Legislative proposals this session that would reduce protection for Minnesota’s environment and slow conservation in the state might, if approved, pose significant costs beyond their adverse effects on the state’s woods, waters, fields, fish and wildlife.
Put another way: Outdoors activities in Minnesota not only represent pastimes, and passions, for most people who live here, they’re big business.
And every time legislation is passed that cuts protections of the state’s environment or reduces opportunities Minnesotans have to pursue their interests in fishing, hunting, hiking, biking, paddling and otherwise enjoying themselves outdoors, Minnesota, and Minnesotans, lose money.
Potentially a lot. Consider what has happened in Utah.
For the past 20 years, summer and winter outdoors industry trade shows have been held in Salt Lake City, generating more than $45 million in annual economic activity.
But that tidy bit of business is about to end, apparently, because leaders in outdoors manufacturing and retailing businesses are fed up with environment and outdoor recreation policies the Utah legislature, and that state’s congressional delegation, have proposed and/or enacted.
The conflict came to a head last month when leaders of the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) — which represents more than 1,200 businesses nationally, including all the big names — held a conference call with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.
Intent of the call was to “achieve a common understanding of the value Americans place on our public lands and our right to access those lands for recreation,” the outdoors group said.
On the call were executives of Patagonia, The North Face and REI, as well as Outdoor Retailer, the industry group that sponsors the Salt Lake City trade shows.
“For several years,” OIA said in a news release, “[we] have worked in good faith with Gov. Herbert and Utah’s congressional delegation in an attempt to rectify differences in ownership, management and the economic importance of America’s public lands…Despite Utah’s robust outdoor recreation opportunities, elected officials in Utah … have all actively embraced the idea of transferring America’s public lands to the state.
“[This is] a move that in many states has already resulted in the outright sale or restricted access to the very public lands that have provided hunting, angling, hiking, skiing and camping to generations of people seeking to skirt the urban hustle for the outdoors — a uniquely American experience.”
During the call, the outdoors leaders asked Herbert to support public lands.
“Unfortunately,” the group said, “what we heard from Gov. Herbert was more of the same. It is clear that the governor indeed has a different perspective on the protections of public lands from that of our members … that’s bad for our American heritage and it’s bad for our businesses. We are therefore continuing our search for a new home as soon as possible.”
Gov. Mark Dayton entered the fray last week when he wrote to the industry group. “As you consider a new location to host the annual Outdoor Retailer tradeshows,” he wrote, “I want to personally invite you to consider Minnesota as an exciting and hospitable location for your outstanding events.
“Minnesotans have a strong and passionate commitment to the outdoors … Tourism is a $14.4 billion industry in Minnesota, generating over 17 percent of our sales tax … People travel to our state for a variety of reasons, but the number one area of interest is our great outdoors. Minnesota is known for its lakes, rivers, forest, and prairies and the outdoor recreation that it attracts.”
All of which is true, and doubtless we would be an excellent host. Yet Minnesota is not without its own “Utah problem,” as manifested this session in the Legislature, particularly the House, where Republicans propose to cut funding to the Department of Natural Resources and the Pollution Control Agency; postpone or eliminate the state’s new stream- and ditch-buffer law; slow or eliminate the purchase of land for public use … and that’s just a start.
Justification for these and other goofball ideas is that laws and regulations that protect Minnesota’s environment and promote conservation are bad for business.
Perhaps that’s true, on a limited basis, in the short term.
But talk to recruiters for 3M, General Mills, Medtronic or any of the other game-changing businesses headquartered here, and they will tell you the state’s environment and its many outdoors activities are among key reasons they can attract and retain top employees, and other states can’t.
Ditto for many small businesses, in the metro as well as outstate.
The legislative session is far from over. Stay tuned, or risk losing many of the reasons you live here.