Conservationist to be honored for 1950s fight against Namekagon River dam

Lewis Posekany was a Wisconsin DNR biologist who helped block a proposed dam that would have degraded prime stretch of river.

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Namekagon River a few miles below proposed dam site. (Greg Seitz/St. Croix 360)

The Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame has announced its 2024 inductees will be Walt Bresette and Lewis Posekany.

Bresette (1947-1999) was from the Red Cliff Reservation in northern Wisconsin and led efforts to protect water and wild rice from mining proposals, Ojibwe treaty rights for fishing and hunting, and effigy mounds, as well as numerous other accomplishments.

Lewis Albert Posekany (1916 – 2004) partnered with the Izaak Walton League to protect the Namekagon River from a hydroelectric project, preserving it and the St. Croix as federally designated wild and scenic rivers. The Supreme Court Namekagon Hydro Dam decision resulted in far-reaching and durable changes to state water law.

Lew was an environmental advocate long before advocacy was popular. He often functioned as his own legal counsel, prepared arguments, and cross-examined witnesses. Consequently, Lew was respected for his polymathic knowledge of the law, legal procedure, the public trust doctrine, aquatic biology, engineering, and hydrology. He effectively translated his erudition into some of the most far-reaching, progressive, and long-lasting decisions the courts have rendered on environmental matters in Wisconsin and the Nation. Legal precedence set in these court decisions led to environmentally sounder jurisprudence.

Because of Lew, the Namekagon River is one of the nation’s premier destinations for fly fishing for smallmouth bass, canoeing, and tubing. Our trout streams are some of the best in the country. Our water resources, lakes, rivers, and cold-water streams, become more valuable as climate change threatens the water supplies of wastrel states that did not have a Lew Posekany to protect them. That legacy is timeless and enduring, as recognized by Governor Tony Earl.

It always will be if we care for and protect our water resource heritage as passionately as Lew did. The culture of caring he inculcated into DNR is justification for admitting Lew to the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame in addition to his many other accomplishments. Lew’s life’s work is epitomized by this quote from Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, “A river is more than an amenity; it is a treasure.” Lew was a resolute trustee making sure Wisconsin’s wild river treasure was not diminished.

Note: Previous inductees with connections to the St. Croix River region include: Warren P. Knowles, Gaylord Nelson, Gordon MacQuarrie, Pearl Pohl, Sigurd Olson, Charles H. Stoddard, and Ernest Swift.


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Conservationist to be honored for 1950s fight against Namekagon River dam