Local view: Hunters oppose sales of state Wildlife Management Areas
Wise leaders like the great hunter-conservationist Theodore Roosevelt recognized the need to set aside lands as unspoiled and to preserve wilderness, wildlife and freedom for future generations of Americans. Roosevelt once said, "Shortsighted men ...
Wise leaders like the great hunter-conservationist Theodore Roosevelt recognized the need to set aside lands as unspoiled and to preserve wilderness, wildlife and freedom for future generations of Americans. Roosevelt once said, "Shortsighted men ... in their greed and selfishness will, if permitted, rob our country of half its charm by their reckless extermination of all useful and beautiful wild things."
It's unsettling to contemplate how little things have changed since Roosevelt's time.
Here in Minnesota, greed and recklessness have manifested in the form of state Legislature-mandated sales of Wildlife Management Area-designated properties and other public lands to make upgeneral-fund shortfalls. Most Minnesotans believe that once an area is purchased and designated as a Wildlife Management Area, it will be there forever. But the consequences of a law passed in 2005 by the Legislature now loom large and threaten that basic tenet.
Three years ago, legislators passed a bill requiring that by June 30, 2007, enough state-owned land must be identified and sold to raise at least $6.44 million, with the proceeds going to the general fund. The bill was reauthorized two years later, setting the deadline at June 30, 2009. To date, some $2.44 million has been raised through sales of state lands.
State Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, recalled that the 2005 legislation mandating divestiture of state-owned land was part of an omnibus bill and that he did not support that provision. "Personally, I subscribe to the old Marine idea that when you gain a foot of land, you never give it up," he said.
Howard Ward, a founding member and current board member of Blue Earth County Pheasants Inc., an organization that has raised and donated thousands of dollars to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for acquisition of Wildlife Management Area lands in the county, disapproves of the legislatively mandated land divestiture. "Members go out and work hard to solicit prizes and raise cash to buy [Wildlife Management Area lands] -- it's hard for them to see the Legislature mandate that these parcels be sold," he said. "It's not right. We shouldn't even be looking at it. ... How can they even consider stealing what hunters bought and paid for?"
Several years ago, a Minnesota citizens' committee recommended the state double its Wildlife Management Area system over the next 50 years, adding 700,000 acres. The committee said the state should move quickly because of rising land costs, continued habitat loss and the need to provide recreation for a growing state population. Nearly half of Minnesota's lakes and streams are polluted, and more than1 million acres of natural areas, forests and hunting lands are projected to be lost in the next 25 years.
Conservation derives from the Latin "conservare," meaning "to keep guard," something Theodore Roosevelt did admirably. The Minnesota Backcountry Hunters and Anglers believe -- like hunter-conservationist Roosevelt said -- that, "Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us."
Selling Wildlife Management Area lands -- or any public wild lands or wildlife habitat -- is nothing less than a short-sighted giveaway of public resources at the cost of every other value we hold dear. The whole plan is akin to burning down your house to keepwarm for one night. It's also anegregious swipe at the publiclands legacy of hunter-conservationists like Roosevelt and today's hunters and anglers. The state should pass legislation to reverse this ridiculous and essentially anti-hunting public lands divestiture requirement at the earliest possible opportunity in 2009.
DARRELL SPENCER of Duluth is a big-game hunter and spokesman for the Minnesota Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.