In dedicated funding battles, Gary Botzek gave a young reporter hope

Botzek, who was the 2011 Outdoor News Person of the Year, was a driving force in the eventual passage of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment that Minnesota voters approved in 2008. (Photo by Joe Albert)

I was two or three years into what became a 12-year run at Outdoor News when I was at the state Capitol late one night. It was the session’s final day, and it appeared the Legislature might finally approve a bill placing dedicated funding on the ballot.

This was before Twitter was a thing, so a bunch of tired people just roamed the hallways, waiting for any tidbit of information. As the clock ticked closer and closer to midnight, it became apparent dedicated funding wasn’t going to happen.

This occurred at least a decade ago, and emotions were running really high, so I won’t name names, but I’ll never forget the woman who walked up to me, obviously upset, and yelled, “You can blame your Republican friends for this!” I don’t think she was necessarily upset with me, and I don’t think she meant friends in a guys-you-drink-beer-with kind of way, but I was in my 20s, fairly new to the job, and got a little flustered.

The outdoor media at the time were pretty much all supportive of the idea of constitutionally dedicated funding for natural resources, and I was no exception. I recall feeling bummed out that night when it didn’t pass (it didn’t get to a vote), and given the woman’s reaction, I wondered if it was the end of the road. So the next morning, I called Gary Botzek. He’d been a longtime lobbyist and Capitol insider working on behalf of conservation and natural resources, and I’d come to know him because I wrote so often about the Legislature.

I can’t recall exactly what he said, but it was along the lines of, “There’s always next year.” Maybe he didn’t even believe what he was saying, but it gave hope to a naïve young man. All these years later, I understand that things are never really dead at the Legislature, but on that day I trusted in Botzek’s experience and wisdom and came to believe that despite the setback, dedicated funding would get done. And it did.

There’s been some ink spilled about Botzek in recent weeks with the announcement that he’s stepped down from the Minnesota Conservation Federation (where he was executive director). But stepping down from the group doesn’t mean he’s walking away from conservation advocacy. And that’s a good thing, because we need people like Botzek who have wisdom that comes from experience and the ability to put things in perspective. At the same time, we need people to step up and take on the battles that Botzek and others have been fighting for years. These guys have done incredible work and we can’t expect to continue enjoying the fruits of their labor forever without putting in some hard work ourselves.

People like Botzek have accomplished a lot of great things, but they’ve also created a roadmap for others who must start bearing a greater burden in carrying the flag for conservation.

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