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Conservationist's View: New Congress must prioritize public lands, waters

With the new Congress now sworn in, Minnesota has five new members of the U.S. House of Representatives to represent different regions of the state. In Northeastern Minnesota, Republican Congressman Pete Stauber replaced Congressman Rick Nolan, a Democrat who retired after a long record of distinguished service to our state.

It is our hope at the Minnesota Conservation Federation that Stauber, as well as the other eight members of Minnesota's delegation to the U.S. House, strives to prioritize and protect our public lands and waters.

Unfortunately, the previous Congress did not meet its obligation on this front. At the end of last September, Congress missed the deadline to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund. This program had provided funding for our state's most precious areas of wilderness and ensured access for hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities. Additionally, funding from the fund made it possible for Minnesotans to enjoy state and city parks, ballfields, and trails.

We are certainly familiar with the ongoing debate in Northeastern Minnesota about the need to balance job creation and environmental protection. We all should be able to agree that protecting our drinking water, wildlife habitat, and lakes is critical for all Minnesotans.

Hiking, hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities on and around public lands and waters are part of a way of life for Minnesotans. Without proper funding to preserve these precious natural resources, our state could lose what makes us special and could put in jeopardy a key part of our economy.

Minnesota received approximately $249 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund over five decades. The funding helped protect places such the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Important areas within St. Louis County received funding from the fund, too, such as Woodenfrog Campground, Indian Point Campground, Carey Lake Recreation Area, and McCarthy Beach State Park. In total, St. Louis County received more than $700,000 for conservation initiatives from this federal program.

Homeowners know they have to invest in the care and maintenance of their homes to make sure they remain livable for the long term. That same principle applies for our state's natural resources, so they also remain healthy and vibrant for current and future generations.

We hope that with a new Congress, new leadership will make reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund a priority. With Minnesota Congresswoman Betty McCollum, who has been a champion for conservation initiatives, set to become a key leader in Congress next year, we have reason for optimism.

This is not an issue that should be caught up in partisanship. All of us — Republicans, Democrats, and independents — benefit from our state's beautiful natural resources. On behalf of the Minnesota Conservation Federation, I encourage our state's congressional delegation on both sides of the aisle to make the reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund a priority in 2019.

Jason Dinsmore of Rochester is executive director of the Minnesota Conservation Federation (