West End News: April 26

Haze over BWCAW - photo courtesy Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness
Haze over BWCAW - photo courtesy Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness

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I was sorry to hear that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency caved to political pressure and weakened its plan to reduce haze over the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageurs National Park.

Haze from air pollution is definitely noticeable in northeastern Minnesota. I’ll admit that my eyesight has deteriorated over the years, but when I was a kid, the sky was bluer, the views over Lake Superior were longer and there were more stars in the night sky.

I’m not a scientist, but I’m told that our haze comes largely from coal-fired power plants and nearby taconite plants. Air pollution rules are incredibly complex, but the long and short of it is that the M.P.C.A. backed down from their original haze and pollution standards after the mining company, Cliffs Natural Resources, threatened to close two of their taconite plants rather than meet the standards.

While Cliffs has had its ups and downs over the years, the company is incredibly profitable right now and should voluntarily reduce its air pollution while they can afford it. I understand that they are important players in Minnesota’s economy, but I also feel like clean, healthy air is important to Minnesota too.

If we only stand up for our air and water when it’s convenient, where does that leave us – not to mention our children and grandchildren?

The big excitement here at Sawbill last week was the replacement of the Forest Service airplane dock at the Sawbill Guard Station. The floating dock is designed for the safe mooring and loading of their big DeHavilland Beaver floatplanes. In truth, it is rarely used by airplanes and is mostly used for launching canoes, swimming and fishing.

The old dock was built by Billy Tormondsen, I think in 1972. Billy was a well known and well liked Tofte native who operated a small sawmill back in those days. Originally, the dock was all white cedar. I remember the year because Billy suddenly and unexpectedly died shortly after he built the dock. He was a good friend and a truly unique individual. He would be around 90 if he were alive today. It’ll be interesting to see if this new dock can hold up as long as Billy’s craftsmanship did.

The big new dock presented quite a challenge to get into the lake as there is no vehicle access right to the shore of Sawbill Lake. After some head scratching, the competent services of Peter Borson and his big construction forklift were recruited and things went smoothly from there.

Patty Nordahl, director of the Birch Grove Foundation tells me there quite a few contractors interested in the construction projects planned for Birch Grove this summer. These are the first projects among many around the county that are funded by the 1% sales tax that we voted in last year. Bids are being accepted until May 3rd and information and specifications are available at Birch Grove in Tofte.

Mark September 29th on your calendar for the grand opening celebration of the Birch Grove construction projects. The grand opening will feature pizza from the outdoor wood fired oven that is also in the planning stages at Birch Grove. The Hearth Oven Bread Baking Initiative Team, or HOBBITS, has settled on September 9th through the 13th for the oven building class that will be run by North House Folk School. If you are interested in taking the class, get in touch with Patty at Birch Grove or North House Folk School. There is a tuition charge, but Patty is seeking grant dollars for scholarships, so don’t let the cost stop you if you are interested.

Last call to sign up for the North Shore Stewardship Association’s free North Shore Landowners community meeting on May 11th from 12:30-4:30 at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in Finland. This is an opportunity to connect with other landowners, public land managers, and private organizations to discover what North Shore forest restoration activities are underway and how you can become involved. You can register online at the North Shore Stewardship Association web site, or, as always, call WTIP for more information.

I’ve seen more moose in the last week than all of last year. The moose always look terrible at this time of year. Tourists often report seeing a “sick” moose in late April and early May. They’re losing their winter coats, causing them to look ratty and mostly white. They’re at their skinniest right now too. By June they will be sleek, shiny, dark brown and chubby. The bulls will be sporting their velvet racks and the calves will be growing fast. Here’s hoping that my more frequent moose sightings indicate a rebound in their population.


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