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Excerpts from Speeches       Proceedings and Debates       Hearings       Committee prints and reports
Shortly after arriving in Washington in 1965, Senator Mondale was approached by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson who asked him to cosponsor the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act—legislation that would restrict development and preserve wilderness along several unspoiled rivers. One of those rivers was the St. Croix River, the boundary between Minnesota and Wisconsin. Senator Mondale agreed. Three years later the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was signed into law by President Johnson. In his memoir The Good Fight: A Life in Liberal Politics, Mr. Mondale says of the bill's success: "To this day it's one of the most satisfying things I've done."[1]Walter Mondale, The Good Fight, (New York: Scribner, 2010), 40-42. He continued to advocate for the St. Croix River by introducing legislation that included the Lower St. Croix River and its tributaries under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. In 2011 he weighed in on the debate to build a large, four-lane bridge over the St. Croix: "I think that people ought to be soberly thinking about whether they want to assault the uniqueness and majesty of that river. This is establishing a dangerous precedent of the whole river system."[2]Kevin Giles and Jim Anderson, "Mondale calls St. Croix plan 'a dangerous precedent,'" Star Tribune, March 25, 2011. Segments of rivers continue to be studied for potential addition to the national wild and scenic rivers system as recently as January 2012.[3]Comm. on Natural Resources, York River Wild and Scenic River Study Act of 2011, H. Rpt. 112-370 (2012). In 2011, there were 203 rivers totaling 12,597 miles classified under the national wild and scenic rivers system.[4]National Wild and Scenic Rivers website: http://www.rivers.gov/wildrivers.html

Senator Mondale was keenly aware of the environmental legacy his generation would leave. Joining Senator Nelson at the forefront of the environmental movement, Senator Mondale realized "that environmental issues would take a special place in my public career.... There was something almost spiritual about working on legislation where water and wilderness were at stake. It became one of the issues where I was willing to risk public opposition of the sort that could end a career."[5]Walter Mondale, The Good Fight, (New York: Scribner, 2010), 42.

He argued that "what we owe are reparations to nature—and to our children—for what we have done to our world."[6]91st Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 116 (October 9, 1970) at 36031. His argument for establishing the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge and Recreation Area— "unless we protect this unique area from careless development, future generations will not be able to enjoy the many opportunities for hiking, photography, hunting, fishing, and other wildlife-oriented activities this resource provides"[7]94th Cong., 2nd sess., Congressional Record 122 (January 21, 1976): 410-413. —was one he used for many environmental causes. He sponsored legislation that funded projects designed to develop new methods for removing and preventing pollution from lakes; he advocated for soil conservation to help keep silt and fertilizer pollution out of lakes and good soil on the land; he introduced the National Clean Lakes Act; he authored and introduced legislation that created Voyageurs National Park, the Upper Minnesota River Wildlife Refuge, and the Mississippi National Scenic Riverway System.

Senator Mondale recognized not only the aesthetic beauty of lakes and rivers, but also their economic potential: "Lakes are our salvation in the heartland of America. They refresh the landscape and rejuvenate our lives.... The benefits that flow from them are incalculable."[8]89th Cong., 2nd Sess., Congressional Record 112 (August 23, 1966): 20774-20776. He understood that the protection of the natural beauty and natural resources of Minnesota was vital to tourism and the state's quality of life. He recalled his fight for increased federal protection of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota in The Good Fight:

As the Boundary Waters dispute unfolded, I found the most effective political strategy was just to listen. Where we could grandfather people in—let them keep their cabin or their resort for their lifetime—we tried that. Where we could delay the implementation of some rule, give people time to prepare and adapt, we tried that.

But at some point you simply had to take a deep breath, jump in, and vote the right way.[9]Walter Mondale, The Good Fight, (New York: Scribner, 2010), 45.

Excerpts from Senator Mondale's speeches on the environment and conservation: [Top]

The Namekagon River, part of the St. Croix Scenic Riverway; credit: National Park Service

"We are a nation bedazzled by technology and addicted to crash solutions. We are a pragmatic people, one whose first response, in facing any dilemma, is to look for an instant answer. But this kind of mentality will no longer serve us, if we are to build an environment worthy of a man in this place, in this age." 91st Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 115 (July 8, 1969) at 18716.


