On Friday in Brooklyn Center, at the annual Department of Natural Resources stakeholders meeting, Jim Martin delivered what DNR leaders doubtless wanted him to deliver: A sobering look at the future of the nation’s natural resources, and particularly the fast-diminishing ability of state and federal fish, wildlife, land and water managers to slow what appears to be an inexorable slide of the nation’s natural heritage into an abyss.
Martin, who lives near Portland, Ore., is director of the Berkley Conservation Institute, a branch of Pure Fishing, one of the world’s largest fishing tackle companies.
Previously, for 30 years, Martin worked for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, including six years as its fisheries chief.
An accomplished and effective speaker, Martin told about 300 Minnesota conservation leaders that four “storms’’ cloud the future of the nation’s fish and wildlife, and that some or all of these squalls might collide within 50 to 100 years, yielding a calamitous “perfect’’ storm of natural resource degradation.
“What’s hard to predict is how (these storms) will interact when they crash together,’’ Martin said.
To avoid environmental catastrophe, Martin said, conservationists must envision the future, based on current land and water management trends.
“See what it will look like in the year 2100 at the current trajectory,’’ Martin said. “If you don’t like it, change the trajectory.’’
Complicating matters, Martin said, wildlife professionals nationwide have become more hamstrung by budget cuts and, in some cases, the placement of political hacks to oversee and direct their agencies.
Absent a renewed emphasis on conservation, these and other challenges virtually ensure a future worse than the present, he said, adding:
“You don’t get the natural resources you deserve. You get the natural resources you fight for.’’
Here’s a snapshot of the four tempests a-brewing, by Martin’s account:
• An increasing gap between the public’s expectations of natural resource managers and the funding available to achieve those expectations.
Martin said when he began his resource-management career, fish and wildlife were the primary concerns. “Today, that’s only a small part of the things we have to deal with,’’ he said, citing the public’s increased interest in many other resources, nongame species such as songbirds among them.
“But we don’t have the tools to do it,’’ Martin said. “If we don’t find a new funding model, rather than just (license sales to) hunters and fishermen, it’s ‘game over’ 25 years from now.’’
The rate of development. “I don’t know what the rate of development is in Minnesota,’’ Martin said, “but in the Pacific Northwest, the population is expected to grow between three and four times by the year 2100. Remember when Seattle, Olympia and Tacoma were separate towns? Now they’re one big megalopolis.
“My question to our culture is: Who’s planning for the fish and wildlife impacts? Who’s planning for this world our children are going to inherit? The answer is nobody. Because it’s too difficult politically.’’
The rate of change. Assuming projections are correct, climate change will alter land, water, fish and wildlife at a faster pace than ever, Martin said.
Current projections, he said, indicate, for example, that snow runoff from the Rockies in the Pacific Northwest will be about half its historical norm in 2050. But the region’s hydroelectric system depends on the larger snowfall amounts, as do salmon migrating up the Columbia and other rivers. A future with less snow will be devastating for salmon,’ Martin said.
“Who’s got the strategy (for this future)?’’ he said. “It’s not the Fish and Wildlife Service. They’re already up to their ears in alligators.’’
• The dismissal by some politicians of science-based recommendations from resource managers, and the control of some conservation departments by political appointees. “We have a trend in this country that fish and wildlife directors are not trained professionals,’’ Martin said.
Martin’s proposed solutions are right-on — and not.
He correctly stresses the importance of assessing, and planning for, a future in which land and water will be even more pressured than they are today.
But solutions will be elusive, as Martin acknowledges, unless more people — those who don’t hunt or fish, for example — are encouraged to join the conservation fray, bringing with them their natural-born interests in sustaining their lifestyles, while planning for those of their children and grandchildren.
But planning for, and resolving, the nation’s fast-intensifying resource crises can’t be dependent, as Martin asserts, on “more and better funding’’ or a “broader role for our resource agencies.’’
The former would be nice. But more money in the near term isn’t likely.
And agencies, including Minnesota’s DNR, can’t solve such systemically challenging problems.
More moms and dads, and kids, caring more keenly about land and water is the only way.
But involving more people more passionately in more effective conservation will occur only when the “human dimensions’’ of resource management become the primary concern of today’s professionals, rather than the top-down, fish- and wildlife-specific approaches that often are the norm today.
Short story: To avoid a perfect storm of conservation crises, people need more incentive to care for the land and water near their homes, and the money and power to do it.
But execution of such a revolutionary approach to conservation will never occur on the watch of today’s fish, wildlife and other resource professionals.
By temperament and training, they lack the vision and, more to the point, incentive to dismantle, or at least dramatically rearrange, present-day conservation delivery systems — replacing them with new models intended to nurture and, yes, over time help fund conservation on a grass-roots level.
Divide Minnesota into a half-dozen or more regions and assign the DNR the responsibility of organizing its resources and those of NGOs, local governments, sportsmen’s clubs and others in the region to address an agreed-upon hierarchy of the area’s land and water concerns — within the context of a statewide conservation plan.
Fleshed out, this might work.
Or maybe another plan would be better.
We only know this for sure: The future is coming fast.
And, as Martin said: What we’re doing now won’t save us.