Gov. Dayton’s Courageous Conservation Announcement

“Leave it as it is”

Teddy Roosevelt

tumafeatureIn April 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt departed from Washington DC on a nine-week tour through 24 states and territories, covering 14,000 miles crossing the country from sea to sea. He had just completed one of the most successful legislative sessions of any president, passing three major progressive antitrust initiatives that no one thought would succeed at the beginning of the year. Reaching the western states, he would explore Yellowstone and Yosemite with boyish vigor.

When he reached the Grand Canyon on this trip, the region was embroiled in controversy as to whether to preserve this natural wonder or allow it to be exploited by mining and other commercial enterprises. Never being one to shy away from a battle, Roosevelt boldly declared “Leave it as it is, the ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it . . . Keep it for our children and our children’s children.”

Going against those who wanted to exploit the Grand Canyon he established the Grand Canyon game preserve in 1906. He followed that up in 1908 by declaring the Grand Canyon a national monument, placing it under federal protection from exploitation. It was eventually declared a national park until 1919 as one of the last acts of the Wilson administration.

This goes to show that the statement and determined will of the chief executive can have a significant positive effect on our great outdoors. Just this last Friday, Minnesota’s chief executive Mark Dayton stirred up similar sentiments at the annual Department of Natural Resources Roundtable held in Brooklyn Park. It was there that Dayton surprised many by announcing he would ask the legislature to improve on the laws protecting Minnesota’s streams and ditches against erosion and chemical runoff by establishing a minimum 50 foot buffer strip. Outdoor enthusiasts and conservation groups are applauding the Governor’s leadership, but he will be in for a fight in the legislative process.

Minnesota has had provisions in law establishing minimum setbacks for vegetation along our streams and waterways. It is an established scientific fact that well-maintained buffer strips protect against excessive erosion and provide excellent wildlife habitat. Unfortunately, over the years landowners have often ignored these minimum setbacks. Farm policies have often encouraged farmers and local authorities to ignore buffer strip requirements, so they farm right up to the edge of streams and ditches, leaving no filter for the field runoff and ruining critical habitat.

Dayton, an avid pheasant hunter, estimated that his proposal would provide over 125,000 acres of additional habitat for pheasants and other wildlife. The fact that it will also reduce excessive erosion and provide better filtering for agricultural chemical runoffs is not a bad side benefit either.

The full details of this proposal are yet to be released and the Governor is calling upon his commissioners to come up with a plan for its implementation. Although the plan has not yet been fully fleshed out, it is already causing a little bit of an uproar at the Capitol with opposition building from some quarters of the legislature.

Conservation Minnesota has always been supportive of high quality buffer strips. We will wait to see the specifics of the Governor’s proposal, but if the details will lead to these high quality buffer strips that will have a positive impact on our state’s habitat and water quality, expect us to get behind this initiative wholeheartedly.

Fifty-foot buffer strips on Minnesota streams are not the Grand Canyon nor is Mark Dayton Teddy Roosevelt. Nonetheless, the Governor does deserve praise for showing leadership in an effort to pass on a better Minnesota for “our children and our children’s children”.

About John Tuma

John is a former state legislator and litigation attorney. He served in the Minnesota House of Representatives for eight years from the Northfield area, beginning in 1994. Elected as a Republican, John was known for his independent thinking and ability to work across party lines. He is well-known in Minnesota state government circles.
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