Anderson: Hunters, anglers should take a look in the mirror

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 24, 2012 - 6:58 AM

A gathering of conservation honchos and politicians serves to underscore the lesson: We're all responsible for protecting our natural resources.

Tuesday evening at a Maplewood hotel, a few hundred of the state's conservation bigwigs broke bread with Minnesota politicians who claim to have stewardship of natural resources at the forefront of their agenda. Some do. Others, not so much.

But then, the same is true for Minnesotans at large, and no less so, hunters and anglers.

Tuesday's event was the annual Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Association banquet, and the point was to bring together representatives of the state's outdoor "industry'' with key elected officials.

Among the former were countless conservation group members and leaders, as well as key staff from the Department of Natural Resources and the Board of Water and Soil Resources.

The latter included U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Zellers and U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, among others. Gov. Mark Dayton had planned to attend, but was ill.

Chief organizer of the event, which seems to grow each year in size and importance, was Don McMillan, whose interest in Minnesota conservation coincided years ago with his volunteer work with Safari Club International. He's also active with conservation and hunting issues in Washington.

Yet -- thorough as Don is -- he could have added value to Tuesday's meeting if he had handed out programs to help newcomers and others determine who among attending politicians deserves admiration, and who is to be dismissed as, well, just another politician looking to endear himself (or herself) to hunters and anglers.

More helpful still would be a program that included a mirror to remind each banquet attendee just who is responsible for keeping in the Legislature and other Minnesota offices some of the pseudo-conservationists who serve there.

Put another way, hunters and anglers in this state get the political leaders they deserve, because their allegiances to conservation are more fractured than unified.

Guns and gun rights are the big deal for many in this group, for example. For others, it's the abundance of fish and game. Still others have clean air and clean water at the tops of their lists. Or the setting aside of land for parks, hunting, trail riding ... the list is endless.

Only a relative few of these "hunters and anglers'' -- essentially a consortium of tribes -- defer their individual prejudices and priorities in favor of supporting (in the broadest sense) land and water conservation, realizing as they do that the march of humankind has and inevitably will continue to exact a high price from natural resources, and therefore us.

Even fewer -- we're talking a tiny sliver here -- are willing to defer their own economic prosperity and opportunities in favor of land and water conservation.

And that is why the battle to unify the state's conservationists and their members is so challenging, notwithstanding the admirable efforts of McMillan and many others.

Ramifications of this issue's complexities reach far beyond Minnesota.

With the planet's population rising, and each of us more inclined more often to act in our own self-interest, with only a few capable of prioritizing the bigger picture, the chance that large problems can be addressed with proportionate solutions seems slim.

Minnesota's response to silver carp coming up the Mississippi, which so far could be described as too little too late, even though the citizenry demands action, provides one example. Ditto our sleepy reaction to zebra mussels.

The proposed gutting of conservation provisions in the next federal farm bill, if realized, is another case in point, as is the small-minded political backbiting that has occurred over the planned public ownership of 2,000 acres and 3 miles of Mississippi River shoreline near Brainerd -- a project that ultimately will be the current Legislature's conservation litmus test.

And yet, and yet ... optimism among those given to it, and the accomplishments that have sprung from it historically, combined with leadership that periodically arises from unlikely quarters, have accomplished great things.

Perhaps they will again. Want to know who can help? If Don McMillan ever hands you a program with a mirror in it, take a good long look.

Dennis Anderson • danderson@startribune.com

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