Last week on this page I wrote that Minnesota is closer to a conservation and environment crisis than most people understand. Hunter and angler numbers are declining. Yet license sales to these traditional outdoor users fund about 80 percent of conservation nationwide. Kids in increasing numbers relative to their population are turning a deaf ear to these activities. And urban sprawl, heavy industry such as mining and intensive agriculture threaten wild lands. I asked readers for ideas to combat these trends. Samples of the many responses I received are below, condensed and edited for brevity.
We need to teach conservation in our schools — to educate kids about their connection with land and water, fish and wildlife and their importance in the balance of nature. We need to treat water as an asset, not a curse, and to develop a better policy of water conservation. We also need a strategic plan for land use that has a blend of agriculture and sustainable natural lands that can provide habitat and land and water benefits. Finally, science is our best answer to wildlife diseases and invasive species, and we need to fund research accordingly. Solving these problems is possible.
Lance Ness, Golden Valley
Declines in outdoor enthusiasts are correlated with declines in ecological integrity. Being in an overgrown woods, a eutrophic duck blind or buffer strip dominated by weedy species, bare soils and fouled waters, watching for a sick deer or skinny wood duck while picking off ticks isn’t my idea of quality time. So far, our primary solution is acquisition of more land set aside to achieve better land health. This outdated narrative is flawed. The public will never own enough land to offset current land use threats. Also, due to resource constraints, proper management of existing public lands is lacking. One solution is a Working Lands program, both on public and private lands. All lands outside of “true forest” need to employ some form of work, or resistance, or they rapidly decline in health. The historic majority of Minnesota lands were worked by grazing animals, which facilitated a diverse biota and healthy soils and water. Whether waterfowler, upland game hunter or wild flower enthusiast, restoration of grazing is critical to obtain and maintain land health.
Steve Thomforde, Minneapolis
Concerning waterfowl habitat management, are there no longer any benefits to “pothole blasting?’’ Many wetlands are too choked with cattails to hold any attraction to waterfowl. It would seem that a method of setting and/or detonating ordnance by land, plane, helicopter or even drones would be plausible. The resulting pockets would create areas for swimming, nesting, feeding and loafing that could be used for waterfowl and other animals.
Russ Eigen, Annandale
Law enforcement must be expanded to achieve progress regulating invasive species. It’s too late to keep them out of the state, but we can limit their expansion if we get serious about limiting transport to unaffected areas. The DNR also needs to reach out to nontraditional users by staffing an outreach section and taking seriously its recommendations how to interest nontraditional users and those who don’t currently use natural resources. The agency and traditional users need to recognize that the old emphasis on hooks and bullets must change and enlarge to include the new breed of nontraditional. Nontraditional users must be willing to help fund the department either through user fees and/or support natural resources by general tax revenues.
Mike Grupa, DNR Enforcement Division, 1970-1999
In our busy world it’s hard to reach people about the importance of conservation. I asked my 12-year-old son to read last Sunday’s Star Tribune Outdoors page about our conservation crisis and he said, “I wasn’t aware of this. You can’t solve something you don’t know is a problem.” When discussing proposed solutions, we should include kids.
Todd Kerkow, Isanti County
The growing sport of trap shooting is a great sign that some of today’s youth are finding their way into the field. But if there is no habitat, there will be no game. When you take a kid fishing or hunting and get shut out, even the most enthusiastic parents will throw up their arms.
Gary and Lana Lee, Maple Grove
Nature education in the schools is essential. The folks at Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge offer one such program with the help of their Friends nonprofit support group and in partnership with local teachers. A short video of their program is at https://youtu.be/1emrRTYwEjc.
Friends of Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge
We need to stop connecting funding of the Department of Natural Resources to the number of hunters and anglers. Too many variables affect fish and game populations and therefore hunter and angler license sales. DNR funding should be independent of this issue, and instead should be funded by a broader tax.
Jean Johnson, Prior Lake
There has been an increase in high school trap shooting, fishing and archery team sports. Perhaps this could be expanded to include upland bird and deer hunting. Getting kids interested in the outdoors is key.
Ron Murray, Staples
I didn’t start hunting until I was an adult, and if I didn’t have a friend and the couple who bred our hunting dogs to guide me, I never would have stuck with it. Hunting has reinvigorated my passion for the woods and prairies. My dogs have taught me more about woodcock and grouse habitat than I ever would have learned on my own. Yet I realize that if conservation improvements aren’t made, I won’t have predictable wild bird populations to work my dogs on!
Will Bomier, Mahtowa
What about tapping into the bike and mountain bike riders? With all the trails and parks that have been built over the past 20 years, many more people are riding bikes and enjoying the nature and forests they ride through. Maybe there should be a voluntary, annual permit of $25. I think this group is conservation-minded and if the need was presented in the right way, they would help. I know I would.
Julie Kolbow, Chanhassen
How about a special tax on bird seed, bird houses, feeders and baths? Also, there could be a users fee for non-hunters using wildlife management areas. Those with a valid hunting license would be exempt.
Don J. Dinndorf, St. Augusta
Outdoor recreation should be promoted in the immigrant and non-white population. Recruiting mentors and volunteers to role-model these activities would be a good starting point.
Mark Butala, Stillwater
Governor Walz is advocating legalization of marijuana. I would be in favor of this only if 10 to 20 percent of related tax revenue is dedicated to education and natural resources. The governor has also proposed a gas tax. Add an extra cent toward natural resources. Combating emissions is related to natural resource management, after all.
Michael Jacobson, retired Anoka County superintendent of parks maintenance
Just like a “State of the State” message given by the governor each year, there should be a “State of the State’s Resources” given every five years. This report would contain recommendations on what needs to be done to protect the “health of the resource base” the next five years and beyond.
Terence H. Cooper, soil science professor emeritus, University of Minnesota
You have to get to kids early before they become addicted to communication devices. Remember, “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute?” A similar slogan would remind young people about the importance of conservation.
Tom Obst, Forest Lake
Is a tax on camping attire and gear, along with skis and snowshoes, possible?
Loren Brabec, Braham
We should add camping, hunting, fishing, swimming and other outdoor activities to the core curriculum of grade school through high school as well as college. But reversing this trend depends on having fish and wildlife. You have to have something to hunt or fish, or people won’t go.
Daniel M. Fix, St. Paul
Why not add an outdoors or nature public service requirement to high school curricula?
Randy Holland, Little Falls
I am the retired director of Eastman Nature Center with the Three Rivers Park District. My colleagues and I have spent our lives trying to get more people interested in and concerned about nature and conservation. Here are my conclusions after 35 years in the field: To increase conservation awareness, we need to meet people where they are, meaning at shopping malls, city and county parks and events and concerts — beyond the obvious bait shops and outdoor gear stores. We also should post billboards on freeways on the main routes Up North and mandate that all schoolchildren visit an environmental education center. All kids start their lives being interested in nature. Then electronics and organized sports take over. Feed on their early enthusiasm and get them outside doing activities and learning about animals and plants and the environmental issues that exist.
Lee Ann Landstrom, St. Louis Park
Compiled by Dennis Anderson