On April 7, National Geographic published a photo gallery featuring images of the St. Louis River. The intro to the piece notes the St. Louis is “the eighth most endangered river in the U.S.,” according to a ranking by the advocacy group American Rivers.
To document the importance of the St. Louis River to the Great Lakes ecosystem and those who depend on it, photographer David Bowman followed the waterway from its source in the Mesabi Iron Range in northeastern Minnesota to its mouth in an estuary in Lake Superior, which straddles the border with Wisconsin.
“Along the way, the photographs address environmental challenges that threaten the diversity of the lakes’ plant and animal life, which in turn risks the overall health of the region,” Bowman says.
On Saturday the Duluth News Tribune reported that the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and Minnesota Land Trust are working on a major wild rice restoration project on the St. Louis River estuary. The goal is to restore roughly one-third of the wild rice thought to have grown there.
In the late 1800s the St. Louis was used as a log flume, with floating trees that trashed many wild rice beds. Then harborside industry — sawmills, steel mills and factories — did their part to destroy habitat, as did docks and dredged slips for grain elevators and iron ore loading facilities. Upstream paper mills fouled the water to the point rice couldn’t thrive.
Now, only a few pockets of wild rice are found in the 12,000-acre estuary.
“This was at one time the single largest wild rice area in the region,” said Daryl Peterson of the Minnesota Land Trust, which is coordinating a wild rice restoration project on the river. “Nobody really knows, but we think there were probably about 3,000 acres of wild rice in the estuary before it was degraded. … We think we can bring back maybe a third of that. Maybe 1,000 acres is realistic.”
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