To Ernest Oberholtzer, Dec 26, 1930 (first letter to Ober)

Ernest Oberholtzer spearheaded the early battles to preserve the Quetico-Superior wilderness, and at the time of this letter was building support for his plan to create an international treaty that not only would protect what we know today as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Quetico Provincial Park, but would zone the entire surrounding Rainy Lake watershed. This was Sigurd’s first letter to Oberholtzer, the beginning of a working relationship that would last until Oberholtzer’s death in 1977.

Dear Mr. Oberholtzer:

I was glad to receive your resolution and am enclosing it herewith. For a long time I have been following your work with more than passing interest and believe sincerely that what you are doing is a great thing. For the past 10 years I have been trying to do what little I could to stem the tide of exploitation that seems to be continually on the verge of wiping out our last wilderness, but as you know it has been an uphill fight.

I think the move to make an international park of the two areas concerned is the only solution to the problem. In that way only will it be possible to keep the Superior National and the Quetico from private development and subsequent ruin. I wish I could tell you personally of what is happening to the Quetico right now and what has been happening for the past 10 years. We on this side of the border have been laboring under the illusion that the Canadians have been setting us an example in conservation but during the many years I guided through that region I saw what was happening. Never will I forget the day now three years ago when I worked up the Quetico River against a million feet of logs coming down from Beaverhouse, Quetico, Batchewaung and Pickerel, logs that I had seen as trees and growing timber just a few short years before, then coming down as sawlogs to the mills. When I saw the destruction left in the wake of the Shevlin-Clark Co. of Minneapolis, shorelines stripped, islands denuded, backwaters from the driving dams flooding and killing everything, all rapids sluiced and portages made into unsightly tow roads, and worst of all saw their cruisers and camp builders working into the heart of the Quetico Preserve itself, I realized that the only thing that could save the country would be making it into a park and also that if any action was to be taken that it would have to be taken quickly or the last remnant would be gone.

The business we are in gives us the opportunity of meeting thousands of people from all over the United States and if you could only see the interest they have in the fight to preserve the wilderness you would be encouraged. No one has any idea how much that country is beginning to mean to the people of the middle west. During the days of my guiding particularly I had occasion to talk to many men and with no exception whatever, they were all of the same opinion that the country should be set aside as a recreational preserve and not as a timber preserve. They know that the wilderness with its growing timber has a value that cannot be computed in dollars and cents, something that perhaps they cannot explain, an intangible spiritual value that they can find nowhere else but in the wilds. With them it is a religion.

I have often talked the matter over with my neighbor Dr. Newgord and together we have thought through many issues brought up during meetings of the Izaak Walton League and the local commercial club. We know what you are up against through the little part that we have played here locally. However, there is this encouragement that sentiment is gradually growing and will continue to grow the more they become acquainted with what is happening.

I want to assure you of my unqualified support and the support of every guide in our outfit and if at any time we can be of any help whatever feel that we are back of you to a man.

To Ernest Oberholtzer, Jan 28, 1931 (re: shoreline logging in Quetico Provincial Park)

Excerpts from Sigurd’s second letter to the man who led the early battles to protect the Quetico-Superior wilderness. Sigurd refers in particular to his efforts to help protect the shorelines of Quetico Park lakes from logging. The Shipstead Bill that he mentions, which half a year earlier had been signed into law by President Roosevelt, outlawed shoreline logging and altering water levels over much of the American side of the canoe country.

….I have not been up through the region of the Quetico and Beaverhouse-Pickerel country for over two years but at the time I was up there operations as carried on were far from satisfactory. Since then they have worked southward into the country immediately north of the Indian village on Lac La Croix on Badwater, Wolseley and the country immediately east of and north of Sturgeon. Upon my return I will see as many of our guides as possible and find out what I can for you on operations since I was up. I have been more or less in touch with Superintendent Jamieson of the Quetico on the logging proposition and was assured by him this fall that stricter regulation would be made of the logging in the future and that a number of shorelines on certain lakes would be logged in accordance with standards outlined in the Shipstead Bill for the Superior National Forest.

You may be interested in knowing that through the activities of the Chicago Prairie Club whose camp we have made on the Canadian side of Basswood for the past two years the above-mentioned areas have been assured protection. At various times while they were up here I mentioned the logging of the Quetico. They immediately got in touch with the Ontario Commissioner of Lands and Forests and asked me to name the lakes of particular beauty which should be considered. I did this starting at Lac La Croix and working east along and above the boundary to Basswood hardly excepting any. I did not hear much after that outside of an occasional carbon of letters received from Canadian officials to the Prairie Club. Then when I met Mr. Jamieson last fall, he told me that in company with one of the Canadian commissioners he had made the trip along the boundary resulting in the agreement to preserve as far as possible the shorelines we had mentioned. That was good news to me, particularly inasmuch as I knew firsthand exactly what would happen if this section was logged the way the rest has been.

The above is very good on paper but what should be done is not to permit that country to be logged at all. You can’t touch that country without taking something away from it that can never be replaced. And even though it were logged with the closest attention to restrictions in contract, unless conscientious men were on the job every minute of the day it would be almost impossible to enforce it. The only salvation of the country on both sides of the boundary is to make an international park out of it which would lie absolutely inviolate, a wilderness preserve for all time. I know the battle ahead to accomplish this but I am confident that it will come in time, though it will mean a vast amount of work to educate the public. I shall be more than glad to help in any way I can and if you will forward the form letters you mentioned, I will send them out with a personal note of my own….

Feel perfectly free to use my name or my correspondence at any time it can be of the slightest use to you. I am looking forward to meeting you personally and talking over the situation.

News of the concrete highway from Pigeon River to Ely is far from encouraging, another evidence that the only salvation of our border country is to make it a wilderness park set aside for all time as a recreation area not to be touched by a development-mad public.

Sincerely yours,
Sigurd F. Olson

To Ernest Oberholtzer, Jan 19, 1935 (re: Sigurd's lack of diplomacy in public forum)

Excerpts from another letter to Oberholtzer: insider conservation talk in which, among other things, Sigurd admits he sometimes gets carried away when he challenges Forest Service policies.

Dear Ober:

Back again with mingled feelings of regret and elation, regret inasmuch as I feel that I made more or less of a botch of things down there with my flaying of the Forest Service policies and elation at the support the organization gave me on my resolution to have the developmental program slowed up. This resolution was passed after you and Fred [Winston] left and it passed without a dissenting vote, copies to be sent to Tinker, Silcox, Harmon. I can see now what you meant in your letter to me in regard to my attack on the Forest Service. It did have me worried before I left. Spoke to Winston about it and convinced myself that I could justify my stand, but I see now that I should have forgotten my antagonism and not try and do two things at once.

I do know this much however, that at the next meeting the Minn. Game Prot. League will go on record as favoring the Quetico Superior Program. After the meeting and even on Tuesday before I left any number of men came around and wanted me to explain further. They were sure that inasmuch as I was so sincerely for it, that it must have merit. Many of them are old friends of mine and Bill Hanson’s and the reason they didn’t support it was merely because they didn’t understand it fully. To many of them it was an entirely new idea. I am absolutely sure that at the June meeting it will go through.

Did you read the new resolution of the Conservation Commission as opposed to the Pigeon River Project? It makes me smile when I think of their attitude down at Duluth. Of course they will always say that they were against it, but when I think of the manner in which they handled things at Duluth the week before, I am sure that their complete right about face is due to their sensing the strength of public opinion against it.

