The Feb. 18 commentary “Everyone loses if Lebanon Hills master plan is approved” is an understandable viewpoint for a local resident, but parochial in its overall perspective.
The future success of conserving the natural resources across the nation lies ultimately in the ability to inspire more Americans to connect with the outdoors and nature, and to become caretakers of the environment. Across America, citizens are spending less time outdoors, and becoming more ethnically and racially diverse. That’s true of Minnesotans as well, particularly in the Twin Cities area, and probably also in the area around Lebanon Hills. With more than 80 percent of Americans now living in urban areas, the challenge is to make nature relevant in their daily lives.
Building a conservation constituency requires engaging with this ever-growing urban population, who will become a majority of future voters and decisionmakers. Without public awareness and support, natural resources across the nation will suffer. Greater and easier public access to and through metro nature areas — parks, preserves and wildlife refuges — on surfaced trails like that being proposed for Lebanon Hills is important.
Nature parks, preserves and wildlife areas close to highly populated urban areas provide the greatest opportunity to engage new and diverse audiences, provided there is safe and inviting access like surfaced trails that can be used by a greater variety of visitors, including the disabled.
Many areas in the region are kept 80 percent undeveloped and largely unbroken by man-made structures, trails, etc. Our metro area is blessed with an abundance of wildlife species, as evidenced by the presence of all types of terrestrial wildlife as well as numerous eagle nests, heron rookeries, etc. In addition, our metro area has three major river systems protected by federal designation, such as the Mississippi National River & Recreation Area, the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway and the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. This doesn’t exist anywhere else in the nation.
Strategically building an urban conservation constituency ultimately benefits broader conservation activities/actions by nurturing increased support among all audiences. But it is going to take various entities, including “Wilderness in the City” and other residents around Lebanon Hills, to achieve greater conservation of wildlife, plants and habitats, which is essential to maintaining a healthy planet for people.
Edward Crozier, of Burnsville, is the founder and retired manager of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.