Listen: 10222_19721115olson_64

MPR’s Connie Goldman reports on the work of Sigurd Olson, and his book "Wilderness Days." Report also presents a question and answer period with Olson from an appearance at the Minnesota Press Club, where he called Minnesotans to protect the environment.

This recording was made available through a grant from the National Historical Publications & Records Commission.


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CONNIE GOLDMAN: Sigurd Olson is the focus of attention in Minnesota these days because of the publication of his beautiful and sensitive book, Wilderness days. His favorite topics, conservation and appreciation of Minnesota resources and beauty was the focus of his talk to the Minnesota Press Club Wednesday noon. Here are a few of his remarks.

SIGURD OLSON: As people develop an appreciation and awareness and understanding of life's problems physically and socially, inevitably, they become involved. And one of the things I've always said, it isn't enough just to coast along. People must become involved. And when they become involved, things will happen. The people, after all, are the final arbiters of what's going to happen to the country.

The people have discovered many things. That it's worthwhile to keep in touch with their congressmen and their legislators, for instance. That it does help to write letters to editors that it does help to write their congressmen. That they can sue the government if they don't like what the government is doing. The legal recourse of the common citizenry of America has been one of the most valuable tools in the world.

SPEAKER 1: Do you have any special words to say about the citizens of Minnesota?

SIGURD OLSON: The citizens of Minnesota-- God bless them-- are a special breed. And I love them to distraction. I know they're a special breed because they came here for the avowed purpose of living in a beautiful state. They should be very jealous of their state. They should gang together and do their best to preserve it. And a lot of them are.

CONNIE GOLDMAN: One member of the audience asked Mr. Olson if he thought the challenge to preserve and conserve might not be too tough for just ordinary citizens.

SIGURD OLSON: I'm glad you mentioned that because that's been one of my sincere beliefs that this is not a flash in the pan. This is something deeper than a current interest, a current revolutionary movement. I think this is so deep, so powerful that it will be everlasting. Sure, you'll find people who will drop by the wayside and be discouraged by the necessity of sticking their necks out in a conflict and fearing that they'll be on the wrong side. You'll always find those.

But I would say the vast majority feel deeply about it. A recent poll indicated that 80% of the American people are interested in environmental improvement. 80% is a lot of people. People know now what the term ecology means. People know now what environmental crisis means. Even congressmen know what ecology means. So there is hope. And it's not a flash in the pan.

SPEAKER 2: Mr. Olson, if you had a list of priorities, knowing we can't do everything at once, how would you rank, what would you place as the number one environmental priority?

SIGURD OLSON: In Minnesota or in the world?

SPEAKER 2: Well, let's take Minnesota first and then--

SIGURD OLSON: And spread out a little bit? I think water pollution is probably one of the big ones. Our streams and our lakes have been polluted for a long time. One of the things that's hard to stomach is the fact that you can't drink out of our creeks and rivers and lakes anymore. There's some places up in my country where you still can do it. And I know little trout streams that still produce native brookies. And they wouldn't do that if they were polluted.

Well, let's just say pollution, air, water, and so on. Another one just as important is the matter of zoning of land. We have gone ahead with developments without zoning, simply turning the land over to anyone who could get a franchise to use it or sell it. As a result, we've lost many beautiful lakeshores, many gorgeous sections of country. This could have been prevented by proper zoning-- state zoning, county zoning, township zoning.

The county and town boards have to get in on this and look over the land and see what the most important quality of this land is. Should it be for the development of new housing as suburbia? Should it be for more lakeshore homes? Or would keeping it in a natural state give the land a better chance to contribute to social welfare.

I think all of our wilderness areas ought to be kept intact. They should not be violated. They should not be logged. They should not have mechanized equipment. And them wilderness is getting to be such a rarity that the very fact, it's kept as America used to be is a very wonderful thing for our people.

CONNIE GOLDMAN: Sigurd Olson, nature writer and conservation expert speaking Wednesday at the Minnesota Press Club. This is Connie Goldman.


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