I enjoyed your radio talk of last night very much….

Sincerely yours,
Sigurd F. Olson

To Ernest Oberholtzer, Apr 23, 1935 (says logging is incompatible with wilderness)

Excerpt from a letter in which Sigurd says that the law preventing logging near shorelines in the canoe country does not go far enough, because the Forest Service is sawing blowdowns and beaver-felled trees and installing temporary dams, all in the name of “improvements.” Sigurd argues that any form of logging is incompatible with wilderness, a position that went beyond Oberholtzer’s ideas of wilderness management.

One other note: In the final paragraph quoted below, Sigurd includes himself among those labeled “fanatics.” During this stage of his life, Sigurd often was a thorn in the side of Superior National Forest officials, not only publicly disagreeing with their management of the canoe country, but in a style that was undiplomatic and self-righteous. He gradually learned how to hold true to his ideals without being an idealogue, a lesson that made him extremely effective as a national leader in wilderness preservation.

…There is nothing we can do to prevent the work of the Forest Service outside of the regions that are of no great recreational value. There they can do some good, but why in the name of all creation they must go ahead and trim up every single stand in the heart of the canoe country, is to me indicative of unforgivable shortsightedness and willful neglect of the trends of public opinion.

….I understand there will be several thousand new men (Art Russell told me last night 13,000 for the Superior [National Forest] and 600 new trucks) which will mean of course the establishment of new camps. I know that a number of camps will be put in the La Croix area to work on timber stand improvement. I venture to say that their ideal is to, if it is humanly possible while the money holds out, to trim up the biggest part of the region. Of course they are doing this in all good faith, working on their frayed premise that timber use and the wilderness idea can go hand in hand. They hold as their excuse, and justifiably so, the Shipstead Nolan Bill [which forbade logging near shorelines], and we can have no quarrel with them there, but I believe sincerely that the time has come when the Shipstead Nolan Bill will have to merit a more restrictive interpretation. It has been a tremendous safeguard but as applied to the cream of the canoe country it is not enough….

What [Superior National Forest district ranger Grant Tinker] says about clearing up the blow downs is true enough. That work is O.K. except where they clean up shorelines too effectively as was done in some places along the Insula route. What he also says about the effect of beaver is also perhaps true to a limited extent. But work of the nature he plans, the installing of temporary dams must be considered carefully before it is done. Such work is in the same category with over-improvement of portages such as has been done along the Kawishiwi, [or] improvement of camp sites such as is contemplated for Crooked Lake and La Croix. Improvement, improvement, the word dins in my ears. It most assuredly sounds the death knell of real wilderness. What such men as Tinker and [Forest Supervisor Ray] Harmon do not possess is an understanding and love for untouched wild places. They think they understand, and believe perhaps that they are doing the right thing, but as I go along in this never-ending battle, I am coming to the conclusion that the great difference in point of view is entirely dependent upon one’s inherent feeling for wilderness conditions. One who has not this in his makeup can never quite understand the desperate fanaticism of those who do….

To Ernest Oberholtzer, Sep 9, 1935 (re stopping road to Basswood Lake)

In the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, there may not be a lake of more strategic importance for management issues than Basswood. It is an immense lake that straddles the border, but more important than size or international status is the fact that the canoe country wilderness is physically shaped somewhat like a funnel, and Basswood Lake is the tip. There’s no other lake in the canoe country that provides the kind of access to other parts of the wilderness that Basswood provides. There were several attempts before World War II to build a road to Basswood Lake on the American side. In the letter below, Sigurd reports on how it was stopped on one occasion.

Dear Ober:

Your letter of the 6th at hand and am glad to report that the road is officially dead for this year. I figured that inasmuch as I didn’t hear from you that you must be out on a trip. I got up a petition against it which all the resort and outfitting people signed with very few exceptions and a number of other property owners. Then we got Arnold of Mpls., Warren of Mpls, Selover, and several others who are interested in keeping things as they are and pulled a number of local strings. The federal Forest Service stepped in and said that in view of the fact that they have options on much of that land which the road might cross, that they must have a complete description of all properties said road might cross and in view of potential federal ownership, they would have to secure federal permission provided there was any land of theirs involved. All in all, we got them so entangled that the town board decided not even to hold a public hearing.

For a while it looked bad, but I think now it will not come up again for some time if ever. As you know if Basswood is reached by a road the entire eastern boundary country is threatened. From that road will go a road to Knife and another to Cacaquabic [Kekekabic], still another to Ensign, Thomas and Frazer and then it would be only a matter of time before the threat of hooking up with the Gunflint Trail would be a real possibility. I believe it is the greatest threat to that region that has yet presented itself not mentioning of course the Backus battle [over waterpower development] and it is one we will have to watch closely.

I can just imagine how beautiful it must be up on your island in Rainy [Lake] these gorgeous fall days.

Kindest personal regards.

Sincerely yours,
Sigurd F. Olson

To family members, Apr 3, 1949 (eve of 50th birthday)

On the day before his 50th birthday, Sigurd is in Toronto, where he has just succeeded in a major conservation goal: organizing a group of influential Canadians to generate support in that country for preserving the large portion of the Quetico-Superior canoe country in Ontario, and for a treaty to manage well the Rainy Lake watershed on both sides of the border. He also is excited to relay the information that the documentary film he wrote, directed and starred in, Wilderness Canoe Country (meant to generate support for a ban on airplanes in the area known today as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness) is getting high marks from professionals and is scheduled to be seen by President Harry Truman.

Dear Far flung family of mine:

It is Sunday morning of the last day of my 49th year. Tomorrow I will be fifty. The thought of it is rather exhilarating and I feel is partly responsible for my sense of good feeling today. What a whirlwind this past year has been. Instead of slacking off as people should do when they reach this ripe old age, my pace has been speeded up double, triple and sometimes quadruple. However it has been exciting and satisfying and this morning I am happy. Next Sunday, I hope to spend at home in Evanston and on Monday I see you Dad, or perhaps Sunday night. I only wish I could see you all.

Things have gone very well here in Canada. We have a splendid and powerful group organized and I can see only success in the offing. We are moving slowly now and consolidating our winnings. For the first time, I begin to see the end, or possibly the beginning of a new Quetico-Superior. If the Treaty goes through, all little problems such as Air Control and other things will be automatically solved.

Last night I attended a lecture at the Royal Canadian Inst., by The Right Hon. Vincent Massey on “The Canadian Pattern.” At a reception afterward, Mr. Massey asked me if any of the brickbats thrown at the US had hit me. I assured him they hadn’t and that I was a much better Canadian for having heard him. I am beginning to feel more at home in the Canadian scene.

Yesterday, I went through a beautiful art gallery showing Canadian landscapes. For two hours I was enthralled. Painting up here is a very live art and Canadians seem much more conscious of the value of art than we do down below. Can it be that I am being infiltrated by the old English conception of Yankee crudeness. Heaven forbid. Saw one picture for $1200 that I would like to steal

On off moments I am working on a new article for the National Magazine [note: National Home Monthly] for summer or September. Got 12 beautiful kodachromes from Lee Prater of Washington [U.S. Forest Service] to use. I hope it will be good. Have outlined it, but I need to go off somewhere to think. One of mine was featured this week in the Canadian Forestry Asso. magazine, Forests and Outdoors. I haven’t enough copies to send you but will try to get some later. It came out at a very good time. Secret – it was one of the first movie scripts [of the film “Wilderness Canoe Country”], which was too long for use, but which had the makings of an article.

