Local View Column: Fund Legacy Amendment to bolster arts, outdoor recreation
We recently marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, but there wasn’t an opportunity to come together and celebrate. There is still time, however, to reflect on the importance of nature in our lives.
Nature is all around us: in the city, our yards, the woods, and everywhere else we can be and see. I spend part of most every day picking up trash while I’m hiking or walking my dogs. This may be a token effort, but it is my way of giving back. I like to help keep our lands and waters clear of plastic, aluminum, and other man-made waste. It is our responsibility to be part of taking care of the earth.
With COVID-19, many of us are outside more for fresh air and exercise. We tend to think of the world as distinct pieces of land under different ownership, whether it’s farmland, forests, homes, businesses, or parks. But everything is connected — including us. We should all take some action that will help the earth. It’s our only home.
The reality, though, is that not everyone is willing or able to do so. We simply cannot convince or compel every landowner or the public to be better stewards. We need public funding to conserve our lands and waters so people and nature can thrive.
That’s why Minnesotans passed the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to provide resources for clean water, fish and wildlife habitat, arts, culture, parks, and trails. The Legislature is currently working on a bonding bill, and it should include $7 million for Forest for the Future, $3 million for Reinvest in Minnesota Working Grasslands Easements, and $7 million for reforestation in state forests.
Rep. Mary Murphy of Hermantown is being a great champion of including conservation in the bonding. And support for conservation funding in the bonding bill is essential. Nature matters not only for the quality of our lives but also our livelihoods.
The following numbers are from 2018-’19, before COVID-19; however, they demonstrate that the health of our lands and waters is crucial to our economy: Minnesota’s forests provide 62,800 jobs and produce $17.1 billion a year in forest products. The state’s forests support a $16 billion annual tourism and recreational economy, including fishing, hunting, birding, wilderness recreation, and other nature-based activities. Northeastern Minnesota’s eight counties account for $794 million and more than 16,400 workers.
In addition, trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it for years, making trees critical in the efforts to slow climate change.
To remain profitable, manufacturing and other sectors of Minnesota’s economy depend on reliable supplies of clean water; rivers are critical for transporting agricultural products and manufactured goods, as well as generating electricity.
Residents of Duluth and many North Shore communities get their drinking water from Lake Superior. The health of our forests is critical, as they filter out pollutants and keep our water supply clean.
Most of our rivers, lakes, and streams in Northeastern Minnesota are in good shape, but we cannot take them for granted. More than 56% of the state’s waters are impaired.
Minnesota’s vision should include a healthy and resilient system that provides clean air and drinking water, excellent habitat for fish and wildlife, and world-class recreational opportunities, while storing more carbon to support a vibrant economy.
We also need forests and grasslands that are healthy, diverse, and productive, whether they’re in public or private ownership.
Climate change is bringing new challenges, so we must step up our efforts to ensure Minnesotans continue to enjoy the benefits that nature provides. Consider it an investment in our future, much like public education for our kids and grandchildren. We need to plant more trees, improve the soil to grow food, and support programs that help Minnesota adapt to warmer, wetter conditions.
As we rebuild, we want to ensure we do so in a way that increases our natural resiliency. Our lands and waters are critical to our well-being and prosperity for the future.
Bob Owens of Duluth was a trustee for the Nature Conservancy (nature.org/en-us/) for nine years, ending in 2011. He wrote this for the News Tribune.