Obama administration’s Minneapolis ‘listening session’ draws about 200

Minneapolis – The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers a Forest
Legacy program that is meant to protect working forests.

As DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten sees it, the problem with it and
some other federal programs is the state can’t utilize them.

“We had to create our own program and call it Forests for the
Future,” Holsten said. “It’s the same concept, but we find the
federal framework to be too controlling for our needs here in
Minnesota.”

That was part of Holsten’s message last week to federal officials
from agencies like the USDA, Environmental Protection Agency, and
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who were in town for a listening
session as part of President Barack Obama’s America’s Great
Outdoors Initiative. About 200 people attended the session.

“Through this initiative we hope to identify new opportunities to
work with Americans on a modern approach to conservation that
begins at the ground level, and to reinvigorate the national
conversation about our outdoors,” Nancy Sutley, chair of the White
House Council on Environmental Quality, said in a release
announcing the listening sessions.

Holsten said the agency is partnering less with the federal
government, which is “trying to control everything, instead of
truly partnering with us.”

“Maybe they need to do that with some states,” he said. “I get that
not everybody is where we are in terms of a conservation ethic and
robust state and local efforts to work on the ground.”

Federal officials heard from people with a variety of interests.
They heard about the need to expand opportunities to ride ATVs,
about climate change, and about getting kids involved in the
outdoors.

During breakout sessions, for example, Brad Nylin, executive
director of the Minnesota Waterfowl Association, had 20 or 30
people in his group. He didn’t know any of them.

“One thing was obvious,” he said. “We were really outnumbered on
the conservation end of it.”

Nylin talked about the need to accelerate work to restore wetlands
and grasslands in the Prairie Pothole Region. He also talked about
the importance of partnerships.

“If we didn’t partner, (MWA) wouldn’t even be in existence,” he
said. “That’s the only way to really make a difference out
there.”

Jon Schneider, Ducks Unlimited manager of Minnesota conservation
programs, talked about conflicting federal policies. Some, for
example, provide incentives for conversion of native prairie, while
others provide money to protect those prairies.

Some landowners are converting native prairies to row crops, he
said.

“We’re going to lose the heart of the Duck Factory if we’re not
careful,” he said.

Federal officials have held similar listening sessions in various
parts of the country and will report back to President Obama on the
results later this year.

When it’s all said and done, Holsten believes his theme will be a
common one.

“When they put it all up on the map, I think they are going to hear
common themes from what we are talking about,” he said. “We want
them here – they have been good partners in the past. We just need
them to be able to work with us as we start to adjust our programs
to meet our immediate needs.”

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