New conservation road map far from a plan for success

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 11, 2008 - 9:29 AM

Long on words but short on accountability designation, Minnesota's new conservation road map is sorely lacking.

The temptation while wading through the 300-plus-page Minnesota Statewide Conservation and Preservation Plan unveiled this week by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) is to suggest that -- if this is indeed what plans are -- then the U.S. military was better off without one to govern its post-invasion strategy in Iraq.

Heavy on scholarly assessments and pronouncements but largely devoid of accountability designations, the plan is intended to provide a road map to a future Minnesota in which cleaner waters flow, "critical" lands are set aside, damaged habitats are restored and financial incentives for a sustainable society are offered.

The hope is that the plan, developed by the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment and various consultants, will help the state conserve its waters and lands before a tipping point is reached and many of its most important resources are gone for good.

Don't count on it.

Not only because the plan (intentionally, perhaps, given the oftentimes milquetoast nature of such documents) fails so thoroughly to call a spade a spade. But because while examining so ponderously the "big picture" of Minnesota's manifold conservation ills, it fails to lay bare the most fundamental, and politically dicey, obstacles needed to be overcome before meaningful conservation progress can occur.

Two of which are:

• The unchecked avarice in Minnesota that has nearly always placed individual, corporate and community profiteering ahead of resource conservation.

• A lack of conservation leadership.

Here's a spade, unvarnished:

Minnesota was settled by economic opportunists who rather quickly found advantage in placing or cultivating their handmaidens in the governor's office and the Legislature. Throughout the state's history, including yet today, the opportunists' intent has been to grease the economic and policy skids for agriculture, mining and other important state industries.

Another spade:

Time after time, average Minnesotans have enabled the handiwork of these politicians, most often because they vote their pocketbooks first and their conservation concerns last, or nearly so.

Or because --this is usually the case -- they fail to appreciate the severe environmental damage that can occur incrementally over generations.

Until this matrix changes, no conservation plan in the world will make a significant difference, particularly not one whose authors lack the backbone to place blame where it most deservedly belongs:

On all of us.

Conservation leadership is our best hope.

History has demonstrated repeatedly that real change is most likely to occur when individuals in positions of influence, or small groups of such people, define a vision for a better future and successfully lead people toward that vision.

The plan delivered this week by the U's Institute on the Environment, et al., doubtless will serve many good purposes over time.

The best of which would be if the LCCMR assumed its rightful leadership role and reconstituted the plan's most important findings and recommendations.

This second document should be considerably abbreviated (five pages or less), and punctuated by the addition of specific delineations of responsibility and accountability.

Absent that, Minnesota will remain where it has been for quite some time.

Up a creek. And a dirty one at that.

Dennis Anderson danderson@startribune.com

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