"The central issue of our time is not how many board feet of lumber are cut from the forests; or how many barrels of oil are pumped from beneath the American earth; or how many kilowatt hours are generated by how many dams, important as these things are.

The real question facing us today is not the quantity of life, but its quality...." 91st Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 115 (January 15, 1969) at 898.


Entrance to Rainy Lake in Voyageurs National Park; credit: National Park Service

"What we owe are reparations to nature-and to our children-for what we have done to our world. And we seem to be overwhelmed by the burden of these reparations. Think of the enormous cost of atoning for our past crimes and repairing our water, our land, our air, our cities, and our children that have fallen victim to something we call progress....

In fact, many of us have been pointing out, the costs I have cited are not all that great. The question is really one of priorities-whether the preservation of our water is really worth only about half as much as the next step in an unworkable ABM ... whether the control of air pollution is really worth less than the beginning of space shuttle for our next space spectacular ... whether federal programs to provide food for hungry children is really worth only two-thirds of what we will spend on a new supersonic transport?

Is $100 billion-to clean and preserve all our waters-a vast amount of money? Sure-but it's less than we've poured into the jungles of Southeast Asia without even counting the cost of 50,000 dead American boys." 91st Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 116 (October 9, 1970) at 36031.


Senator Nelson (white shirt, canoe on right) and Senator Mondale (checkered shirt, middle canoe) joined 138 other canoes that toured the Namekagon River on June 20, 1965 to promote it and the St. Croix River for inclusion in the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act; credit: The Milwaukee Journal


Senator Walter Mondale of Minnesota (right); credit: Minnesota Historical Society

"It [the proposed area of Voyageurs National Park] is one of the most magnificent locations of natural beauty that one can see, but more than that there is probably no place in this country that has a more unique historic setting than this. It was the location, the transportation route, of the famous Voyageurs, it was the area through which the first white man came and visited and traded with the Indians, and I can't think of anything that I would rather have my Senate career stand for than the proposition that I was helpful in adopting and preserving this magnificent location for my generation and for generations that follow."

U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs. Voyageurs National Park: Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Parks and Recreation. 91st Cong., 2nd sess., December 4, 1970.


"I believe each of us feels very deeply a sense of horror and outrage at the neglect that has transformed once idyllic rivers and lakes in America from scenic wonders into contaminated wastelands. Witness what has become of the Hudson and Delaware Rivers, the Chesapeake, the Potomac, the Savannah, the Mississippi, the Columbia, and even the remote rivers in the state of Maine. Our lakes, including Lake Erie, Michigan, Tahoe, and thousands of smaller fresh water lakes are in need of urgent care....

But for the most part, we have had far too much talk about the need for stringent standards and enforcement and far too little action. At stake in this issue is the most precious and limited natural resource in America today." 92nd Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 117 (November 2, 1971) at 38834.


Pen presentation following the signing of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, U.S. Senator Walter Mondale and President Johnson; credit: Minnesota Historical Society


During a tour of the St. Croix River, Senator Walter Mondale takes the helm of a paddlewheeler as Boundary Area Director James Harrison (left) and Captain Bill Bowell (right) look on; credit: Minnesota Historical Society

"In the Lower St. Croix, we have a chance to break the chain of destruction that has claimed other urban rivers. We should make our commitment, protect the river and, for once, take heart in the saying: how we care for our natural treasures will someday determine our worth as a nation."

U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs. Designating a Segment of the St. Croix as Part of the Wild and Scenic Rivers System: Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Public Lands. 92nd Cong., 1st and 2nd sess., October 23, 1971 and April 14, 1972.


"At the beginning of my statement I quoted Mark Twain, who said of the Mississippi:

'And it is all as tranquil and reposeful
as a dreamland, and has nothing this
worldly about it—nothing to hang a
fret or worry upon.'

Unless we do a bit of worrying about rivers like the Mississippi and translate our concern into action, the tranquility and repose of which Twain so eloquently spoke could all too literally become but dreams and distant memories."

U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs. To Amend the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act: Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Public Lands. Part 4. 93rd Cong, 2nd sess., June 20, 1974.