…Word from New York, that top film executives had seen the movie. They are tremendously enthusiastic and highly complimentary, may work out distribution through Paramount in Canada and the US. Word from Washington – President Truman will see it this week. The little old movie has certainly gotten around. Much love to you all.

Sincerely yours,
Sigurd F. Olson

To Charles Kelly, Jul 29, 1950 (re: public relations in Canada to get wilderness support in Quetico-Superior)

 This letter shows the variety of public relations activities Sigurd pursued on a regular basis in order to gain favorable publicity for the Quetico-Superior wilderness that could lead to greater wilderness protection. Charles Kelly, President of the President’s Quetico-Superior Committee, was, along with his law partner Frank Hubachek, Sigurd’s boss on QS matters.

Dear Charley:

The Canadian Canoe Trip is over and I feel it was a real success. Fred Bodsworth will soon have an article prepared for Maclean’s magazine, possibly a series if things work out. He is completely sold on the QS program and has all the information plus first-hand experience he needs to do a good job. He will submit the story in rough to me for checking.

John Mitchele, Exec. Secr. of Anglers and Hunters of Toronto will be a crusader from now on. I am confident that he will be influential in swinging that organization and its powerful affiliate Ontario Anglers and Hunters into support.

Dr. Carl Atwood [note: father of later-to-be-famous Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood] whose support we were already sure of after seeing the area is convinced more than ever that it is worth fighting for.

Peter Fessenden, who I felt originally was somewhat skeptical as to the Quetico area’s recreational possibilities is already planning another expedition. I don’t believe in all of his travels he ever enjoyed such good fishing, or had such a good time.

I feel that this first all-Canadian trip will be the forerunner of many others which will bring to the attention of Canadians the real values of the Quetico. Carl Atwood is checking with people in Fort Frances and Kenora and along the CPR possibilities of additions to the Canadian Committee [he refers to the Canadian Quetico-Superior Committee, which advocated from a Canadian perspective the establishment of an international treaty to manage the wilderness on both sides of the border of the Rainy Lake Watershed in Ontario and Minnesota]. Fred Bodsworth will accompany him. They have a complete list of contacts. I wonder if it would not be a good plan to have him on the Canadian QS Committee. He certainly knows the problem and the area, is enthusiastic and will work.

At Hub’s yesterday [Frank Hubachek] I met Pat Fallinsbee, writer for Esquire and Coronet, who through Grant Halladay had contacted Hub and received an invitation to come up [to Hubachek’s retreat on Basswood Lake]. He left today with the rest, is going to do a story in the near future. I worked with him on possible slants and methods of new approach and think he went away with some ideas. We will hear from him and he wants to come back for a canoe trip as soon as his duties permit. He was exposed to the enthusiastic accounts of the Canadian group, in fact met us when we came out of the bush Thursday night. I feel Hub made a mighty fine contact by encouraging him to come up.

Grace Nute [who would write several books about the canoe country’s history] from the Minnesota Historical Society, a Mr. King, librarian and a Mr. Whitehead on the staff stayed with me last night and went up to Hub’s this morning to spend the weekend. Last night I took them all to a Finnish Boarding house and tonight at Hub’s they will enjoy a sauna. Grace is in the midst of her new book, “Iron Land,” or “Iron Country,” an account of the nationalities that comprise the Range. We talked until late last night.

This noon upon our return to Ely, Bill Trygg [of the U.S. Forest Service district office in Ely] gave me the news that Leithold Airways had received a cancellation of their permit to fly into the Quetico, date, July 27th. Parties still in the push will be allowed transportation out but as I understand it, the permit system is through. Dr. Atwood, who was instrumental in having Harold Walker appear before the legislative Fish and Game Committee in Toronto last spring believes that his appearance there had something to do with it as the request to Ottawa presumably came from the Legislative Fish and Game Committee in Toronto. There may be other angles too. Frank McDougal, Deputy Minister of Lands and Forests, in an interview with Fred Bodsworth before the canoe trip intimated that something would have been done. No doubt the activity of the Canadian QS Committee generally, the accomplishment of the Air Space Reservation [seven months earlier President Truman signed an executive order banning flying into the American portion of the canoe country wilderness], the general feeling all over Canada that controls should be enacted in the QS and other places contributed. Someday we will know the score, but the important thing is that Quetico flying will end swiftly from this side. [In reality, it would take five years and a lot of sweat and toil before Ontario established an airspace reservation over Quetico Park.]

This order, together with the order by the Dept. of Lands and Forests ordering all resort boats out of the Quetico may indicate a trend toward the ideals of the QS program and the preservation of the wilderness interiors. Even though the Dept. has not committed itself openly, certainly these two actions speak louder than words.

I have had a rough homecoming. Thursday night I was informed that a dear friend had died and that I was to be a pall bearer Friday. Friday morning I was informed of a death in my family with a funeral tomorrow at Hayward, Wisconsin. Friday noon, a close friend in Ely, Wilson Carlson, died of a heart attack, funeral Monday. Three in a row is pretty bad. I will be in Ely next week, preliminary to my trip to Washington. Do you want me to come via Chicago for a conference? [Kelly’s and Hubachek’s law office was in Chicago.] Will route my trip that way if you think it advisable.

One final thought – the Canadian airban will have a decidedly good effect on our negotiations for the border resorts. This fall should be the time to deal, the sooner the better.

To Sen Hubert Humphrey, Apr 3, 1956 (re: Wilderness Act)

Congressional protection of wilderness had long been discussed by conservationists, many of whom believed that federal land management agencies had neither the will nor the ability to stand up to the logging, mining, and recreation industries. But the time did not seem ripe to introduce a bill until 1956, when a major successful battle to prevent a waterpower project from destroying Dinosaur National Monument gave conservationists new strength and a sense of broad public support. Howard Zahniser, executive secretary of the Wilderness Society, drafted a bill and enlisted comments from leading conservationists. He also began seeking congressional sponsors, including Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey. At the end of March 1956, Humphrey asked Olson for his opinion of the bill. On April 3, Sigurd advised the senator to sponsor it. The complete text of the letter is below. For more complete background, and to see this letter in the context of other events during the first crucial period in the wilderness bill campaign, read Sigurd Olson and the Wilderness Act: 1956 and 1957.

Dear Hubert:

I was glad to get your letter asking my opinion of the bill you plan on introducing to establish a National Wilderness Preservation System. I have worked closely with Howard Zahniser and others for some time on this measure and feel that in view of the mounting pressures of population, commercialization, and industrial expansion, that the only way to assure future generations that there will be any wilderness left for them to enjoy is to give such areas congressional sanction now.

To be sure, wilderness has been given protection in the national parks, national forests and wildlife refuges, but such protection has never been actually spelled out. In all the services concerned there has been a sincere desire to protect the wilderness character of the regions entrusted to them but this has largely been because of a concept of administrators enforced by departmental policy. While a splendid job has been done in many areas, it seems to me that it would have been much easier to hold the line, had the issues been clear. The National Wilderness Preservation System Bill will clarify the complex problems constantly arising through giving congressional approval of the wilderness concept.

