The 10-year quest by sportsmen for adequate conservation funding does not give columnist Dennis Anderson and his friends the right to trump the interests of all who voted for the Legacy Amendment. Their attacks on those who disagree with their views threaten the broad coalition of conservation supporters.

Most people in the conservation community are enthusiastic about the progress being made in the restoration, acquisition and management of habitat and ecosystems, and all of us look forward to seeing wide-ranging benefits from the dedicated funding provided by the amendment's passage. The fight in the Legislature to narrow the funding guidelines back to the failed notion of the primacy of fish and game is hurtful to the cause of natural-resource conservation in Minnesota.

Anderson frames the funding issue for hunters and anglers as a matter of entitlement, but the argument is really over the interpretation of constitutional language. To the current majority of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, the constitutional language appears narrowly focused on "fish, wildlife and habitat," not on the full range of means necessary to "protect, enhance and restore."

The existing statute, drafted with the advice of a wide array of conservation experts, directs funding decisions toward protecting or preserving active, healthy ecosystems encompassing the entire web of the physical and biological world. I see nothing wrong or threatening in that, and I question the tunnel vision of those who insist that Legacy Amendment funds should support only game and fish.

Anderson and his friends argue that "protect" means only one thing: to buy land or easements. The experts say that it means everything from enforcing laws to surveying and mapping ecosystems on behalf of fish, game, and the rare and wild species with legal protection. The experts rely on the plain meaning of language: "Protect; to guard or keep from being damaged, attacked, stolen, or injured."

Natural-resource management at an ecosystem scale incorporates clean water, healthy soil, vibrant microorganisms and a diversity of plants and animals. Ecosystems define and encompass the foundation of life support on which all fish and game must rely. Ecosystem health is for the benefit of life, not just for the benefit of fish and wildlife.

I know I can't change Anderson's attitude, and I don't want to pick a fight with the council, which has done a great job, at a rapid pace, in setting the foundation and recommending allocation for the dedicated funds. But the truth is that as long as the amendment was only about walleyes, deer and ducks, it didn't have a chance in Minnesota, either at the Legislature or in the voting booth.

Jeffrey S. Broberg, Rochester, is a geologist. He is vice president of McGhie & Betts Environmental Services Inc.