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Minnesota DNR faces complex, wicked problems; are better stories (part of) the answer?

March 4, 2013Patrick NunnallyFormer Featured PostsComments Off on Minnesota DNR faces complex, wicked problems; are better stories (part of) the answer?

An article by Doug Smith in Sunday’s Minneapolis Star-Tribune discusses the increasing complexity of some of the problems that concern the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.  It’s not enough any more just to try to figure out of to provide enough walleyes for all the fishermen in the state.  Instead, land use change and habitat loss, overuse of water resources (see Josephine Marcotty’s fine article sounding the alarm on diminished water in the state), pending climate change, all are issues that require new, more complex thinking and awareness of the state’s interconnected resource systems.

This isn’t really news, of course, and certainly isn’t unique to Minnesota.  But Smith’s story does contain some insights that are particularly noteworthy.  Smith quotes DNR commissioner Tom Landwehr, “The things that cause me the greatest long-term concern are these global or national issues that we may not have the resources to throw at. What will happen to water quality as a result of intensive farming? Do we have the political will to put mitigating practices on the ground? Are we going to collectively agree to deal with ground water and agree that everyone will have to tighten their belts — that it’s not just a DNR problem?”

Note the issues of “political will” and “collectively agree.”  Steve Morse, executive director of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, argues that conservation issues are “core values” to Minnesotans, and that state political leaders simply don’t recognize this fact and provide the budget and resources to deal adequately with the new complexities.

This is maybe the issue that is most directly relevant to us at the River Life program.  We understand that more money is needed for state agencies, and that state, federal, and local agencies have to collaborate more strongly, but we can’t really affect those circumstances.  We also understand that more science is needed, particularly with regard to the possibility of repelling aquatic invasive species on the Mississippi River; the University of Minnesota is taking a lead on some of those research projects.  But the question of “core values,” how they may be expressed, and changed, is something that deeply engages us, and particularly our work on river stories and the art of nature.

The Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment passed by Minnesota voters in 2008 was a landmark policy change, providing financial support for a host of programs on a 25 year time frame.  How can that momentum be continued and built upon, to the point where people don’t think twice about taking action and making difficult choices to preserve and enhance our resources, particularly water.  Anti-littering campaigns in the 1960s had an impact;; you don’t see people just rolling their car window down and tossing out pop bottles.  I understand that school children are now nagging their parents about the importance of recycling and composting.

When our water stories are stories of conservation rather than abundance, and our fondest images are of lakes and rivers that we know we had a hand in managing and protecting, then we’ll have made a significant change toward sustainable water for all in the state.


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