Unless they change strategies, conservation and wildlife groups distraught over the constant stream of legislative assaults on the environment should expect still more disappointments in the near and distant future.

The reason: The world’s resources are finite, while the number of people and commercial interests (especially industrial agriculture) that want a bigger and bigger slice of those resources continues to grow, in some cases exponentially.

The chipping away of environmental protections by the Legislature in the session just ended provides a case in point, specifically in the Agriculture and Environment Omnibus Budget bill, which was approved by both houses, with a final measure crafted by a conference committee.

The measure likely will be signed by Gov. Mark Dayton, despite objections from the Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP), among other conservation advocates.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Dayton urging him to veto the bill, MEP cited as particularly loathsome its abolishment of the Citizens’ Board of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).

Established in 1967 to monitor the agency’s work and to help minimize political influences on the MPCA and its charge to protect the state’s land and water, the board has long been viewed by advocates as an important opportunity for citizen input and activism.

And it was. At least potentially. But in all likelihood, it’s gone.

Another disappointment in the same bill: An agreement between agricultural and environmental interests with the potential to expand perennial crops across a greater share of Minnesota’s landscape was weakened.

Such crops — grasses — help hold soil together, reducing erosion and farmland runoff, while conserving organic matter and providing wildlife habitat as part of a more balanced landscape.

Conservation matters are no less grim nationally.

Particularly irksome is an ongoing effort by congressional Republicans to sell off public lands, especially in the West. The apparent intent is just what it would seem: to create a windfall for private interests at the expense of the public.

Additionally, on Tuesday, in the U.S. Senate, a subcommittee heard testimony on a bill called the Federal Water Quality Protection Act — a title, not unexpectedly, that intends to do just the opposite of what it implies by undercutting attempts to protect more of the nation’s headwater streams and wetlands.

Also this week, on Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee announced funding targets for federal appropriations bills. No surprise here: Conservation got whacked, inciting 1,100 environment and conservation groups that have joined under an umbrella group called America’s Voice for Conservation, Recreation and Preservation.

“The North American model of wildlife conservation is the envy of the world, but our sporting heritage is at risk,’’ said spokesman Whit Fosburgh, CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

Consider also a rant released recently by the Minnesota organization Friends of the Headwaters now making the rounds on the Internet.

“The real radicals,’’ said Friends president Richard Smith, joined by others, “are the people who put profits above everything else, who can’t wait to carve muscle from bone as this great American experiment in self-governance slowly collapses under the weight of their greed and ignorance.’’

• • •

Complaining is all well and good and occasionally cathartic.

But it hasn’t meaningfully advanced conservation yet. And it won’t.

Here’s what should happen in Minnesota:

• MEP, The Nature Conservancy, Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, the Ruffed Grouse Society, the Minnesota Waterfowl Association and other groups that lay claim to the state’s conservation message and agenda need to emerge blinking from their organizational cocoons and form a common marketing group. Dues tossed into a pot could be computed formulaically to fund a professionally developed plan whose intent over time would be to develop a critical mass of Minnesota voters who more passionately understand and adhere to a conservation ethic.

• The same groups need to develop aggressive and effective programs and policies to recruit and cultivate future legislators and policymakers with a conservation bent. Either that or conservation will continue to lose, in St. Paul and in Washington, to lawmakers whose interests and loyalties lie elsewhere.

Bottom line: What conservationists are doing now isn’t working. Either they change, or they’ll lose again and again and again. Until all is lost.

Including hope.


Dennis Anderson danderson@startribune.com