Eight years later and still no duck plan. Mine operators knocking on the door of the BWCA. Roadsides for wildlife — or farmers? These and other important natural resource issues will demand the attention of Minnesota conservationists in the coming year.

Duck plan — what duck plan? For eight years under the administration of commissioner Tom Landwehr, the Department of Natural Resources has not produced an updated plan to lift Minnesota out of its duck doldrums. In the same period, nongovernment agencies such as Ducks Unlimited and the Minnesota Waterfowl Association have busied themselves and their members in valiant — and successful — attempts to rebuild the state's wetland habitat base. The DNR, meanwhile, has been dusting off its 50-year duck plan in hopes of delivering something meaningful. Its failure to do so gives credence to those who believe that, unlike most Minnesota waterfowlers, the agency has given up on ducks.

Deer management in southeast Minnesota now includes images such as this, of a helicopter hovering above a whitetail in hopes of capturing it to further the DNR's study — and possible containment — of chronic wasting disease. All of this comes at great expense and even greater risk to Minnesota's whitetail population. Are commercial deer farms that harbor domestic elk and whitetails to blame? Evidence suggests a strong maybe. Yet the Legislature continues to balk at requiring double fencing around these operations, or buying them out altogether.

Governor-elect Tim Walz has billed himself as a master consensus builder, which will come in handy in the coming legislative session and beyond as Minnesota agriculture interests continue to demand payment for required streamside and ditch buffers, and demand as well the right to mow roadsides when they want and assign to their possession any accumulated hay — even if the roadside in question is publicly owned. Conservationists argue CRP and other set-aside programs are sufficient to cover buffer costs and that delayed mowing of roadsides will aid important pollinator and wildlife-nesting habitat. Rock, meet hard place.

Threatened over the years by logging, floatplanes and, some say, by boat motors and snowmobiles, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness has nonetheless never seen the type of industrial activity that will lie at its doorstep if large-scale precious-metal mining is undertaken — as many observers believe it will be in northeast Minnesota, and soon. Oddly, Minnesota hunters and anglers who usually are quick to defend natural resources have largely sat out the BWCA/mining conflict, a move they might regret, given the region's unique wilderness character and plentiful fish.

A lot of smart things have been said and written by a lot of smart people about the relationship between wolves and deer, and how — theoretically — one balances out the other. Many of the same smart people have talked about the need to keep deer populations down in moose country, so the former don't infect the latter with brainworm. At least some of these same people don't give a rip if any deer inhabit the northeast. But certainly not among these are the tens of thousands of whitetail hunters in the region who have invested considerable money and time in deer camps that increasingly are seeing fewer and fewer animals swinging from their meat poles. Looking for balance, these hunters argue their interests and traditions should be considered at least equally with those of wolves and moose.