Longtime Twin Cities newspaper readers will recall the names of the late Jim Peterson, Bob "Bear" Schranck and Joe Hennessy, as well as the still-very-much-alive Ron Schara.
Each wrote outdoors stories and/or columns for the old Minneapolis Star, the Minneapolis Tribune or the Star Tribune. In so doing, they continued a storytelling and conservation advocacy tradition that dates to the nation's founding.
Others who practiced in this genre on a larger stage, wholly or partly, included Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, Zane Grey, Nash Buckingham, Teddy Roosevelt, Ding Darling, Robert Traver, Ernest Hemingway, Aldo Leopold, Gordon MacQuarrie, Jimmy Robinson, Cal Rutsrum and Sigurd Olson, among many others.
But it was Peterson's name, and Schranck's, Hennessy's and Schara's, that arose recently when word came from the Star Tribune library that their "clips'' — newspaper copies of their stories — wouldn't be making the move this weekend from the doomed Star Tribune building at 425 Portland Av. S. to the newspaper's new digs in the Capella Tower.
Instead, they would be trashed.
In response, Schara came downtown to rescue his stories, while I pulled Hennessy's and Schranck's from the edge of the abyss, thinking somehow a review of their good work, however cursory, would tell a story about Minnesota and Minnesotans.
Some background: Peterson, whose photo from a 1960 Montana mule deer hunt accompanies this column, was primarily a "desk guy,'' or copy editor, at the old Minneapolis Tribune. He also wrote outdoors stories, and wanted badly to do it full-time. But the paper's editors apparently didn't see the need for a full-time staffer on the "hook and bullet'' beat, and were happy enough to split those duties as necessary among Peterson and various of his Tribune colleagues. (Schranck, who for most of his career wrote about prep sports and auto racing, among other topics, also struggled for many years to gain full-time assignment to the outdoors beat.)
Yet Peterson, whose office nickname was "the Grinder,'' was not deterred. He left the Tribune to purchase the weekly Outdoor News and, from his publisher's perch at that sheet, railed mercilessly on the DNR and its allowance of winter spearing on Mille Lacs.
Meanwhile in St. Paul, at the Pioneer Press and Dispatch, Hank (the Tank) Kehborn covered the outdoors beat, a position he held for some 30 years until I replaced him in 1980 (I came to the Star Tribune in 1993). A colorful guy who never forgave retired Pioneer Press sports columnist Don Riley for substituting "bluegills'' for "bluebills'' in a story Kehborn phoned in about a duck opener (resulting, I was told, in a headline that said something to the effect of "Writer shoots limit of bluegills''). Kehborn oversaw what was billed as the world's largest fishing contest, with results published each summer Sunday.
Hennessy also was at the Pioneer Press and Dispatch before migrating to the Minneapolis Star. Which was that newspaper's gain, because Hennessy, with his ever-present bow tie and cigar, was a good and energetic writer whose clips tell of a time gone by in Minnesota. Consider, for example, his April 1978 story about the North Shore smelt run, a spring spectacle that no longer exists:
"Lake Superior smelt netters can cool it for a while. Herb Johnson, state fisheries manager at Duluth, today said that he is picking May 1 for the arrival of the spring migration. That date is more than a week later than normal.''
And from the fishing opener on Mille Lacs that year, when the lake was still the state's top walleye destination, Hennessy wrote:
"Any skeptics of earlier estimates of 25,000 opening day fishermen on the 132,000-acre lake should have been dispelled by a trip around Mille Lacs Saturday. Those who brought their own boats — and they seemed to be in the majority — were fortunate. Others found the demand for boats impossible on the sides where waters were calm enough to fish.''
Educated in fish and wildlife management, Schara was an information specialist with the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department before he signed on with the old Minneapolis Tribune in 1968 to write outdoors columns.
His arrival marked a shift in approach to the craft in Minnesota. Not only had the Tribune's editors decided they wanted a full-time outdoors writer, they were willing to fund the travel and other expenses necessary so Schara's writings could reflect what Minnesota sportsmen and -women do, whether in the Midwest, Canada, Alaska, out West or in Florida or the Caribbean.
Coinciding with the early years in what would become Schara's 40-year newspaper career, faith in government waned significantly, in part because of the Vietnam War and Watergate. This added to the distrust that already was entrenched among Americans regarding the environment.
In Minnesota, for example, fights dating to the late 1800s had raged between conservationists and legislators over government-funded wetland drainage, while nationally, Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring,'' published in 1962, had for the first time linked the nation's chemical industry with malfeasant public officials, whose collusion occurred at the expense of the environment and citizens' health.
For these reasons among others, including a growing realization that the nation's resources were finite and subjected to evermore pressure, throughout the '70s, '80s and '90s and extending to today, government actions — or inactions — regarding fish, game, wildlife and the environment increasingly became fair game for outdoors writers and broadcasters.
These days the Star Tribune has two full-time outdoors writers, Doug Smith and me, and a bevy of qualified freelancers who contribute to these pages, especially to Outdoors Weekend, which we publish Fridays.
The paper also has a long history of employing talented environmental writers, a tradition that continues today.
Also, the Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency arguably employ better educated and more qualified managers and scientists than at any time in history.
For those reasons and others, some environmental progress has been made. People, for example, don't often throw beverage cans out of car windows, like they once did. Recycling is well accepted and widely practiced. And a greater share of Minnesota's population might be directly involved with conservation, or concerned about conservation, than residents of any other state.
Yet, and still, we haven't figured out a way to stop what increasingly appears to be the continuing degradation of key resources, water and wildlife habitat among them.
Here's an outdoors story:
I spent most of 1988 documenting threats to North America's ducks and, as part of that reporting, one very early morning I was alongside a couple of federal agents, hiding in Louisiana's vast coastal wetlands.
In the dark, we were crouched in canoe-like pirogues, swatting mosquitoes, watching duck blinds the agents knew had been baited with corn, and now we were waiting for the hunters to appear and start shooting.
When that happened, the hunters — poachers, actually — toppled about 50 ducks. Then we paddled out from our hiding spots, and the agents showed their badges.
One agent, Dave Hall, had begun a program, Poachers to Preachers, and he videotaped the eldest hunter as he questioned him; a guy Hall had busted previously.
"Tell me,'' Hall said, his camera running, "What's will it take to have you come out here in the marsh, shoot a legal limit of ducks, and stop at the legal limit?''
The guy considered the question.
Then he said, "Raise the limit?''
I've never forgotten that response.
Because it's what we all do, isn't it?
When one clean-water loss or wetland loss or grassland loss piles onto another, or a swimming hole is lost because of summertime algae blooms, rather than confront the problem and fix it, we merely adjust upward what we will accept.
We raise the limit.
Again and again — even though today it seems evermore obvious, especially given the threat of global warming, that there's a limit to how much we can raise the limit.
What's more, notwithstanding the prescient environment and conservation warnings issued long ago by Roosevelt, Leopold and Darling, among many other "outdoors writers,'' it seems the role today of their contemporaries isn't so much to warn anew a largely indifferent populace about still more coming losses.
But it's simply — unless people wake up — to chronicle their inevitability.
Dennis Anderson firstname.lastname@example.org