On Friday, House Legacy Committee chair Phyllis Kahn took still more testimony from still more citizens, only to find that each, one after the other, opposed her rewriting of the conservation recommendations forwarded to her panel by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, this following a hearing by Kahn on Thursday in which similar objections were heard.
Nonplused, and abetted by a majority of committee members, Kahn nonetheless steamed ahead with her plan to distribute Legacy Act money from the Outdoor Heritage Fund to projects the council didn’t recommend, and to expend as well some $60 million in the second year of the coming biennium the council didn’t even consider.
Much can be said here, not least that in Kahn, DFL House Speaker Paul Thissen of Minneapolis has appointed a rogue chair of an important committee. Exactly for what purposes others on that panel elect to dance in her legislative conga line is unclear. But there’s likely a pony in it somewhere for some of them, if only the approximately $6 million in metro parks projects Kahn seeks to fund — the same projects some Lessard-Sams council members characterized collectively, albeit privately, as unworthy even of serious consideration; a joke.
More on Kahn later.
Consider first a question posed Friday to David Hartwell by Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul. Hartwell chairs the Lessard-Sams Council and spent the bulk of his testimony before Kahn’s committee saying that the council is exemplary in execution of its mission.
Reasons cited included the long-term statewide conservation plan the council has developed and requires its funded projects to adhere to, its requirement also that recommended projects be science-based, the diversity of experienced, conservation-minded members who serve on the council, the transparency of its actions and the accountability standards to which it holds recipients of funded projects.
“We have a fair and open process,’’ Harwell said. “I would hope you would give serious consideration to the recommendations we provided you. The process is sound, and the accountability is sound.’’
Hausman responded by saying, in part, to Hartwell:
“I wonder if you can help me. … What I struggle with is that we set up this group [the Lesssard-Sams Council] that ends up with a sense of entitlement about this money … it’s very confusing to me … it’s this sense of entitlement. I’m an outsider. Can you tell me how that cultural thing happened so quickly?’’
A digression: I’ve known Hartwell since 1988, when he significantly helped me and other Minnesota duck hunters purchase a $650,000 helicopter to give to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents to help stop waterfowl poaching on the Gulf Coast.
Additionally, being intimately involved with forming the coalition that ultimately resulted in passage of the Legacy Amendment, I know in specific detail the important role he played in that effort, as well as the vital roles others played, including, importantly, Dave Zentner of Duluth, who also appeared before Kahn’s committee Friday to echo Hartwell’s concerns.
The upshot: I respect greatly the conservation work Hartwell has accomplished over many years on many fronts. But he did Hausman no favors when he nuanced his response, saying, in part, “There are people who feel it’s theirs [the fish, game and wildlife habitat money in the Outdoor Heritage Fund, which the Lessard-Sams Council oversees]. I think it’s unfortunate. I clearly recognize that while I would like you to take our recommendations … that we are advisory.’’
All of which is true, the Lessard-Sams Council is only advisory to the Legislature, because the state’s money can be expended only by elected representatives.
That said, regarding conservation — which concerns not only the quality of life Minnesotans enjoy but, ultimately, over time, their survival — Hausman’s question deserves a broader response.
• Virtually all substantive land and water conservation initiatives in this state, and nationally, have been grass-roots born, not the product of government. From The Nature Conservancy to Ducks Unlimited, the Sierra Club, Pheasants Forever and the Wilderness Society, organizations have been founded over time by highly knowledgeable, consummately dedicated individual conservationists. Nowhere is this truer than in Minnesota, where the Minnesota Waterfowl Association was started, as were Friends of the Boundary Waters, Pheasants Forever, the Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance, the Minnesota Trout Association and Muskies Inc., among others.
It is true that government at times, though comparatively rarely, also has sparked conservation initiatives. Political leadership is required here, and Teddy Roosevelt provided more of it, to the benefit of more of the nation’s natural resources, than any other government official. Unfortunately, far more often, to the degree government has promoted land, water and air stewardship, it has served less as an originator of conservation programs than as a conduit through which the persistent efforts of citizens have been channeled. More often still, government has opposed conservation progress.
• Example: Dating to the late 1800s, conservation-minded Minnesotans — many of them then duck hunters — railed against government-sponsored wetland drainage, a practice that continued through the 1950s and one that, in coming weeks, might contribute to still more spring flooding.