As a girl growing up in Minneapolis and the suburbs, Becca Nash didn’t come from an outdoors family. She caught sunfish with her friend — whose dad then cooked them while they watched cartoons — and her mom exposed her to some of the environmental issues of the day, but she didn’t have much in the way of outdoors experience to pass down to her daughter.
At the same time, she encouraged the young Nash to do what she found interesting. That led Nash early in her college career to Costa Rica, where she learned about efforts by the Nature Conservancy to protect the rain forest, and she had something like an epiphany.
Nash knew then that she wanted to make natural resources a career. Since earning a degree in biology from the University of Minnesota, she hasn’t looked back. Following a 13-year run at the Trust for Public Land, where she worked to acquire land in Minnesota, and five years as associate director of the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center, Nash is on to something new. She began earlier this month as director of the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR), which makes annual recommendations for special environmental and natural resource projects to be funded from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. (Most of the money in the fund comes from sales of lottery tickets.)
Some folks with an outdoor bent do their best to stay away from the State Capitol, but for Nash, the two go hand-in-hand.
“I’m totally fascinated by the public decisionmaking process and what’s going on at the Legislature,” said Nash, 43. “It has its challenges, but I’m really excited to be in this position and see and hear from the best minds in Minnesota working on issues [related to conservation and the environment]. It’s about promoting and encouraging innovation and improvement in the way we do things. Not just at accomplishing conservation, but figuring out how to do it better.”
In a recent conversation, Nash talked about the LCCMR and her connection with the outdoors:
On the role of the trust fund and the LCCMR
When the voters of Minnesota voted in 1988 to amend the state constitution and create this funding, I think it was intended to help accelerate Minnesota’s already strong commitment to the environment and natural resources. In addition to doing conservation projects, it’s really about helping to promote innovation. It can be a testing ground, and as we learn more from science we can figure out what has the potential to be adopted in a broad fashion and affect conservation and natural resources policy.
On her perfect day outdoors
It depends on what you mean by outdoors. If I think about going away to a destination, I’m thinking about floating down a river on a warm summer day. That is heavenly to me — being able to just float and stop and fish or swim, or come around a bend and see an eagle or an egret or something that’s just beautiful and graceful. But I also believe that nature doesn’t have to be a destination, that it’s right in your backyard. I have a garden and I am just as content out there working all day long.
On enthusiasm for fly-fishing
I was introduced to it when I was in high school. I was visiting an uncle out in Idaho and he brought me out fly-fishing. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. Over the years, I’ve had some awesome opportunities to fish in places like Colorado and Washington and have had tremendous experiences. But it wasn’t until five or six years ago that I decided this was something I really wanted to get into, and that’s when I discovered Minnesota’s trout streams. There’s so much I like about it. I like going to beautiful places, and there’s something magic about running water. And the fish themselves are so fascinating and beautiful. I love walking along the stream and looking for the riffles and the pools and thinking about where the fish might be, and then trying to make a perfect cast. There is something about that mission and purpose and challenge, and the satisfaction that comes with catching something. At the same time, it’s very meditative.
On the benefits of spending time outdoors
For me, it’s peace of mind. We’re learning more about the health benefits of being outdoors. But just from a very personal level, when I am going for a walk around the lakes in Minneapolis, or fishing, or gardening, it’s like the problems of the day just melt away. I don’t know of any other experience where that happens.
On the fight against aquatic invasive species
Just in the five years I’ve been a part of this issue, we have already made great strides. There’s more awareness of the issue and in some cases we’re learning how to prevent and control some of these species. Where we are making the most progress is in the places where the most research has been done. One example is trying to understand the impacts of zebra mussels and spiny waterfleas on walleyes. It’s hard to set limits and understand what you are doing to a population if you don’t understand the impacts of those species on the walleye population. We should never give up on science, because if you give up on science you’re just giving up.
Joe Albert is a freelance writer from Bloomington. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.