Garry Leaf, 51, is executive director of sportsmenforchange.org, and a lead volunteer in the effort to pass a constitutional amendment in November to dedicate funding for Minnesota natural resources stewardship, including hunting and fishing habitat.
 
Ken Martin, 35, is campaign manager for Vote Yes Minnesota (www.yesformn.org), a coalition of more than 350 organizations that have joined to support the amendment.
 
In the interview below, Martin and Leaf discuss the ongoing efforts of their groups to inform Minnesotans about the amendment, and about upcoming public awareness events on behalf of the amendment, including the State Fair and a "Sportsmen's Bash'' Sept. 7 near Red Wing.

Q Election day is about 75 days from now. Are you comfortable with the progress you've made in telling Minnesotans about the constitutional amendment proposal that will be on the ballot in November to promote conservation in Minnesota?

Martin: It's going well. We've had great conversations with people around the state. Summer is nearing its end and people are starting to pay more attention to the campaign issues, including this one.

Q What kind of presence will supporters of the amendment have at the State Fair?

Martin: Big. Our booth is in the shape of a giant bobber. We'll have a fishing contest for kids. And a casting contest. We'll also have a Guitar Hero contest for older kids and college kids. The winner will get a signed guitar from the world champion. We'll pass out literature of all sorts and talk to as many people as we can. Of course, we'll have special guests, including sportsmen celebrities.

Q Sportsmenforchange.org headed up the awareness effort for the amendment among hunters and anglers over the past two weeks at Game Fair. How did that go?

Leaf: There's a strong level of support among sportsmen for the amendment among those who know about it. But many still don't know much about it. And some don't know about it at all. Yet everyone who hunts and fishes has a lot at stake, as does the state as a whole. On average, Minnesota anglers spend more than $1,100 each year to fish, and hunters spent about the same. They won't do that if opportunities continue to diminish.

Q What opposition is there to the amendment?

Martin: We don't hear a lot. Some oppose increasing the sales tax, though it would only be 3/8 of 1 percent. The bigger issue is awareness. Once people know about it and what is being proposed, they're generally supportive.

Leaf: Among sportsmen, the big issue is, "Where will the money go? How will it be spent?'' For the record, the money is not going to the Department of Natural Resources. It will be overseen by a citizen-legislative council -- I'm talking about the fish and game money here -- and a lot of it will be available as matching grants to local habitat groups to do local projects. Minnesota sportsmen are comfortable with that idea, and with the idea of the council. They've been the ones to fund conservation for all these years in Minnesota and throughout America, and it's an idea that is familiar to them.

Q What is the overall goal of the amendment, for those unfamiliar with it?

Martin: The goal is to protect the things we love in Minnesota. Our quality of life is directly tied to the quality of our natural resources and the recreation they offer. Our outdoors are vital to our way of life. We must act now to protect the places we hike, bike, fish and hunt for our children and grandchildren. Forty percent of our lakes and streams in Minnesota are polluted, over 1 million acres of natural areas, forests and hunting land are projected to be lost in the next 25 years. We need to Vote Yes before it's too expensive or too late and these resources disappear forever.

Q Sportsmenforchange.org, Pheasants Forever, the Minnesota Waterfowl Association, Ducks Unlimited and other groups are holding a "Sportsmen's Bash'' at Treasure Island Casino near Red Wing on Sept. 7. What's the purpose?

Leaf: We want to have good family fun for those who come out. Hours are 2-8 p.m., and the Lamont Cranston Band will play. We want to use the event to increase awareness about the amendment, and how important it is to Minnesotans and the future of our state. We'll have a bunch of prizes and items for bidding on silent auctions, including an ATV.

Q If the amendment fails, what then?

Martin: We know that over the next 30 years there will be increasing pressure on the general fund to take care of health care and social services. Costs of all kinds will continue to skyrocket, and there will be a continual squeezing out of natural resources funding and parks funding from the state budget.

Leaf: Bleak is the word, I agree, if the amendment doesn't pass. Minnesota conservation groups are overwhelmed by the various problems on the landscape affecting game and fish and habitat and all natural resources. The state's conservation system, frankly, is broken. It's a 1930s model. We haven't done anything since then to modernize our care for the environment, except make matters worse. Hunters and anglers can no longer foot the bill themselves. Without this amendment, we're all sunk.

Q Lack of information about the amendment is a challenge. How do you intend to reach the uninformed?

Martin: We'll continue to talk face to face to as many people as possible. At the State Fair, county fairs and other events, including the Sportsmen's Bash. We'll also do a traditional advertising campaign, using radio, direct mail and billboards. We'll talk to voters face to face, and through the air waves.

Q What's the budget?

Martin: We'll spend several million dollars before it's over. Much of it will be spent on a formal advertising campaign on TV and elsewhere.

Q Can individuals donate?

Martin: Yes. They can do it online by logging on to www.yesformn.org. Or they can call us at our St. Paul office at 651-644-2088.

Leaf: Helping out is the best investment people can make in their state, and in their children's futures. In Minnesota, tourism is a $10 billion-a-year business and ranks right up there with agriculture. People visit this state because of its natural resources, which create around 244,000 jobs. Some of our largest manufacturers are in the "outdoor'' business, including Arctic Cat, Crestliner, Lund and Alumacraft. Also, look at the big retailers, including Gander Mountain, Cabela's, REI, Joe's, Dick's and Sportsman's Warehouse. That's not even counting the many resorts and outfitters.

Martin: A challenge to us is that we're on the ballot the same year we're having hotly contested presidential and U.S. Senate races. A lot of new voters will come out, and we need to make sure they're aware of the amendment, and that they vote yes.

Don't forget, a failure to vote on the amendment is the same as voting no. We need just over 50 percent of all people who actually cast ballots in the election to vote yes.

Q What's the breakdown in terms of cost of the amendment to people?

Martin: The average family would pay less than $5 a month, for a total of about $56 a year. Looked at another way, the average person would pay less than 4 cents on a $10 purchase.

Q What can the average person do to support the amendment?

Martin: Visit our website at www.YesForMN.org to sign up for volunteer activities or to contribute money. We have lots of great ways for people to roll up their sleeves and help, but one of the easiest thing people can do if they support this amendment is to talk up the amendment, tell their family and friends about it and increase awareness through word of mouth.