In short the bill will give approval to policies the services have inaugurated and have fought for against tremendous odds for a long time. It will enable the departments to say:

“Now for the first time, the preservation of wilderness has assumed the stature of a congressional mandate. Above political or industrial pressures, it is no longer subject to the vagaries of administrative change. Now we have the strength and assurance that what we had planned is the will of the people and with that knowledge can look far ahead.”

I feel strongly that this is the last chance to preserve the wilderness on this continent for we are on the verge of an era where the pressures to destroy or change it will become greater than anything we have ever experienced. All of us concerned are appreciative of your great interest and you can be assured of our support.


Sigurd F. Olson

Correspondence with Frank Hubachek, Apr 1956 (re: Wilderness Act)

The memos below indicate some of the issues Sigurd Olson faced in dealing with the early drafts of the bill to create a national wilderness preservation system. As it was poised to be introduced in the Senate by Minnesota’s Hubert Humphrey, Sigurd received a memo (reproduced below) from Frank Hubachek questioning the wisdom of introducing the bill at that time. Hubachek and Charles Kelly (to whom the memo also is addressed) were two of the three primary financial supporters of efforts to preserve the Quetico-Superior wilderness of northeastern Minnesota and Ontario. They also headed up strategy for preserving the canoe country, and Kelly was chairman of the President’s Quetico-Superior Committee, created in 1934 by President Roosevelt to work toward a treaty with Canada to jointly preserve the Quetico-Superior wilderness canoe country. Since January of 1948 Hubachek and Kelly also had served as Sigurd’s boss, giving him a salary to spearhead the fight to preserve the canoe country. This was the main source of Sigurd’s income. Both Hubachek and Kelly were inherently cautious about anything that might hurt their particular program, and as Sigurd began branching out as a conservationist in the 1950s he sometimes was put in a difficult position because of competing demands on his time and because of disagreements in philosophy. In April 1956 Sigurd was President of the National Parks Association, wilderness ecologist of the Izaak Walton League, a newly published author (his best-selling The Singing Wilderness had just been released), and was about to be asked to join the governing board of the Wilderness Society. Hubachek’s memo of April 6th and Sigurd’s response of April 15th (and April 17th postscript) are reproduced below in their entirety. Hubachek’s particular concern is the fate of an appropriation bill that would provide significant funds to buy out resort sites and other private lands in the heart of the canoe country. Adding to his fear was the possibility of extremely negative local reaction to the wilderness bill that might also then be directed to the Quetico-Superior wilderness. Just a month earlier, newspapers in Ely and Two Harbors had published a series of opinion pieces by Lake County highway engineer T.G. Odegard, who decried “the wilderness fanatics who would enslave the counties in a vast wilderness of preposterous proportions for special minority interests.” Hubachek feared that publicity about the wilderness bill would only fan the flames. For more complete background, and to see this letter in the context of other events during the first crucial period in the wilderness bill campaign, read Sigurd Olson and the Wilderness Act: 1956 and 1957.

April 6, 1956


Re: Bill in Congress to Establish Wilderness Preservation System

I do not like to be negative but I have some considerable fears concerning this bill. I wonder whether it is timely and I also wonder whether the sponsors have thought clear through to the end of it. Having had almost no time to study it or consider it, I realize that the above comment is very casual and must be so taken. But that is my reaction initially just the same. We are fighting a heavy battle already in connection with the appropriation bill. About the only thing the opposition can say is to charge us with being wilderness fanatics. We want to ram that bill through in spite of everything.

I wonder whether the introduction of a bill of this kind might not provide the background against which these shouts of fanaticism can be made to echo loudly. It is something like our basic attitude on the outboard motor—should we deliberately put into the picture a blanket or omnibus measure which will necessarily attract the fire of scores of strong interests who see in this bill or may see in it a deliberate move to hurt them.

Personally I think this bill should be delayed until we have passed our appropriation bill because I fear it will bring out into the open our ultimate intentions and marshall against us very heavy opposition which may today be “looking out the window” as far as our appropriation bill is concerned.


Minneapolis, April 15, 1956

Memo to CSK and FBH RE: Wilderness Bill

1. There seems to be a misconception as to my part in the planning and preparation of the “Wilderness Bill.” To be sure it has been discussed over a period of some six years but only as a nebulous hope that someday it might be possible to give wilderness as such more protection than it has now under the various agencies concerned. During the Echo Park fight and lately because of the many threats to the Wild Life Refuges and wilderness regions especially in the west it seemed wise to bring the thinking to a head. Senator Humphrey who has never lost an opportunity to bring the question of wilderness to the attention of Congress during the past year urged that the bill be prepared so that he might introduce it during this session. It was largely through his insistence that the bill was whipped into shape.

The work on the bill, that is the actual drafting was done by Howard Zahniser of the Wilderness Society with the aid of Dr. [Ira] Gabrielson of the Wildlife Management Inst, Dave Brower of the Sierra Club and [Carl] Gustavson of the Council of Conservationists, as well as Joe Penfold, Exec. Director of Conservation of the [Izaak Walton] League. While I have always been in favor of such legislation I actually did not see a copy of the bill in draft form until the conference in New Orleans. After careful study and discussion at a meeting there called for that purpose, I was very much impressed with its importance and possibilities. Dean Cochran and Bill Foster both participated in the discussions at that time.

Previous to that meeting and following a discussion of the bill in process with Howard Zahniser, I pointed out the importance of providing for a continuance of the status quo in national forest areas, so as not to work hardship on grazing permittees, those holding logging, mining or other special use leases or permits.

This provision was worked into the language of the bill with the full concurrence of Senator Humphrey’s office. After New Orleans Zahnie and I had a discussion with [U.S. Forest Service Chief Richard] McArdle about the bill. Mac urged that the bill should be introduced as swiftly as possible so that it could be discussed thoroughly with all concerned. Lyle Watts former Chief Forester has come out strongly in favor of it.

As far as the part of the National Parks Association, I can say that the Association has played no official part either in the drafting or sponsoring of the bill. Fred Packard has given the committee working on it occasional suggestions, as have I and we both have been intensely interested but the real work has been done by other groups. At the last meeting of the NPA Exec. Board, the Board approved the bill in principle subject to study. I was not able to attend this meeting because of my meeting in Chicago.

2. Because of Senator Humphrey’s insistence that the bill be prepared swiftly it was impossible to circulate it widely for suggestions. As many national organizations were brought into discussions as possible but even these were limited because of the time factor involved.

There was no thought on the part of the sponsors that its introduction would jeopardise our acquisition bill because none of the groups knew anything about our measure for the Superior Roadless Areas. We had been so successful in keeping it quiet that now it is difficult to build up support anywhere. I have been accused at home, by the State Div of the IWLA and other groups, and now nationally of almost doing something under cover. Our own sponsors of the acquisition bill are smarting because of lack of support. Therefore while we are attempting to correct the situation, we must not blame any groups for acting without knowledge of the measure we have so successfully kept under wraps.

3. As to the timing of the wilderness bill introduction, I fail to see that it will hurt us. If anything, knowing the temper of congress today on wilderness preservation, I feel it would strengthen our chances with the acquisition bills. I may be wrong, but I have talked to a lot of people and that is the way it seems to me.

Furthermore, we do not know yet how long it will take our acquisition bills to clear the committees and come up for a vote. It might easily, if we hold off the introduction of the wilderness bill until that takes place, mean that the wilderness bill will not be introduced this session.

