The recent death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia while on a hunting trip to Texas is reason again for Minnesotans to consider societal changes that are fast accelerating here and nationwide, and that threaten, in ways subtle and overt, our shared natural resources.

The reason: Notwithstanding Scalia’s fairly public hunting and fishing interests, or those of a relative handful of others in positions of power and influence who spend time outdoors, particularly as hunters or anglers, ever fewer leaders and agenda-setters share these pastimes and the lifestyles and conservation interests they support.

Indisputably this is true nationwide, especially on the East and West coasts. But it’s also true in Minnesota. Witness the Legislature, which has evolved into a hotbed of urban members with urban interests, mind-sets and priorities — this in a state that, relative to most, is a sportsmen’s (and women’s) paradise.

The cost to Minnesota and the nation of these and related societal changes is steep and will grow more so.

No doubt many Twin Cities residents don’t care whether the state has pheasants, ducks, moose, deer, walleyes or trout. But they should care about the water, land and other resources these critters require.

Because the same water, land and other resources support them.

Two digressions:

• Though warranting a fuller discussion at another time, the rising tide of bicycle riders, runners and other outdoor fitness buffs cannot and will not fill the yawning conservation void left by the nation’s decreasing number of hunters, anglers and others with similar interests, this last a byproduct of the nation’s urbanization.

This is true not only because, as has been frequently referenced, hunters and anglers pay the bulk of U.S. resource conservation through license fees and federal excise taxes on equipment they buy — everything from shotgun shells to rifles, fishing rods to lures.

More important, it’s true because the workout crowd participates in activities that, however intermittently social or however often conducted “outdoors,” are nonetheless substantially intended to benefit themselves alone. And in most cases their self-absorption fests can be, and usually are, undertaken independent of the need for shared natural resources, e.g., healthy lands and waters.

• Validation by the broader society — or lack thereof — of hunters and anglers and their shared need for healthy land and water is not dependent alone on the abundance of these traditionalists. Nor will the hundreds of millions of dollars hunters and anglers raise for conservation and/or the habitat work they undertake impress the broader populace. Society is largely ignorant of these efforts, and happily so.

Confirmation of the value and importance of traditional outdoor lifestyles to society is dependent instead, to the greatest degree, on the visibility and stature of political, business and other leaders who participate in these activities, are experienced in them or are at least sympathetic to them.

Such leadership often spells the difference between conservation initiatives standing still or moving ahead.

In this respect, Minnesota is holding its own. For now.

Example: Gov. Mark Dayton gets it, about conservation, because as a kid he enjoyed outdoor activities with his family, including hunting and fishing.

Absent Dayton, Minnesota wouldn’t have had a Pheasant Summit, which led to the state’s new waterway-buffer law, which will help clean the state’s rivers and streams, which laid the groundwork for the governor’s water summit next Saturday in St. Paul.

Additionally, it was the governor who lit a match under the Department of Natural Resources, resulting in the agency’s accelerated management of Mille Lacs walleyes.


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Fact: Minnesota’s conservation leaders are growing old.

Fact: Minnesota needs new, young, dedicated conservation leaders, particularly those who understand how effective conservation functions, and what needs to be done to sustain it.

Fact: Minnesota needs politicians, business executives and other thought leaders who get it sufficiently to lend their energy, connections, resources and critical thinking to development of sound conservation policy.

Fact: Minnesota won’t achieve these goals unless the state’s many conservation, environment and wildlife groups stop gazing at their navels and start cultivating leaders to serve in key positions, including in the governor’s office and the Legislature.

Fact: Unless a new, statewide conservation delivery system is developed that engages local folks in grass-roots land and water stewardship, the next 50 years will be even more unkind to Minnesota resources than the last 50. And if the DNR elects not to help in this effort, the agency should be circumvented.

Scalia, born in 1936 in New Jersey, penned a lot of important legal decisions (he was among four dissenting justices in the 1999 Mille Lacs case, decided 5-4). But one of his most valued personal decisions was to cultivate in himself and others a late-blooming interest in hunting and fishing.

One spark occurred when Scalia’s eldest son married a Louisiana woman whose father was an avid hunter.

“I got in with them, and I got into goose hunting, duck hunting, redfish fishing — it has been a great addition to my later years,” he told New York magazine some years ago. “It gets me outside the Beltway with people of the sort I had never known before. They could live in the woods. Give ’em a gun, they could survive in the woods on their own.”

Though a conservative Reagan appointee, Scalia regularly hunted with Obama appointee Justice Elena Kagan.

In a 2013 article in the Atlantic, Kagan said: “I shoot birds with him … two or three times a year now. He said to me, ‘It’s time for big-game hunting.’ And we actually went out to Wyoming this past fall to shoot deer and antelope. And we did.”

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Scalia died in his sleep while a guest at a hunting ranch in what is indisputably an exotic and very cool part of Texas.

He hadn’t shot any quail the previous day. But he had enjoyed himself, riding around the 30,000-acre compound with others who took their turns at the speedy birds.

Scalia’s wife and nine children weren’t with him when he died, a regret all around, to be sure.

But otherwise, given his enthusiasms, he seemed in a good place.