Rally organizers hope to convey serious message Dennis Anderson, Star Tribune
March 27, 2005 ANDY0327
When Minnesota hunters, anglers and environmentalists convene Saturday on the state Capitol mall in St. Paul to rally for ducks, wetlands and clean water, history will be made: The event will mark the first time state sporting and environmental groups -- often distant from one another, if not in opposition -- stand united, seeking conservation and enhancement of Minnesota's natural resources.
Dubbed the 2005 Ducks, Wetlands and Clean Water Rally, the congregation of what likely will be thousands of Minnesotans will represent the conclusion of more than three months of planning by more than 35 organizations.
Yet rally organizer Dave Zentner of Duluth insists if people only come to share the day, purchase a commemorative cap, T-shirt, sweatshirt or jacket and hear a handful of people talk, an opportunity will be missed.
And nothing will change.
Cementing the groups in their effort to inspire real change in the way Minnesota's natural resources are managed is a common understanding that the state is in deep trouble. In parts of its farmlands, more than 80 percent of its wetlands have been drained; rivers and lakes are polluted; sprawl threatens more and more of the countryside surrounding the Twin Cities; and ducks -- ask any of Minnesota's more than 115,000 waterfowlers -- seem nowhere to be found.
Thus the Ducks, Wetlands and Clean Water Rally, with its layout and schedule intended to be family-friendly and educational -- and its message serious and important.
What's at stake? Zentner and others associated with the rally believe nothing less than the state's soul.
Since long before white settlement, Minnesota's lakes, rivers, forests and prairies have defined its people. Evidence of this is everywhere still today, from the number of residents who own cabins to the high percentage of Minnesotans who hunt, fish, camp, boat, hike, bike and feed birds.
Yet in many respects the state has been loved to death. Where once there were lake and river shorelines of deeply rooted grasses and tall trees, there now -- too often -- appear the finely trimmed lawns customarily associated with suburbs.
Similarly degraded, over the years, have been other natural habitats.
Many rally organizers believe that without significant changes in the way the state manages and conserves its resources, the future will unfold as it already has in states such as Ohio, Indiana and Illinois; places where, largely, Canada geese and white-tailed deer represent the spectrum of remaining wild critters. Organizers also are convinced the only way out of this jam is to join hands -- environmentalist to hunter to angler -- to educate the public about the nature and severity of the problem, thereby hoping to institute change.
In the short-term, goals of rally organizers include:
• Secure funding in the bonding bill being considered by the Legislature for the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) and Wildlife Management Area (WMA) acquisition at the $12 million level recommended by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
• Secure dedicated long-term funding for wildlife and habitat.
• Implement a comprehensive state duck recovery plan and wetlands initiative.
In the long-term, the groups will:
• Conduct an annual ducks/wetlands summit.
• Continue to engage and empower sportsmen and citizens in legislative and natural resource issues.
• Seek to protect, restore and enhance Minnesota's shallow lakes and to improve and enforce state wetland conservation legislation.
• Seek reauthorization of conservation provisions of the 2007 federal farm bill and increased appropriations for the federal National Wetlands Conservation Act.
Yet the chance that any significant change will occur is slight if the current "model" of delivering conservation in Minnesota isn't changed.
Presently, the Department of Natural Resources, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and even the state Board of Water and Soil Resources often are hogtied -- financially, politically and otherwise -- by the state's legislators and governors, no matter who they might be at any given time.
What's needed is a system like that in Missouri, where an independent citizens commission directs the state's Department of Conservation; where that commission and that department must by dint of the state constitution act in the best interest of conservation; and where a portion of the state's sales tax is dedicated to conservation.
Additionally, Zentner said, new ways of engaging the "average" Minnesotan in conservation must be developed.
Other rally notes:
• Attendees are encouraged to wear camouflage and bring their duck calls.
• The rally website is www.wetlandsrally.org. On the site, available for purchase by credit card, are rally commemorative jackets, caps, sweatshirts and T-shirts. Also on the site are maps of the Capitol complex, including parking areas that will open and free of charge Saturday.
• Funds raised in excess of those needed to pay for the rally will be dedicated to a wetland/grassland habitat development project at Lake Maria in Murray County in western Minnesota.
• A kids' casting pond also will be on the grounds, as will exhibits of many of the supporting groups.
• The rally's formal program begins at 1 p.m. and will feature men and women of various ages and backgrounds telling of their affection for, and experiences among and with, Minnesota ducks, wetlands and waters.
• Retired Vikings coach Bud Grant, Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson (DFL-Willmar) and Gov. Tim Pawlenty will be among speakers.
• Near the Cabela's bus (Cabela's is the event sponsor, with Gander Mountain and other corporations also providing significant cash, products and services), visitors can contribute to the rally's wetland/grassland restoration project.
SATURDAY | DUCKS, WETLANDS AND CLEAN WATER RALLY
When: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday
Where: Capitol Mall, St. Paul
Related activities: Youth duck-calling contest at 9 a.m.; two-man team duck-calling contest at 10:30 a.m.; three-person title contest featuring three past state duck-calling champions at 12:30 p.m.; program, 1 p.m.; drawing for door prizes at 2:30 p.m.
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