We must remember that the Sup. Nat. Forest bills are regional while the Wilderness Bill is national and covers wild areas in four different agencies of government.

As soon as your letters came through, I called [Humphrey staff member] Herb Waters and Zahniser. Herb Waters who is familiar with the local bonfire created by Odegard in the Two Harbors Chronicle and the Ely Miner was not too concerned and while he was anxious to get the bill into the hopper, said he would want to talk it over with the sponsoring organizations first.

Zahnie will talk to him on Monday the 16th as well as the others, weight the possibilities, contact me enroute to Colorado Springs. Zahnie understands now what we are concerned about and I know will do his best to work things out not only for the QS [Quetico-Superior] but for the Wilderness Bill. It just may be that if it is possible to postpone for a week that it might speed up the acquis. bills. If it should actually work out that way, then it will be all to the good.

4. I know you both appreciate the significance of the Wilderness Bill from a national standpoint. It embodies all of the major principles we have all endorsed over the years and helped inculcate nationally through public education. I am confident too that when you have studied the bill thoroughly that you will find there is no taking away of present jurisdiction, no terminating of present agreements, no revamping as such of the basic administrative policies now in existence. This bill merely defines wilderness, and through definition clears the air as far as use and protection is concerned. Because if such a bill passes wilderness regions will have congressional sanction for the first time and more protection because of such sanction, it will greatly strengthen the hands of agencies concerned.

I know how you both feel as to the overall cause of wilderness and also as to this matter of timing. We have worked so long and so hard on this acquisition program for the QS that it would be a catastrophe to have any measure prevent its completion now.

I am absolutely confident that Zahnie will do all in his power to work things out because he realized too the importance of completing our acquisition program. I am sure Humphrey and his staff realize it too and will do their best.

P.S.: Omaha Nebr. April 17

Just talked to Zahnie and he has been on the phone all day trying to work out agreement on postponement. Everyone is agreeable to postpone the introduction one week, until a week from today. In the morning Zahnie with Carl Gustavson is going to see Herb Waters of Humphrey’s office and try to get his consent and point up the importance of trying to get the acquisition bill through the committees this week so the deck will be clear. If there is difficulty Zahnie will call me at Colorado Springs tomorrow afternoon.

According to Zahnie even should the bill be introduced, it does not mean it will come up for hearings. The important thing it to get it in the hopper so it can be discussed widely. In view of that no one feels that it can be a hindrance to any other measure.

Correspondence with Frank Hubachek, Apr-May 1957 (re Wilderness Act)

In the spring of 1957, conservationists for and against the creation of a national wilderness preservation system began gearing up for a new round of debate in Congress. The summer and fall of 1957 would become very difficult for Sigurd in his hometown, where most residents strongly opposed the idea, fearing it would destroy the local economy and take away their freedom to use the wilderness they loved in the ways they had used it for decades. For more complete background, and to see these memos in the context of other events during the first crucial period in the wilderness bill campaign, read Sigurd Olson and the Wilderness Act: 1956 and 1957

April 22, 1957

Memo to : C.S.K. [Charles Kelly] and S.F.O. [Sigurd]


To each I attach photostats of three pages from the last issue of American Forests, relating to the so-called wilderness bill.

From the beginning I have had doubts as to the advisability of introducing this bill at this time. I am afraid that it will backfire. It has some inherently vulnerable aspects and I am afraid that it will be made to appear the work of impractical zealots.

For example the troublesome scientific problems of fighting disease and fire and other influences within a truly wilderness area have stumped thoughtful leaders in forestry for a long time. Such men as Dean Kaufert have only been won over to the Quetico program because they feel that those who are pressing it will be willing to face dangers and invasions of this kind with an open and flexible mind. The wilderness bill speaks so definitely of an idealistic preservation that it has aroused and will arouse some very strong opposition. Personally I wish that the introduction of the bill had been deferred until our own program is over the hump.

I am afraid it can become something like the Grand Portage Road issue which earned us many unnecessary enemies and alienated many strong friends. Like the outboard motor issue, it seems to me that this one could well have been postponed.

I realize that I am speaking from the very limited standpoint of one who is dedicated to a single proposal. Doubtless the situation looked differently to those whose conservation objectives are broader.

At any rate I urgently request that the President’s Committee stay clear of this particular row. We have one rat to kill and I am afraid that if we start an eradication program, our rat may escape. Likewise I urge that all of us who are personally identified with the Q-S program as such, stay out of the lists. I hope that we can let other knights in shining armor carry on this particular joust. I know this will hurt and possibly aggravate Sig but that’s the way I feel just the same.


April 27, 1957

Dear Hub:

I have your memo to Charley and me regarding the “Wilderness Bill”and will comment briefly now and more fully later on. In the first place the bill was introduced in the last Congress after a great deal of work had been done on it by many responsible individuals and organizations. It is not the work of Howard Zahniser of the Wilderness Society or any other individual but rather a pooling of ideas of many that have been generating for the last ten years. It is sponsored by influential congressmen in both houses some fifteen all told scattered from coast to coast. Most of the nation conservation organizations are behind it including the Izaak Walton League of America. The only one actually opposing it is The American Forestry Association. They also opposed all of the conservation groups during the Dinosaur Issue.

I do not feel that there is any cause for alarm. The bill will not be passed this year but will be slated for hearings both in Washington and in the field. No doubt there will be many changes worked out including the actual establishment of the National Wilderness Preservation Council which is purely an advisory body including the heads of the bureaus concerned. I see no great harm in such a body, no more so than the suggested Advisory Committee for the Quetico-Superior.

Please note in the copy of HR 500 enclosed pages 17-21 and see how existing uses of national forests are protected. Note particularly Section 3 on top of page 21 referring specifically to the Superior National Forest. This was put in to protect Hubert Humphrey and the existing program of the USFS.

I agree that the Quetico-Superior Committee need not take a stand on the bill, but I would say that if the QS Committee came out in opposition, the whole movement would be jeopardised as far as broad public support is concerned. As far as my personal role is concerned, being wilderness ecologist of the [Izaak Walton] League, a member of the Wilderness Society Council and having identified myself with the cause of wilderness preservation generally I cannot refuse to lend my support as I have done in the past.

Fundamentally, this bill has one purpose to get Congressional recognition and approval of wilderness wherever it may be. Until now it is protected merely by regulations and administrative decrees. Unless it assumes the dignity of a congressional purpose mounting pressures in the future will surely destroy it including the Superior Roadless Areas [known today as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness]. The various bureaus concerned should be gratified if Congress takes action which says in substance “We the Congress of the People of these United States approve your plan in preserving the wilderness and will give you support when such areas are threatened.

As for destroying the multiple use concept as outlined in the American Forestry article, I think a careful reading will prove this wrong. Provisions are made for protecting existing uses. No jurisdiction will be taken out of the hands of the various bureaus. It will simply be more difficult to change boundaries and will require advance notices for hearings and congressional action. This the bureaus should welcome and I can say this that most bureau heads and staffs are beginning to see that the bill will strengthen their hands in the tough times ahead. I believe that when complete understanding of this bill is achieved it will do much toward eliminating opposition.

This is all for now. Florence and Lee Jaques are due to arrive any minute now to spend the week end. Took Dorothy out to The Point on Burntside Thursday night and know she enjoyed it. She made the walk in with no trouble at all which is a great improvement. We also saw a wolf crossing the lake. Thank God there is one of the dastardly critters left.


