper Mississippi River (page 16).

Survey of the confluence of the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers

Survey of the confluence of the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers at Point Douglas in Survey of Upper Mississippi River (page 16).

Survey of the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers at Fort Snelling at Bdóte in Survey of Upper Mississippi River (page 14).

Survey of the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers

Survey of the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers at Fort Snelling at Bdóte in Survey of Upper Mississippi River (page 14).

Plan and section of St. Anthony Falls in Survey of Upper Mississippi River (page 29).

Plan and section of St. Anthony Falls

Plan and section of St. Anthony Falls in Survey of Upper Mississippi River (page 29).

Black and white photograph of Major General Gouverneur K. Warren, ca. 1863–1865. Photographed by Matthew Brady.

Gouverneur K. Warren

Major General Gouverneur K. Warren, ca. 1863–1865. Photographed by Matthew Brady.

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