Conservation leader Jim Klatt dies

St. Paul — Jim Klatt, a founder and president of the Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance who played key roles in two of the main sportsmen initiatives of the past 15 years, has died.

He was 71 years old.

Klatt, of St. Louis Park, suffered an aneurysm about two years ago, and had suffered complications since then.

“Jim was just a gentle soul with a genuine interest in the wild world,” said John Schroers, a friend of Klatt’s and past MOHA president. “He could enjoy the outdoors with a gun or rod or canoe paddle.”

Klatt, who grew up in Iowa, moved to Minnesota in 1990. Before that, he’d lived across the United States and beyond, spending time with the Peace Corps and working, advertising, public relations, and journalism jobs.

After he moved to Minnesota, he began working for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance.

Four years after he arrived in the state, he and others set about creating MOHA.

“We set that up, essentially, to protect hunting and fishing from anti-hunting groups like PETA, the Humane Society of the United States, and others who at that point were becoming very active in trying to ban aspects of trapping, hunting, and fishing,” Klatt said in 2008, as part of a story announcing he’d been named the Outdoor News Man of the Year.

Klatt is perhaps best known for his involvement in the passage of the 1998 constitutional amendment that guaranteed Minnesotans the right to hunt, fish, and trap. Seventy-seven percent of voters that year voted in favor of the amendment.

“He just believed in his heart the right to hunt and fish was that strong” (that it should be included in the state constitution), said Gary Botzek, executive director of the Minnesota Conservation Federation.

Klatt also was a driving force behind the 2008 passage of the constitutional amendment that increased the state sales tax and sent part of the proceeds to habitat and clean water.

“He was involved and very much played an important role,” said Pheasants Forever’s Joe Duggan, who got to know Klatt during his ad agency time and later recruited him to the initial MOHA meetings.

Klatt was the first president of MOHA, and served a second term later. It required him to spend long hours at the state Capitol, advocating on behalf of the causes he and MOHA were pushing.

“I think most of us would rather stay at arm’s length from the Capitol and the political process,” Klatt said in the 2008 interview. “But we have to be there to make sure our traditional outdoor way of life is protected.”

And Klatt was effective in that environment.

“He quickly found out the key to good policy is good politics,” Botzek said.

Klatt was an influential leader in the conservation arena, Botzek said, comparing him with others such as Don McMillan, Harvey Nelson, Gordie Meyer, and Frank Schneider.

“Jim was another one of those guys who never got paid a nickel for all the work he did,” Botzek said. “He was there because he wanted to be.”

Botzek and others noted the conservation community is losing leaders faster than it’s growing them. That was something Klatt was concerned about, too.

“We’re not getting enough of the young adults to understand the political part of this,” he said in 2008. “They love to hunt, they love to go out and put game in the bag and trophies on the wall, but they’re not engaged in helping protect it … The bottom line is that conservation of wildlife, lands, and waters started with hunters and anglers about 100 years ago – with men like Theodore Roosevelt, Ding Darling, and John Muir.

“We’re the stewards of this legacy, and we’d better be good stewards,” he said.

Survivors include Klatt’s life partner, Cathy Manning, sons Justin Klatt and Sean Dylan, and daughter Kara Moore. A service is set for the Friday at 5 p.m. at the Cremation Society of Minnesota in Edina. Visitation begins at 4 p.m.

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