Sigurd F. Olson

Correspondence with Sen Humphrey and others about Wilderness Bill Uproar in Ely, Minn, Jul 1957

In the spring of 1957, conservationists for and against the creation of a national wilderness preservation system began a new round of debate in Congress. The summer and fall of 1957 became very difficult for Sigurd in his hometown, where most residents strongly opposed the idea, fearing it would destroy the local economy and take away their freedom to use the wilderness they loved in the ways they had used it for decades. The letters below give a sense of the battle as Sigurd saw it in July 1957. To see Sigurd’s correspondence from later in the summer.

Ely, Minnesota
July 17, 1957

Senator Hubert Humphrey
Senate Office Bldg.
Washington D.C.

Dear Hubert:
By now you will have received a resolution from the Ely Chamber of Commerce condemning the Wilderness Bill. The whole town is in an uproar because of a speech of the city attorney, Willard Domich and radio broadcasts. In today’s Ely Miner is a long statement in opposition written by the Editor, Fred Childers. It is full of misinformation but because people do not know, a lot of them are taking it as the truth. The title of the editorial is “Humphrey Bill a Threat to Ely’s Economic Life.”

I sent the only copy I have to Howard Zahniser urging him to contact you immediately and help draft a forceful clarifying reply. It is very important that this be done at once and copies sent to the Minneapolis, Duluth, Range papers and also radio stations or the situation may get serious.

P.S. I am leaving in the morning for an expedition into the Canadian Northwest and will be gone about three weeks to a month.

Because of my connection with the Air Ban and other issues, it is best that I say nothing and that the questions be answered directly by you.

Kindest regards.

Sigurd F. Olson

On the same day he sent the above letter to Senator Humphrey, Sigurd sent the following letter to Wilderness Society executive director Howard Zahniser:

Ely, Minn.
July 17, 1957

Dear Zahnie:

I am on the verge of taking off for the Athabasca Country but felt I must write you immediately regarding the local uproar in opposition to the Wilderness Bill. It all started a week ago when at a local banquet one of the young lawyers in town, Willard Domich, got up and proceeded to condemn the bill. His talk was followed by several radio broadcasts over WELY the Ely Radio station repeating what he said. Feeling is running pretty high and everyone is wondering what it is all about. By and large the cry is that the bill is subversive no one being consulted; that it will stifle the economic life of the community, cut out resorts, ban outboard motors; that the Roadless Areas can be enlarged to include the town of Ely and the Recreational Resort Areas. Read the attached clipping that appeared today in the Ely Miner.

I feel that Hubert should answer this immediately and reassure the people otherwise the situation will get out of hand. I cannot answer personally because of my long history with the area and its problems. The information should come from the Wilderness Society or the Senator, preferably the latter. The article is so full of misinformation, it is no wonder many are puzzled and upset.

The young attorney in question stated publicly that he had written Senator Humphrey for information but did not get a reply. George Somero, local banker stated he had written both [Rep. John] Blatnik and [Sen. Edward] They but had been given only evasive answers. In short Ely feels it was left out of consideration and is smarting because of it. This affair can be cleared but it will take a very strong and clearly formulated statement. In addition to the Ely Miner, copies should go simultaneously to the Minneapolis, Duluth and Range papers as well as radio stations.

Sigurd F. Olson

Finally, Sigurd sent a copy of the above correspondence to Bill Magie, head of Friends of the Wilderness, a Minnesota group formed in 1949 during the fight to ban airplanes from the Quetico-Superior canoe country. Sigurd attached the following note:

Dear Bill: The fat is in the
fire again and perhaps it is
a good thing I am heading for the
bush or I might get shot.

Anything that happens up here I get blamed for.

Do what you can to clear things up.


Correspondence with Sen Humphrey about Wilderness Bill Uproar in Ely, Minn, Aug 14-Sept 1, 1957

In the spring of 1957, conservationists for and against the creation of a national wilderness preservation system began a new round of debate in Congress. The summer and fall of 1957 became very difficult for Sigurd in his hometown, where most residents strongly opposed the idea, fearing it would destroy the local economy and take away their freedom to use the wilderness they loved in the ways they had used it for decades. It also caused problems for Senator Hubert Humphrey, a sponsor of the bill. The letters below give a sense of the battle as the two of them saw it during the latter part of the summer of 1957. For more complete background, and to see these letters in the context of other events during the first crucial period in the wilderness bill campaign, read Sigurd Olson and the Wilderness Act: 1956 and 1957.

Ely, Minnesota
August 14, 1957

Senator Hubert H. Humphrey
Washington D.C.

Dear Hubert:

I am finally back out of the wilds of the Canadian north and am trying to find out exactly what happened on the wilderness front while gone. Before me is your excellent reply to Fred Childers of the Ely Miner and a host of newspaper clippings pro and con covering the issue.

At the moment the uproar has been quelled but it is a difficult thing as you well know to combat the hysterial outcries of those who have no background in this long effort to preserve the famous wilderness canoe country and who see only dollar signs and personal profit from exploitation. The statement that people could lose their homes in Ely should the bill go through and that the whole economy of the area would be threatened is actually believed by many people. It will take time to repair the damage that has been done. Eventually the truth will prevail.

CC Magie, Zahniser

I want to thank you for your immediate response to my appeal for help on the verge of my taking off for the north. My one regret is that I had to be gone during this crucial period and that somehow we had not laid some background for the bill before this time.

Kindest regards.


Senator Humphrey responds:

August 22, 1957

Mr. Sigurd F. Olson
Ely, Minnesota

Dear Sig:

Welcome back from the wilds of Canada, my friend. I am sure that the temperature around Ely has been somewhat warmer than you found in the Canadian wilds!

Seriously, Sig, I am delighted that you are back. I have been reading accounts of your speaking engagements and your excellent explanation of this bill. Please do not feel bad about your absence as we know that you had this trip planned for over a year. Really, it was just one of those things.

Just as soon as the session ends, I am going to have one of the staff members from the Interior Committee and my assistant, Howard Haugerud, go out to Ely. I am going to do my best to arrange to accompany them.

Keep slugging away, and let me know if I can furnish any information or help.

Sincerely yours,
Hurbert H. Humphrey

Sigurd responds:

Ely, Minn.
Sept 1, 1957

Dear Hubert:

I was glad to get your letter and to know that Howard Haugerud and a staff member from the Interior Committee are coming to Ely to hold a hearing on the bill. We will marshall all the support we can but it is an uphill fight here inasmuch as the local paper refuses to publish anything in favor of the Wilderness Bill. I am considering now getting out a leaflet and having it distributed from door to door, sometime before the hearing takes place.

By all means come along if you can possibly do so. Ely has always been a hot bed of dissention as far as wilderness preservation is concerned, the only community in the stat with the exception of Two Harbors which has wished to see the famous canoe country exploited. The rest of the state is solidly behind preservation. This strange situation in my own home town can be explained by the simple fact that the Chamber of Commerce is ruled by a small faction of those who see only the dollar sign over the wilderness. Since the first fight back in the twenties, this has been the case and we are up against the same type of opposition right now. But don’t forget the rest of Minnesota is solidly behind you on this issue.

Kindest regards.


