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Dennis Anderson: Foremost among problems is apathy
Dennis Anderson, Star Tribune
August 1, 2004 ANDY0801

What has become clearer with each passing year is that Minnesota's natural resources are on a path to nowhere. Picture a boat on an endless river that begins in a fertile valley before winding into a barren landscape. Minnesota is that boat, drifting now well into the barren lands -- with each of us at once on the boat and on shore, staring at ourselves as if in a mirror, immobilized.

The conundrum is that our conservation problems are well known, their effects already visible in the algae that floats on our lakes and the mercury that infects our fish, among other afflictions, big and small. Yet we, collectively, do nothing, or not enough. Some of us -- legislators and other officeholders in particular --are well aware of our predicaments, but remain silent. Others -- say the 90 percent who just want to watch TV -- are content enough to toil for the legal tender, seeking every comfort and convenience, while turning a blind eye to the fate that awaits us.

Never was this facet of the human condition more evident than last weekend in Duluth, where the 14-state Mississippi Flyway Council gathered to make season-length and bag-limit recommendations for waterfowl hunters this fall.

Individually, and off the record, many professional duck and goose managers at the meeting spoke of the dire state of the state. Not just Minnesota, but all states up and down the Mississippi River. Individually, they know well that the loss of quality wetland habitat throughout the nation in the last half-century is a harbinger of very bad things to come. But they dare not speak up too loudly, or point fingers, because, well ... "They'll be fired."

Roger Holmes, retired director of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Fish and Wildlife Division, can say that now that his working days are behind him. But most professionals still on the job must guard their careers and paychecks carefully, and therefore must be more circumspect in their assessments of just how bad things are.

Example: Rather than speaking honestly in Duluth last weekend and saying that huntable populations of ducks can't survive the continent's current rate of habitat loss, they say, well, they say this:

"If you can find ducks in any of the 60 days of the coming season, you can have six of them each day!"

Unless, of course, you hunt in the Central Flyway, where a 97-day season will be held -- or in the Pacific Flyway, where hunters will get 107 days.

One hundred and seven days.

We are, each of us, to blame. We might well be the greatest country in the world, measured many ways, but we are also the most ambitious in the manner in which we utilize our natural resources.

Whereas Manitoba and Ontario, for instance, have far more lakes than we do, and far better fisheries, with fewer people seeking fish, they nevertheless are far more protective of those resources than we -- when the converse should be true.

Similarly, in British Columbia and Alberta, angling with barbed hooks for any species of fish at any time is illegal.

Not in Minnesota.

And in all of Canada, lakeshore protection through restrictions on development is a fact of life, immutable and incontrovertible.

Not in Minnesota.

Don't talk to me about politics or political parties, because the problem here is us. For too long, deferentially (or perhaps more accurately, lazily), we have conceded to fish and wildlife agencies and wildlife groups our personal responsibility to ensure that tomorrow is better than today -- or at least no worse -- for our woods, waters and wildlife.

In Minnesota, where ducks once blackened the skies, any hope for a reversal of fortunes must lie with waterfowl hunters.

Yes, anglers -- a diverse bunch -- would join in any rising-up, as would sportsmen and women of other interests. So also those of the "greener" stripe, the moms, pops and kids who, no dummies, are long tired of seeing "no swimming" signs posted at polluted beaches.

Yet the primary responsibility for saying, "We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore," must reside with waterfowlers, particularly duck hunters. It is they who have the most to lose by implementation of the inane season rules and regulations announced last week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

It is also duck hunters who most closely meld their passion for marshes and marsh life with their civilian selves, instinctively noting on autumn mornings, whether traveling a back road or freeway, the comings and goings of anything with wings.

I recall not many years ago in Great Britain, a nation that guards its traditions far better than we, when more than 100,000 marchers gathered in London to protest threats to hunting, shooting, riding and, generally, the country way of life.

Impressively, busloads of anglers, horsemen, shooters, ferriers, estate owners and their supporters converged to say that their lives, their sporting interests and the land and water upon which each depended were inseparable, and that threats to one necessarily threatened all. More impressively, even from the Shetland Isles, some people walked the entire distance to London, so determined where they to make their point -- and to protect that which deserved protection.

I have talked many times with friends and others about what can be done in Minnesota, if anything, to save what we have left and to restore some of what has been lost.

The Legislature, unfortunately, is hopeless, and Gov. Tim Pawlenty has proven a disappointment. Both seem intent on protecting the interests of developers and others who run roughshod over our waters and land. Perhaps, as they see it, that's their job. More disappointing is their apparent lack of creativity in figuring out how to promote progress and economic growth without sending the state's natural resources down the river ... to nowhere.

Those of you reading this, whether bird watcher or bird hunter, have to ask yourself just how much you care. What this state needs is an independently funded DNR separated from the executive and legislative branches, so that the business of conservation can be conducted on its own merits.

Absent that, we not only stand immobile, watching our demise unfold -- we enable it.

Some friends up and down the flyway say a mass gathering is in order, perhaps here in Minnesota, in St. Paul at the Capitol, or perhaps in Little Rock or Baton Rouge.

Wherever it might occur, if it occurs, the point would be to spark the kind of positive change that is our obligation to ensure, and to speak for those who have no voice, among them leopard frogs, green-winged teal, mallards, muskrats -- and future generations of Minnesotans.

Maybe you think this is a good idea and want to lend your support.

Perhaps you have other ideas.

Or maybe you just want to watch TV.

Dennis Anderson is at [email protected].

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Dennis.....................AMEN...................same terrible mess here in Michigan, and Wisconsin do we start a midwestern consortium to stop this downslide? Colin Van Leuven [email protected]
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