Group calls for 50-year state conservation plan

By Joe Albert Staff Writer

St. Paul — More than 1 million acres of farmland and natural
areas will be developed during the next 25 years to accommodate a
state population that’s expected to increase by 1.2 million.

At the same time, conservation spending from the state General
Fund is at its lowest level in 30 years.

The convergence, according to Nancy Gibson, puts Minnesota on a
“collision course.”

Gibson, former chair of the citizens advisory committee to the
Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources, now is working with
a newly created group called the Minnesota Campaign for
Conservation.

The group, which includes representatives from a variety of
state conservation organizations and agencies, issued its first
report this week – Minnesota Calling: Conservation Facts, Trends
and Challenges – which included the above statistics, as well as a
call for development of a 50-year vision for the state, and a plan
to implement that vision.

The 50-page report, a year in the works, is the starting point
in creating that vision and documents historical trends in the
state, as well as what it faces in the future.

“This report is not a woeful collection of Minnesota’s better
days gone by,” wrote David Hartwell, chair of the CFC steering
committee, in the report’s introduction. “It is a clarion call to
all Minnesotans that tomorrow is here. And we aren’t prepared. We
aren’t even preparing to prepare.”

In formulating and writing the report, the CFC concluded the
state is on the “wrong track” when it comes to conservation, and
that there’s “too much complacency from average Minnesotans about
their environment and conservation in this state,” said John Curry,
CFC director.

The report pulls together the challenges the state faces – rapid
population growth and more pressure on lakes, forests, and scenic
areas among them – and highlights trends such as the loss of
wetlands, declining water quality, and fragmentation of forests and
prairies.

“These trends really do call Minnesotans back to action,” Curry
said. The report and ensuing planning has “the ability to galvanize
Minnesotans.”

Wisconsin – as well as other states – has a similar long-range
vision for how the state will look in the future. However,
Minnesota doesn’t have one, and its population is projected to
increase by more than 28 percent between 2000 and 2030, whereas
Wisconsin will grow by about 15 percent, Michigan by about 8
percent, according to the report.

The undeveloped land that will be developed to support the new
residents is equal to the combined size of four of Minnesota’s
larger counties: Hennepin, Ramsey, Dakota, and Carver.

“Right now if you think about Minnesota’s development strategy,
it is developers looking at maps and picking and choosing the
parcels they want to develop,” Curry said. However, local
communities, conservationists, and environmentalists don’t have
enough input, he said.

“We hope to give these people a choice in how the community is
developed in the future,” Curry said. “We acknowledge that (the
development) is going to happen. We just want to grow in a way
that’s sustainable for our natural resources.”

The next step is to start working with local conservationists.
The state will be broken into 14 ecological zones, and each will
produce a vision of where it wants to be conservation-wise in 50
years. A Feb. 23 meeting with 100 stakeholders will start the
planning process, Curry said, and people from around the state will
help formulate the visions. Later, an Internet campaign will seek
even more local help.

The visions, in part, will spell out where development should
be, what wetlands, forests, prairies, and other habitats should be
preserved, and where industry should be.

“Those things need to be done with local stakeholders,” Curry
said. “It can’t be the DNR telling us what to do from Lafayette
Road in St. Paul.”

More information on the Minnesota Campaign for Conservation, as
well as a copy of the report, is available at
www.campaignforconservation.com.

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