Correspondence with Ely Miner and Howard Zahniser about Wilderness Bill Misinformation Being Spread in Ely, Sep 1957

In the spring of 1957, conservationists for and against the creation of a national wilderness preservation system began a new round of debate in Congress. The summer and fall of 1957 became very difficult for Sigurd in his hometown, where most residents strongly opposed the idea, fearing it would destroy the local economy and take away their freedom to use the wilderness they loved in the ways they had used it for decades. In the letters below, Sigurd expresses frustration with the misinformation being spread around Ely about the bill and about him. For more complete background, and to see these letters in the context of other events during the first crucial period in the wilderness bill campaign, read Sigurd Olson and the Wilderness Act: 1956 and 1957.

Ely, Minnesota
Sept 10, 1957

The Editor of the Ely Miner
Ely, Minn.

Dear Sir:

I wish to set straight certain statements made by Maugridge S. Robb in an article entitled “Legal Opinion is Given on Humphrey Bill” in the Ely Miner of Sept 5th, 1957.

Mr. Robb states that I have been “openly and vigorously advocating the prohibition of the use of outboard motors and has on many occasions made the boast and prediction that he will effectuate such a ban to follow the airplane ban effectuated by Presidential Order.”

This statement is a complete falsehood as I have never advocated the prohibition of outboard motors and have never boasted that I would effectuate such a ban. I have met Mr. Robb only once at the time of a legislative hearing in St. Paul when his testimony was just as replete with misinformation and spurious allegations as the above. He very evidently speaks not from personal knowledge or facts but only from hearsay.

His inference that a recent Report of the Trustees for Conservation quotes me as condemning the use of outboard motors is also a fallacy. Referring to page 18 of that report which he mentions, I find I speak only of the broad significance of the wilderness to national parks and national forests. Not one word is said about outboard motors.

Another inference is that I am not familiar with the wilderness and wish to seal it forever from public use. Anyone in this area who knows my background over the past thirty five years can testify to the fact that I have encouraged public use by canoeists and resorts.

Mr. Robb’s statement that the Humphrey Bill automatically seals the Roadless Areas against all types of mechanized regulations and established uses is also untrue. The bill states specifically that present regulations and established uses will not be changed in this area. In its application to this region the Superior National Forest is specifically exempted. Canoeists and resort people may use outboards as they always have.

The Humphrey Bill is merely an attempt to give Congressional sanction and protection to wilderness areas all over the United States in the belief that these areas need such protection if they are to be preserved for future generations. No new administrative agency will be created. They will be handled as they have been in the past by the Departments of Interior and Agriculture

Sigurd Olson

A week later, Sigurd wrote to Wilderness Society executive director Howard Zahniser, asking him to put together a new draft of the wilderness bill that will ease the fears of Ely residents, and to do so in time for a public meeting in Ely on September 26th:

Ely, Sept 17, 1957
Dear Zahnie:

Please look over the attached newspaper clippings which are chosen at random from my fast growing file. They are indicative of the growing campaign against the Wilderness Bill in northern Minnesota, a well calculated campaign of untruth and vilification which has gone on since early July. Every week something comes out many charges fantastic, many of them slanted at me and at Hubert and at our good friend Bill Magie of Friends of the Wilderness in Duluth. This has been a small war and the shooting goes on. I have spoken to a number of groups have written articles and ghost written others. Where it is to end is anyone’s guess. Last night I spoke to the local Rod and Gun Club and while they have always been friendly they voiced the fear that the Bill is a deliberate attempt to smear Senator Humphrey politically and get him out of the Senate.

Hearings will be held in the fall and Hubert has been invited to appear before a mass meeting in Ely to explain the bill. Thursday Sept 26th. I shall be there of course but it is going to be rough.


1. Outboard motors will not be banned

2. Other uses will be continued

3. The government will not sieze private properties on well developed lakes outside the roadless areas and in such towns as Ely. It sounds ridiculous but this is being said.

4. Explain or eliminate as I suggested this spring the idea of a council which has assumed the status of a superagency with dictatorial powers.

ABOVE ALL HAVE THE BILL SO SIMPLE THAT PEOPLE CAN UNDERSTAND IT. IF THIS CAN BE DONE BEFORE THE 26TH so Hubert if he comes can be armed with that or if he does not come so I can be armed, it will help. As it reads now even a crack corporation lawyer cannot understand it. We need help up here. The whole cause can collapse due to this flare up.


The Turning Point: Correspondence with Howard Zahniser and Sen Hubert Humphrey about Positive Effect of Wilderness Bill Changes, Sep 27-Oct 4, 1957

In the spring of 1957, conservationists for and against the creation of a national wilderness preservation system began a new round of debate in Congress. The summer and fall of 1957 became very difficult for Sigurd in his hometown, where most residents strongly opposed the idea, fearing it would destroy the local economy and take away their freedom to use the wilderness they loved in the ways they had used it for decades. In September 1957 Sigurd proposed changes to the July 22 draft of the wilderness bill that would make clear that the bill was not eliminating outboard motors or proposing an expansion of the size of the canoe country wilderness. (At the time, this wilderness, known today as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, was called the Superior Roadless Areas.) 

The correspondence below between Sigurd, Howard Zahniser of the Wilderness Society, Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey and Humphrey assistant Howard Haugerud show that the proposed new language in the bill was essential to a successful public meeting in Ely that became the turning point of the campaign in northern Minnesota. 

Ely, Minnesota
Sept 27, 1957

Dear Zahnie:

The meeting with the heads of Ely organizations went off extremely well. I had an opportunity to explain the bill quite thoroughly and covered the major points as follows:

1. Motor boats – I read your proposed language ie explaining that the following was being considered not to change the intent of the original bill but to clarify – “and nothing in this act shall preclude the continuance within these Roadless Areas of any already established use of motor boats.”

2. Extension of Roadless Areas – “Nothing in this Act shall be interpreted as providing for the addition to these roadless Areas of any privately owned lands or waters outside their present exterior boundaries.”

The only thing that worries me about this language is whether or not it will freeze the present boundaries and make it impossible to add important areas in the future. Of course as you mentioned over the phone if new areas were considered, it would take another act of Congress inasmuch as present acquisition funds apply only to the present Roadless Areas. However, better have this checked legally.

3. Mining – I explained the conservationists concern over any copper-nickel development and what might happen to the Kawishiwi watershed including Fall Lake, Basswood and Crooked-La Croix, not to mention the blight of a possible refining operation in the future, also that there were many other factors that had a bearing on Int. Nickel going in- new finds, a glutted nickel stockpile- possible government subsidy in order to finance a low grade deposit.

As to the new language, while it made an impression ie – “mining and reservoir construction is prohibited unless the President, upon his determination that such use in the specific area will better serve the interests of the US than will its denial, shall authorize such use in accordance with such restrictions as the President deems desirable,” did not seem important inasmuch as this understanding is a general one and invocable for any area in case of national emergency. It is exactly the thought of the QS Committee ie:

“If mineral deposits of major value are found the public welfare must be the deciding factor in their use and development. If it cannot be demonstrated that their commercial use is of greater public value than the wilderness that will be destroyed such use should be prohibited. Should mining developments be warranted than everything possible should be done to screen operations and to minimize the destruction of recreational value.”

