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.

Exterior view of a building at Camp Rabideau, ca. 1930s. Used with the permission of the Beltrami County Historical Society.

Building at Camp Rabideau

Exterior view of a building at Camp Rabideau, ca. 1930s. Used with the permission of the Beltrami County Historical Society.

US Forest Service entrance sign for Civilian Conservation Corps Camp Rabideau, Company 708, in the Chippewa National Forest. Photograph by the US Forest Service, Eastern Region, August 26, 2006. Public domain.

Camp Rabideau entrance sign

US Forest Service entrance sign for Civilian Conservation Corps Camp Rabideau, Company 708, in the Chippewa National Forest. Photograph by the US Forest Service, Eastern Region, August 26, 2006. Public domain.

Civilian Conservation Corps Camp Rabideau F-50

Camp Rabideau is a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) site established as part of the “New Deal” in 1933 to help alleviate unemployment during the Depression. Located in Beltrami County, it operated until 1942. It later became a satellite campus for University of Illinois forestry and engineering students; a Native American learning center; and an educational center for Chippewa National Forest visitors.

Destruction of Bois Forte Ojibwe Homeland, 1891–1929

From 1890 to 1910, timber speculators and lumbermen patented most of the valuable pine lands in north-central Minnesota—the homeland of the Bois Forte Ojibwe. By the 1920s, dams and deforestation had so damaged the landscape that it could no longer support the tribe’s subsistence economy, and its members were forced onto their reservation at Nett Lake.

Ca. 1910 image of Ernest Oberholtzer on a canoe trip in the Quetico–Superior region.

Ernest Oberholtzer canoe trip into Canada

Ca. 1910 image of Ernest Oberholtzer on a canoe trip in the Quetico–Superior region.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Ernest Oberholtzer documented flood damage associated with existing Rainy Lake dams in an attempt to prevent Edward Backus from constructing more dams, causing additional damage. This image documents damage related to a storage dam on Namakan Lake.

Destruction of shoreline timber caused by a storage dam on Namakan Lake, west of Quetico Park

In the 1920s and 1930s, Ernest Oberholtzer documented flood damage associated with existing Rainy Lake dams in an attempt to prevent Edward Backus from constructing more dams, causing additional damage. This image documents damage related to a storage dam on Namakan Lake.

1933 image of Ernest Oberholtzer and Sewell Tyng representing the Quetico–Superior Council and defending the newly passed regulations of the Shipstead–Nolan Act and the Rainy Lake watershed in front of an international commission.

Ernest Oberholtzer and Sewell Tyng

1933 image of Ernest Oberholtzer and Sewell Tyng representing the Quetico–Superior Council and defending the newly passed regulations of the Shipstead–Nolan Act and the Rainy Lake watershed in front of an international commission.

Ca. 1942 image of Ernest Oberholtzer at Mallard Island.

Ernest Oberholtzer

Ca. 1942 image of Ernest Oberholtzer at Mallard Island.

Hand-drawn 1920s map of the Rainy Lake watershed in both Minnesota and Ontario, possibly drawn by Ernest Oberholtzer, showing the 14,500 square miles that would have been effected by Edward Backus’ proposed dams. Used with the permission of the Oberholtzer Foundation.

Map of Rainy Lake watershed and environs

Hand-drawn 1920s map of the Rainy Lake watershed in both Minnesota and Ontario, possibly drawn by Ernest Oberholtzer, showing the 14,500 square miles that would have been effected by Edward Backus’ proposed dams. Used with the permission of the Oberholtzer Foundation.

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