Minnesota wingshooters are by now wary of, if not entirely cynical about, Department of Natural Resources “plans” to restore state ducks, pheasants and/or ruffed grouse to their once exalted and abundant status.

Most everyone knows what needs to be done to increase numbers of these birds: Develop more and better habitat. It’s gaining access to, and control of, the lands and waters necessary to achieve this worthy goal that has proved problematic.

Since statehood, Minnesotans’ insatiable desire to build houses, apartments, schools, hospitals, businesses, highways and rail lines on previously undeveloped property has won out over their comparatively lame attempts to conserve the lands necessary to sustain duck and other wildlife populations at historical levels.

Modern agriculture also has undercut these numbers and remains a significant obstacle to their rebuilding.

The topic arises because the DNR in early September will release updated versions of its duck and pheasant plans.

The duck plan will span four years and will replace the — brace yourself — 50-year waterfowl plan the agency presented to the public in 2006. The pheasant plan, meanwhile, will update the DNR’s previous four-year ringneck guideline, the latest version coming about 10 months after its promised unveiling last October at the Governor’s Pheasant Opener.

It’s a safe bet the forthcoming duck plan will not predict, as its 2006 counterpart did, that in 2056 Minnesota will be home to 140,000 waterfowl hunters, given that the DNR licensed about half that number in 2018 — fewer than at any time in the state’s history.

“It’s important to remember that creating a plan does not create a pool of money,” said Greg Hoch, DNR prairie habitat supervisor. “What these plans really do is provide a framework for the agency to refer to as we decide where we want to focus our resources.’’

The new duck and pheasant plans are the result, Hoch said, of multiple consultations with groups such as Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, the Minnesota Waterfowl Association, Audubon Minnesota and others.

Comments from the public also were taken, most of which, predictably, favored development of more and better habitat.

Which is the hard part. Far easier is writing a plan, which often amounts to little more than wishful thinking.

The question for today’s conservationists is whether they are forever content to play the role of chumps in these masquerades. Or whether, instead, they come to grips, finally, with the real-world notion that without action, measured variously by physical work, political choices or resource dedication, most plans bear more likeness to fantasy than fact.

Resolution of this disconnect is hindered by our common delusion over just how much we value healthy land and clean water. We hang wildlife paintings on walls. Attend conservation-group shindigs. And polish our 4-sheel-drive trucks.

But too often these are merely window dressings that today’s “conservationists” brandish in lieu of the commitment the title deserves.

Doubtless, good effort and even more good intentions went into writing the latest DNR plans. Neither, unfortunately, will produce more birds.

 

danderson@startribune.com