A party was held Thursday in Brooklyn Park, but some of the honorees failed to show. Instead, they were lying low in frozen cattail marshes near Morris, or soaring high above the Mississippi River near Wabasha — pheasants being the former, eagles the latter.
In fact, the festivity celebrated not only these birds, but all of the state’s wild critters, as well as its human inhabitants. Each is a beneficiary, in ways great or small, of the Legacy Act, which was approved in 2008 by Minnesota voters and which was ballyhooed and examined by a few hundred people Thursday.
Convened to belatedly commemorate the Legacy Act’s fifth birthday, the forum attracted many of the players whose contributions were critical to the legislation’s passage. Present as well, and more importantly, were those who have put to work three of its funds: one for game, fish and wildlife; one for clean water; and another for parks and trails.
The meeting was valuable for at least two reasons. The first: A lot of the public’s money is at stake, some $300 million annually, counting the portion set aside for arts and heritage. So a communal look-see at how the money is being spent was warranted.
Secondly, and more importantly, Thursday marked the first time that a commingling of sorts has occurred among the various granters, recipients and implementers of the three funds and, however unexpectedly, the gathering seemed to highlight their common interests and goals.
The fact, for example, that clean water in this state isn’t possible without proper land-use practices, including the buffering of waterways in farm country with grass or other cover, suggested to some observers that accelerating the number of Legacy-funded conservation projects that benefit both water and soil should be a high priority.
That goal seemed particularly appropriate, given Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner John Linc Stine’s acknowledgment that Legacy funds, however large relative to past appropriations for clean water, won’t be enough to completely get the job done.
The reason: Too many years of too much drainage and general degradation of Minnesota waters have occurred for the problem to be fixed in the short term. Improvements can be made, Stine said. But Minnesotans who thought they were voting for clean water when they went to the polls in 2008 to approve the Legacy Act, actually, it turns out, were voting for cleaner water than is the case today.
That task notwithstanding, in another room not far away from where Stine was speaking, Jon Schneider of Ducks Unlimited (DU) ticked off an impressive list of prairie habitat-project completions his group and others have achieved in recent years with Legacy money.
Schneider emphasized that the scope of the prairie-restoration challenge confronting his group — as well as Pheasants Forever, The Nature Conservancy, the Conservation Fund and other organizations, along with state and federal agencies — is daunting.
So much so that for these jobs, only optimists need apply.
Count Schneider among them.
“Our goals with Legacy money are to protect the prairie and wetlands that remain, restore converted prairies and wetlands, and enhance degraded prairies and wetlands,” Schneider said.
To that end, Ducks Unlimited has spent $18 million since 2009 acquiring 20 tracts of uplands and wetlands, and has also enhanced 40 shallow lakes with water-control structures.
Pheasants Forever, meanwhile, has completed 58 projects with Legacy funds totaling more than 7,000 acres, each of which has been donated to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for use as waterfowl production areas. Another 47 projects covering 9,000 acres have been purchased by PF with Legacy funds and are now state wildlife management areas.
Additionally, The Nature Conservancy has protected more than 6,000 acres of prairies and wetlands, while enhancing another 30,000 acres of the same habitats.
Many attending the meeting said the goal now with Legacy funds is to optimize their use so taxpayers get the effort and results they deserve, and to ensure that measurable differences are achieved on the Minnesota landscape 10 years from now, and 20.
That won’t be easy. An ever-increasing human population guarantees that more and more pressure will be applied to the state’s natural resources.
Yet, just as the Legacy Act was conceived by dreamers who by their natures found offensive the premise that a further despoiled Minnesota environment is inevitable, many departed Thursday’s meeting imagining better days ahead.
They envisioned a state not worse for its wear in the future, but one they will be proud to bequeath to their children and grandchildren, and bequeath also to those who couldn’t attend — lying low in frozen marshes or soaring high over the Mississippi.