How exactly Minnesota Gov.-Elect Tim Walz could talk a good game during the recent campaign about the importance of Minnesota’s fish and wildlife and their habitats and not include on his 29-member transition advisory board anyone from the groups that sustain these resources is a puzzler.
Corn growers are represented, also the Mille Lacs Band of Chippewa and the Prairie Island Indian Community. Even a rabbi and the mayor of Fergus Falls made the cutoff. But no one from Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, the Ruffed Grouse Society, the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, Trout Unlimited, Muskies Inc., the Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance — or similar, more regional groups, such as the Nicollet Conservation Club.
It is true Paul Austin, executive director of Conservation Minnesota, made Walz’s top 29. Austin is a good guy and Conservation Minnesota does what it does, which is promote conservation. But in the scheme of things, with total 2017 revenue of $1.25 million — about half contributed by its top five foundation- and corporate-funders — it cuts a somewhat narrower swath in Minnesota than, say, Ducks Unlimited (approximately $8 million expended annually here, with 42,000 paid state members) and Pheasants Forever (about $19 million, with 21,000 state members,) among others.
Omission from Walz’s transition bunch is worrisome, but not in the way some might expect. Walz’s Gang of 29, after all, likely will accomplish what advisory committees with 29 members usually accomplish: not much.
Yet there remains concern among at least some sporting types that once again they’re being taken for granted.
A longtime conservation leader in southern Minnesota said neither Walz nor his staff had ever contacted his organization during the representative’s days in Washington. But that changed when Walz announced his run for governor.
Now, as Walz strategizes ahead of his January inauguration, the bigger conservation issue — the one most everyone who owns a gun or fishing rod in this state is watching — is his selection of a Department of Natural Resources commissioner.
Tom Landwehr, DNR boss for eight years under Gov. Mark Dayton, was an early and not-too-subtle backer of Walz’s campaign. Indications are Landwehr wants to stay on the job, and Walz doubtless has a finger to the wind to gauge among people who count the prospect of retaining Landwehr.
The key phrase here is: among people who count.
Consider, after all, what the chances are that Conservation Minnesota was selected out of the blue among the state’s multitudinous conservation, environment, fish and wildlife groups to be among Walz’s transition advisers.
If you answered “slim and none,” you’re in the ballpark.
Far more likely is that one or more of the DFL loyalists on Conservation Minnesota’s board of directors recommended the appointment, if not to Walz, then to someone who has the governor-elect’s ear. Which is fair enough — politics transpire that way. And again, a committee of 29 members won’t accomplish much anyway.
But as you read this, Walz’s confidants are quietly angling for suggestions about who should be named DNR commissioner. “Minnesotans don’t care much who their governor is,” Dayton is fond of saying, “but they do care who the DNR commissioner is.” True enough, and in picking a DNR boss, Walz is faced with two choices.
He can do what’s safest for him politically, or what’s best for the state.
The former is a no-brainer. Reappointing Landwehr would be a safe bet, as would, in most cases, naming someone else from the professional resource-manager ranks. Such an appointment — not in all instances, but most — would cleave to the dictum of the late Gov. Rudy Perpich when he told his DNR commissioner to “Do what you have to do, but keep the DNR’s problems off my desk.”
Translation: Win a resource battle here and there, while minimizing conflict by continuing to cede the conservation war to agriculture, development, industry and the state’s ever-increasing human population.
If Minnesota is to retain even a semblance of its past when clean water and open country were more prevalent, the governor’s natural-resources-management directives must be far more creatively, expertly and urgently executed than historically has been the case.
And far riskier politically — because nothing in the way the state’s land and water have been administered heretofore suggests its agencies or the politicians that direct them are capable of such accelerated management.
Thus, big changes and serious-minded leadership are necessary.
If Walz truly is interested in doing what’s best for the state’s land and water, as he has said he is, he should more often listen skeptically to the whispers of “the people who count” and instead forge his own path forward after educating himself about where this state has been, conservation-wise, where it is now, and where it is headed.
An excellent primer on the topic is the “Minnesota Governor’s Conservation Legacy Council Report,” developed by a blue-ribbon panel of academics, legislators, resource experts and citizens commissioned by Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2007.
“The time has come for Minnesotans,” the report concluded, hitting the proverbial nail on the head, “to come together and make a compact to protect and preserve our beautiful lakes, streams, forests, prairies and other natural resources.
“This compact ... must be based on a shared vision and a common understanding of what we must do to live in harmony with our natural world.”