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Asian carp

Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

Anderson: Invasive species hit politics

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON
  • Star Tribune
  • January 27, 2012 - 7:02 AM

Some of the smallest thinking that occurred in Minnesota on Thursday took place in a tucked-away hearing room at the Capitol.

The subject was aquatic invasive species, particularly Asian carp. The event was a meeting of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, which, with a figurative gun to its head, was trying to determine whether and how enthusiastically it should add its collective thumb to a leaky dike that seems likely soon to give way to all manner of creepy critters, including Asian carp and the snakehead (you don't want to know).

Understand first that virtually all of Minnesota's treasured waters are threatened in the near and long term, not only by carp and snakeheads, but by zebra mussels. Understand as well that by now everyone knows the scope of the threat, and knows also the complex challenges that lie ahead if Minnesota is to keep its fishing, boating and natural heritage relatively intact for future generations.

Whether the Lessard-Sams council has any business recommending funding for this fight is a fundamental question that received no consideration Thursday.

The Legacy Amendment passed in 2008 says money the council oversees is to be used only to "restore, protect, and enhance wetlands, prairies, forests, and habitat for fish, game, and wildlife." There's room for interpretation here. But the amendment's intent always has been to improve the state's land and waters over time, or at least to stabilize them, so that in 25 years, when funding from the amendment ends, the state still offers to its citizens what it offers now, e.g., the natural resources necessary to hike, fish, swim, boat, hunt, watch birds, sightsee, paddle and -- if only this -- know they can, if they choose.

Since at least the 1950s, developers, farmers -- all of us -- and our lapdogs at the Capitol have drained, paved and generally run roughshod over the state's prairies, fields, forests and waters.

In response, finally, the 2008 amendment was passed.

Approved by nearly 60 percent of voters, the amendment and the money it provides through a fractional sales tax increase should be as far removed from fighting invasive species as it is from building a Vikings stadium or funding schools. They're simply not one and the same efforts.

Yet legislators, all atwitter with their deep concern about your fishin' and huntin', can't quite muster even a fraction of the money needed to protect the state's waters and the traditions and culture they support.

Instead, the Lessard-Sams council gathered (in part) to consider whether to kick in another $5 million or so to the $3 million it previously committed to the invasive species fight.

The kingpin in the mix was Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, a council member and chairman of the committee that must vote on the council's recommendations. He's a hunter, McNamara often says about himself. But he seems less well-formed as a conservationist. And certainly in the mix he counts himself first and foremost a keystone of the Republican cabal that in recent sessions has passed nothing so often as the buck -- especially when it comes to natural resources funding.

So again at this meeting, McNamara made the type of passive-aggressive and altogether sideways intimations he's become known for, in this case to defund the council's best land and habitat recommendation to the tune of about $2 million to help fight invasive species.

Either that, he implied, or he and his apparently sheep-like committee will do it for them.

The council resisted -- so far.

Two issues:

The sanctity of the Lessard-Sams Council is being challenged, and council members owe it to conservationists statewide and to future councils not to cave when threatened, directly or indirectly, by its legislative members. McNamara isn't the first and won't be the last to insist, in effect, that the council amputate its own appendages. Let him -- them -- make the cuts if they must, or dare.

Secondly, mere shillings won't beat back invasive species, and the sooner the Legislature -- and the governor -- own up to this obvious fact, the sooner an invasive species research center at the U can be developed, and the sooner real action can be made toward minimizing the impact that carp and zebra mussels have on all of us.

Think $30 million in the first year, and $20 million a year thereafter for at least five years.

Either that, or we're all just passing the buck.

dennis anderson • danderson@startribune.com

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