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.

Olson, Sigurd F. (1899–1982)

Sigurd Ferdinand Olson was a prominent American conservationist in the twentieth century who is remembered for his work to preserve the northeast Minnesota wilderness. His career can be separated into two parts: the first as an educator and wilderness canoe guide, and the second as an author and national leader in conservation. He wrote and published eight books. His first book, The Singing Wilderness (1956), is perhaps his best-known work.

Runes of the North (book cover)

Runes of the North

The cover of Runes of the North, written by Sigurd Olson, illustrated by Robert Hines, and published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1963.

Sigurd Olson, Tom Savage, and Russell Fridley

Sigurd Olson, Tom Savage, and Russell Fridley (left to right) meet at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers (Bdote) to survey the recently created Fort Snelling State Park.

Sigurd F. Olson, ca. 1960

Sigurd F. Olson

Sigurd F. Olson, ca. 1960. Photograph by Eugene D. Becker.

Sigurd F. Olson, 1959

Sigurd F. Olson

Sigurd F. Olson, 1959.

Sigurd F. Olson, ca. 1949.

Sigurd F. Olson

Sigurd F. Olson, ca. 1949.

First mine on the Mesabi Range, near Mountain Iron, ca. 1892.

First mine on the Mesabi Range

First mine on the Mesabi Range, near Mountain Iron, ca. 1892.

The Hull-Rust-Mahoning mine in Hibbing, Minnesota, is the largest open-pit iron mine in Minnesota. As of 2020, material is still mined from the complex by Hibbing Taconite, or HibTac. Photograph by Wikimedia Commons user Chipcity, August 7, 2010. CC BY-SA 3.0.

Hull-Rust-Mahoning open pit mine

The Hull-Rust-Mahoning mine in Hibbing, Minnesota, is the largest open-pit iron mine in Minnesota. As of 2020, material is still mined from the complex by Hibbing Taconite, or HibTac. Photograph by Wikimedia Commons user Chipcity, August 7, 2010. CC BY-SA 3.0.

Mesabi Iron Range

The Mesabi Iron Range wasn’t the first iron range to be mined in Minnesota, but it has arguably been the most prolific. Since the 1890s, the Mesabi has produced iron ore that boosted the national economy, contributed to the Allied victory in World War II, and cultivated a multiethnic regional culture in northeast Minnesota.

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