Wilderness group advocates naming Quetico Lake after forest ecologist

by M. McKinnon
Reprinted with permission from Atikokan Progress, Atikokan, Canada

The Ontario Geographic Names Board is considering naming a small lake near the Prairie Portage ranger station in honour Miron (Bud) Heinselman, a U.S. Forest Service ecologist who was a pioneer in research into the role of forest fire in wilderness areas.
The lake, which is currently unnamed, sits on a peninsula on Basswood Lake. It is just a couple of kilometres from the border, and about eight kilometres northwest of Prairie Portage. It is narrow (not much more than about three hundred metres at its widest), shaped like an L, and about two to three kilometres long. There are a couple of lakes on either side of it: the much larger Burke Lake to the northeast, and Valley Lake, about the same size as the proposed Heinselman Lake, to the southwest.
His name was put forward by the Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, a “region-based wilderness advocacy group created by area residents to protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area [BWCA] and other wild places”.
Heinselman (1920 - 1993) was born in Duluth and grew up in Minneapolis. After serving in World War II, he went on to earn a doctorate in forestry science at the University of Minnesota. He became an expert in forest peat lands ecology and in the role of fire in northern conifer forests. He located and mapped the un-logged forests of the million acre BWCA, and reconstructed the fire history of the region all the way back to 1595.
Heinselman’s work has become the basis for modern understanding of the role of fire in conifer forests and informs fire management plans in his home state and across North America, including Quetico Park and the mountain ranges in western Canada.
In addition to his scientific work, he is best known for his commitment, with his wife Fran, to save the BWCA as a wilderness. He took early retirement from the Forest Service in 1974 - it would not allow him to be politically active as a conservationist - and helped found the Friends of the BWCA. They worked for over two years to shepherd through the US Congress the federal statute (the BWCA Act) that officially created the wilderness zone.
Steve Piragis, a member of Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness and an Ely-based outfitter and canoe retailer (Piragis Northwoods Company), knew Heinselman and was a fan of his scientific and conservation work.
“He was a great guy who loved to explore… pretty rugged too,” he said last week. “Bud and Fran came to us in the nineteen eighties when they wanted the lightest canoe they could find to paddle the BWCA and Quetico Park.”
“We sold him a Wenonah Kevlar canoe, one of the earliest models. It weighed thirty-six pounds… Wenonah has since come out with a limited edition (ten only) Heinselman special canoe to honour him.”
Piragis said the Friends wanted to see some international recognition for the forest ecologist, and this small unnamed lake so close to the Canada - US border (and the Quetico - BWCA boundary) fit the bill.
“We don’t know if he was ever at this lake, but he could have been - he was that kind of guy. We just hope people will see the name and wonder… maybe even look into all he accomplished.”
Heinselman Lake meets all of the requirements in the principles of geographic naming that guides the board. It is accepting public comment on the proposal (go to www.ontario.ca and search for ‘Geographic Names’) until January 23.
The board will consider the input, and then make a recommendation to the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry on the name’s suitability.