The source of the Mississippi River on the edge of Lake Itasca in Itasca State Park, Minnesota; credit: Christine Kar
Selected U.S. Senate proceedings and debates on the environment and conservation, 1965-1976: [Top]
U.S. Senate hearings on the environment and conservation in which Senator Mondale participated: [Top]
  • Wild River Systems - St. Croix Waterway: Hearings Before the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, pt. 1, 89th Cong. (1965).

  • Water Pollution - 1967: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Air and Water Pollution, pt. 1, 90th Cong. (1967).

  • Wild and Scenic Rivers: Hearings Before the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, 90th Cong. (1967).

  • Voyageurs National Park: Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Parks and Recreation, 91st Cong. (1970).

  • Water Pollution Control Legislation: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Air and Water Pollution, pt. 1, 92nd Cong. (1971).

  • Water Pollution Control Legislation: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Air and Water Pollution, pt. 3; General Appendix and Additional Statements and Materials, 92nd Cong. (1971).

  • Designating a Segment of the St. Croix as Part of the Wild and Scenic Rivers System: Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Public Lands, 92nd Cong. (1971 and 1972).

  • Environmental Protection Agency's Budget Request for Fiscal Year 1975: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Environmental Pollution, 93rd Cong. (1974).

  • Agriculture-Environmental and Consumer Protection Appropriations for Fiscal Year 1975: Hearings Before the Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations, 93rd Cong. (1974).

  • To Amend the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act: Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Public Lands, pt. 4, 93rd Cong. (1974).

  • Establish a National Wildlife Recreation Area in the Minnesota Valley: Hearing Before the Subcommittee on the Environment, 94th Cong. (1975).

  • Locks and Dam 26: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Water Resources, 94th Cong. (1976).

Selected Senate committee reports on the environment and conservation: [Top]

    Committee Prints

  • Staff of Comm. on Interior and Insular Affairs. House, 95th Cong., Legislative History of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. (P.L. 95-495). (Comm. Print 1978).

  • Committee Reports

  • Comm. on Interior and Insular Affairs, Authorizing the Establishment of the Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota, S. Rep. No. 91-1513 (1970).

  • Comm. on Public Works, Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1971, S. Rep. No. 92-414 (1971).

  • Comm. on Interior and Insular Affairs, Amending the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act By Designating a Segment of the Lower St. Croix River as a Component of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, S. Rep. No. 92-1279 (1972).

  • Comm. on Interior and Insular Affairs, Amending the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to Extend the Period of Protection of Rivers Under Study, to Provide Time Limits for Studying Rivers, to Provide for Submission by the President of All Studies, to Increase the Funding Authorization, and to Provide for Exchange of Federal Land for State Land within River Areas, S. Rep. No. 93-401 (1973).

  • Comm. on Interior and Insular Affairs, Amending the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, S. Rep. No. 93-738 (1974).

  • Comm. on Interior and Insular Affairs, Amending the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and the Lower St. Croix River Act of 1972, S. Rep. No. 93-1207 (1974).

  • Comm. on Commerce, Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge Act, S. Rep. No. 94-934 (1976).

  • Comm. on Commerce, Studies of the Impact of Navigational Improvements in the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Waterways on Fish and Wildlife and the Relationship of Such Improvements to a Sound Transportation Policy, S. Rep. No. 94-1199 (1976).

  • Comm. on Environment and Public Works, Inland Navigation Improvement Act of 1977, S. Rep. No. 95-216 (1977).


Endnotes:[TOP]
  1. Walter Mondale, The Good Fight, (New York: Scribner, 2010), 40-42.
  2. Kevin Giles and Jim Anderson, "Mondale calls St. Croix plan 'a dangerous precedent,'" Star Tribune, March 25, 2011.
  3. Comm. on Natural Resources, York River Wild and Scenic River Study Act of 2011, H. Rpt. 112-370 (2012).
  4. National Wild and Scenic Rivers website: http://www.rivers.gov/wildrivers.html
  5. Walter Mondale, The Good Fight, (New York: Scribner, 2010), 42.
  6. 91st Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 116 (October 9, 1970) at 36031.
  7. 94th Cong., 2nd sess., Congressional Record 122 (January 21, 1976): 410-413.
  8. 89th Cong., 2nd Sess., Congressional Record 112 (August 23, 1966): 20774-20776.
  9. Walter Mondale, The Good Fight, (New York: Scribner, 2010), 45.