4. National Wilderness Preservation Council

Even though I gave them the proposed language for the new bill that the Council will have only advisory powers and no jurisdictional powers whatsoever, the feeling was still one of suspicion and distrust. While I see the value of such a Council, I still wonder if this section could not be deleted for the time being. Actually inasmuch as the heads of the bureaus are members, nothing would prevent them from meeting with conservationists frequently to discuss wilderness problems and the working out of the Act itself. Sometime in the future a Council or Committee could be set up to further the purposes of the act if it was deemed necessary.

General Conclusions

We must make it crystal clear that we have not been forced into these so-called concessions, that the new proposed language merely clarifies what was already in the bill but doesn’t change the meaning an iota. This information should be gotten to the Ely people and all those concerned. As I stated earlier, this furor could have been prevented if the language was clarified originally to the point where half a dozen interpretations were not possible.

The organizations have been asked to study the old draft and submit their findings to Senator Humphrey and also be prepared to ask questions when he comes to Ely. They are all looking forward to his visit and judging by the tenor of the meeting last night, it should be possible to win friends.

Frankly, I was much encouraged after the meeting and felt that we have come a long way from the hysterical days of July and August. I suggested to Willard Domich, the young attorney who started the conflagration that he ask you for copies of the old bill and also of the revisions in the letter to Senator Murray of July 22nd.

Much has been made of the fact that the Ely people were not kept informed and that is a fault of mine and ours generally. In the future let’s try to remedy this not only in this area but in others where similar situations might develop. Local groups like to feel they are part of the big picture, would like to have a hand in the development of ideas, resent bitterly coming in the back door. Time and again mention was made of the need of local opinion to influence national policies that might affect them. Hard to do I know, but let’s give it serious thought.

Several encouraging things happened last night. Domich suggested to the group itself that if they needed information to ask me, also Fred Childers the antagonistic editor of the Ely Miner came around and suggested that he and I sit down and have a long talk. Domich and Childers repeated time and again that they are for conservation that they felt the need of a constructive program etc etc and should not be always against something. Of course I don’t take any of this too seriously after fighting these battles in this community for some 35 years, but it just might be that the idea of wilderness preservation and the great value of the wilderness canoe country is beginning to penetrate. Jake Pete owner of the houseboats on Basswood Lake asked me privately after the meeting if I really thought it was for the economic welfare of Ely to protect the wilderness. I may be wrong in my hunch, but I feel today that we are over the hump and that with some additional clearing of ideas and the all important visit of Senator Humphrey we will be in a stronger position than before.

I appreciated your call last night just before the meeting. I needed a little moral support.

Kindest regards


CC – Humphrey, Kelly, Hubachek, Magie

Zahniser responds:

1 October 1957

Mr. Sigurd Olson
Ely, Minnesota

Dear Sig:

The encouragement that you report in your letter of September 27 following the meeting in Ely of those who were critical of the Wilderness Bill is certainly an encouragement for me also, and your promptness in sending the letter is deeply appreciated.

Dave Brower is going to be here this week, and I shall discuss your letter in detail with him. I have already talked over the telephone with Howard Haugerud in Senator Humphrey’s office. Then it will not be long before we shall all be together at the Natural Resources Council meeting.

I agree thoroughly with your emphasis that in proposing the language with regard to motor boats and land acquisition and with regard to any other clarification of the bill we should, as you say, “make it crystal clear that we have not been forced into these so-called concessions, that the new proposed language merely clarifies what was already in the bill but does not change the meaning.”

It does seem to me, Sig, that this would not be the time to propose any elimination of the wilderness council section from the bill. There are many very great advantages that can be anticipated from the functioning of this council, and none of these advantages, I believe, is subject to criticism that have been made of the council either through misunderstanding or through fearful misinterpretation. It seems to me, therefore, that we should continue our emphasis on the real importance of the council and do everything that we can to eliminate any misleading language and positively make clear its real purposes. Then we should continue, I would suggest, to emphasize the implications of the changes that have already been made. This includes a very important change as far as criticisms are involved that have implied an overriding function of the council; namely, changing the makeup of the council to the point where it now provides that the heads of the Bureaus administering areas of wilderness will actually make up a majority of the council. Out of nine members of the now-proposed council only three will be citizens. This change, like the others that we have been discussing, is a clarifying one and one that helps make sure that the purposes that we have had in mind will actually be served and

not some other. In other words, we never expected that the proposed Wilderness Preservation Council would try to run the Forest Service or the National Park Service or other agencies of government. This latest change in makeup would seem to us to remove the very possibility for such, even though I cannot see how the council could have justified these fears before. You, with your experience with the Quetico-Superior Committee, I am sure, can see the advantages and also the reasonableness of our assurances that the proposed council will not be misused.

But, Sig, I should like to discuss this with you at due length before going any further with it. I write even at this length thus promptly only because of the fact that carbons of your letter have been sent to others, including Senator Humphrey, and I wanted to make sure that these thoughts would be in mind when the possibility of deleting the section regarding the council from the bill might be considered.

We certainly must see what we can do to carry on a more adequate local information program. Of course, in many ways we have carried on a more intensive educational effort with regard to this proposed legislation than I am aware has been carried on with regard to any other such proposal. Many thousands, tens of thousands, copies of the general proposal for a wilderness bill were distributed and many responses received before ever a bill was drafted. Since the introduction of the legislation, hundreds of thousands of copies of information about the bill–each of them including its full text–have been distributed, and many, many comments have been received, and used. So we have excellent broad basis on which to conduct a further educational campaign. I believe that we greatly need now a simply stated, effectively illustrated brochure that could be sent widely, giving information, citing sources of further information, and inviting criticism and comments. We should make special efforts to get these, in fact supplies of such a brochure, into the hands of the people who live in the communities near the areas of wilderness.

Well, I must not stretch this further. It certainly was good that you could be at that meeting and be so effective. More power to you!

Howard Zahniser

Senator Humphrey responds to Sigurd’s letter:

October 2, 1957

Mr. Sigurd F. Olson
Box 157
Ely, Minnesota

Dear Sig:

I have the copy of your letter of September 27, which you sent to Mr. H. Zahniser. You are doing a wonderful job in getting across the true provisions of this bill to the people of the Ely area.

I have had several letters from Mr. Domich, and apparently he is preparing a list of objections that the organizations he represents wishes to make against 1176. You are a hundred per cent correct in saying that much of our trouble is a direct result from our lack of ground work in the local area. Keep up your great work Sig, and let me know if there is anything I should be doing.

Best wishes.

Hubert H. Humphrey

Senator Humphrey’s assistant, Howard Haugerud, also responds to Sigurd’s letter:

October 4, 1957

Mr. Sigurd F. Olson
Box 157
Ely, Minnesota

My dear Mr. Olson:

This is just a note to thank you for your efforts in behalf of the wilderness legislation. My father-in-law, Mr. Louis Stafford, has told me of the intense feeling either for or against this bill in the Ely area. It is one thing to fight this battle from twelve hundred miles away and another to spend all of your time on the firing ground and to live with the thing twenty-four hours a day. You are doing a wonderful job, and I know how much Senator Humphrey appreciates your work and values your friendship.

It must have been an excellent meeting, and I have gone over your letter to Mr. Zaniser very carefully. Things look encouraging.

Mary and I saw your son Bob and his wife on a number of occasions while we were in Minneapolis, but though we tried, we were never able to get together. Where are they stationed now?

Best wishes and let us know of any developments.

Howard Haugerud
Assistant to Senator Humphrey