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Anderson: True advocates for outdoors easy to tell from fakes

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON
  • Star Tribune
  • March 22, 2012 - 10:54 PM

Hunting camps tend to weed out those who don't fit in.

Clothing isn't always a tip-off to a short stay, though ironed shirts and pressed pants can be giveaways. Guys who trot out foreign beer instead of Summit or Grain Belt also wear out their welcomes sooner rather than later. And newcomers in particular who talk too much often aren't invited back.

Ultimately, a functioning hunting camp is about respect: for wildlife, for one another's safety, for friendship and especially for the chance to participate in a timeless tradition before passing it on to the next generation.

And to do so honorably.

Metaphorically, the 12-member Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council is a hunting camp. And like any camp, its smooth operation depends on cooperation and trust. A genuine interest in celebrating one another's opinions and accomplishments is necessary for harmony, as is deference to collective decision-making.

Living side by side, after all, with campmates -- or council mates -- who are unhappy unless they get their way, soon enough makes everyone uncomfortable, if not bitter.

Consider now two of the four legislative members of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Hunting Camp.

One is Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, a retired sheriff and straight-talker who means what he says and says what he means.

As a campmate of Ingebrigtsen's, you might not always agree with him. But he'll respect that, and listen to what you have to say. Perhaps he'll even change his mind, and fall in behind you. A leader, Ingebrigtsen doesn't need to be center stage, an endearing contradiction, particularly among legislators.

Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, is a campmate of a different stripe.

Though not as physically imposing as Ingebrigtsen, McNamara tends to throw his weight around more often. And arguably, he sees his campmates on the council not so much as cohorts gathered by law to further the common good -- which they are -- but as obstacles to overcome en route to aggrandizement from a camp he considers more suitable to his ambitions, the House Republican Caucus.

Case in point: the proposed Mississippi Northwoods Habitat Complex north of Brainerd.

Meeting, in effect, as a camp, the Lessard-Sams council considered carefully over these past many months before recommending this $14 million acquisition of about 2,000 acres of woodlands and 3 miles of Mississippi River shoreline -- a rare find in the state's most popular recreation area.

And while McNamara voted with his campmates in favor of the council's fish, game and wildlife habitat recommendations, including Mississippi Northwoods, he rarely missed an opportunity during the council's deliberations to attempt to derail the Brainerd project.

Nor in the time since has he missed opportunities, albeit sometimes by proxy, to undercut Mississippi Northwoods as it limps its way through the House -- its budget axed Wednesday in that chamber to $7 million from $14 million without his objection.

Among McNamara's goals, unspoken but assumed widely, has been to endear himself to House Republicans' anti-land acquisition bent. The fear among this bunch is that land conserved in perpetuity is land that can't someday be ditched, cut, mined or otherwise exploited, and another buck made.

Viewing the world differently, the eight citizen members of the Lessard-Sams council bear only the bias of conservationists. Their resolve, heart-felt and empowered by a statewide 2008 vote, is to save Minnesota from the types of politicians who since statehood have been hell-bent to sell it to farmers, developers and others whose long views have extended not far past tomorrow.

And the next buck to be made.

Which is why the state is in the shape it's in, with its wetlands drained, waterways polluted and a "come get it" sign on nearly every natural resource of value.

The House has some DFL doozies as well; representatives whose need for ego-stroking borders on the pathological. Yet McNamara presents himself almost uniquely among these confederates because he fashions himself quite a waterfowler and deer slayer -- one who by choice of pastime belongs in a hunting camp, as it were.

Just like you and me.

But that can't be.

Because regardless whether his field shirt is ironed or his pants are pressed, whether his taste in beer is foreign or down-home, or whether he talks too much -- all forgivable, in the end -- his allegiance is less so to his camp mates and the wild places and honorable traditions they cherish, than to callings altogether different from theirs, and far more self-serving.

McNamara doesn't fit in, not in Minnesota's hunting camp.

He weeded himself out.

Dennis Anderson • danderson@startribune.com

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