Tag Archives: conservation

A Photogenic State

DSCN0584If you have a spare picture or two of Minnesota’s beautiful natural environs, consider submitting it to the Minnesota Environmental Fund‘s 10,000 Reasons Why photo contest:

Images may show natural landscapes, farmland and working lands, wildlife, plant life, weather, people interacting with nature, or an image that reflects your environmental values…

Images must be accompanied by a statement (less that 30 words) that describes how the image submitted represents the reason you choose to protect Minnesota’s environment.

The deadline for submission is June 21. You can submit photos either via email or Flickr (use Flickr!). The contest is being sponsored by REI, which I believe will be donating prizes. More information, rules, etc. are available on the MEF Web site. Let me know if you have submit a photo or if you have any questions.

The MEF is a great organization that essentially collects money from citizens through workplace giving campaigns and distributes the funds to several worthy causes around the state. They are a significant source of funding for many of Minnesota’s shining stars of conservation.

Full disclosure: I assisted MEF in setting up certain components of the contest. I am also on the board of a non-profit organization that receives funds from MEF.

You say “fundamental,” I say “essential”

A little reading round-up this Tuesday morning. The last of three posts. 

Minneapolis Star Tribune outdoors columnist Dennis Anderson’s column from yesterday once again dealt with the touchy subject of dedicated conservation funding and whether or not it should be tied to dedicated funding for the arts in the state. Anderson raised my ire a couple months ago with some vitriolic comments about those who would combine the two in one proposed constitutional amendment. Since then, I’ve read him warily, but he won me back to some extent by going fly fishing on the Kinnickinnic with his friend Skip James, who is apparently not only a heck of an angler but also the keyboardist for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

Anderson wisely chose to ask James, who is involved in both the arts and conservation, what he thought about the matter. James had an eloquent response:

“I think there are a lot of people who like to say musicians and artists are one kind of people, and outdoors people are another type, and that the two don’t have similar goals.

“I don’t think so. I think everyone who lives here is aware of the quality of life we have in Minnesota and Wisconsin. And the only thing that is going to keep life desirable here, and fun, is reliable, stable funding.”

Art in its many forms, Skip said he believes, is fundamental to human existence, whether at the Guthrie or Ordway, or in a grade-school play. Fundamental as well, he said, is the right to a clean environment.

“I read where, beginning in August, it might be illegal to smoke in public places,” he said. “Why isn’t it also the case that, beginning in August, it’s illegal to pollute rivers, and that thereafter everyone has a reasonable chance of enjoying a well-kept state park 20 years from now — or to have the experience of being exposed to, and participate in, the arts?

“These are community assets, and the community has to have ownership in them if they are to survive. And ownership can’t occur unless people are exposed to these things. Where I grew up on the East Coast, there’s no place to fish trout anymore. Streams that aren’t polluted are owned by a few rich people. Who’s the government going to ask to help sustain these resources? There’s no one. No one feels they have ownership, because they haven’t been involved.”

Amen. And a big “thank you” to Anderson for printing those words and being willing to look past the labels and stereotypes to study this difficult issue in the depth that is needed.

“An undervalued company”

A little reading round-up this Tuesday morning. The first of three posts. 

I just got done reading Fortune‘s profile of Yvon Chouinard, the founder of über-green outdoor clothing and equipment maker Patagonia. Most of the article is about the history of the non-traditional company and its enigmatic founder, but it also talks about where they are headed. It is there that I found not only a pretty frightening prognosis from Chouinard, but also what I thought was a nice turn of writing by Susan Casey:

“He has an easygoing persona, and he’s a California guy,” says Casey Sheahan, Patagonia’s 51-year-old CEO. (He got the job in March 2006.) “But he does demand excellence. People in this company would run through walls for him.”

That would be a shame. The walls are gorgeous, filled with nature photographs and paintings, including many of Mount Fitzroy, the South American peak that inspired Patagonia’s logo. The images evoke the solidity and timelessness that Chouinard has tried to instill in his brand, which makes it startling to hear what he has to say next: “We’re in the middle of a revolution. Every ten years we have to blow this place up.”

The reason for the upheaval? Climate change. “We’re getting into the surf market, because it’s never going to snow again, and the waves are going to get bigger and bigger,” Chouinard says. “I see an opportunity.” In response, he is opening Patagonia watersports shops along the coasts and in Hawaii. The first, in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Calif., opened in June 2006.

Frightening, yes, but Chouinard isn’t the first person I’ve heard say that the climate change fight is basically over (others include Will Steger and Dave Foreman) and that all there is to do now is make the most of the bad situation. That’s not quite my style, but I can appreciate the message he is trying to get across, and the fact that it is in the pages of Fortune says something in itself.

Much of the article focuses on how Patagonia has led the way in green manufacturing, single-handedly creating the market for organic cotton and even having a direct influence on the mighty forces of Wal-Mart. Hopefully the article will only spread Chouinard’s words even further through the ranks of America’s business leaders and help them realize a company can be socially and ecologically conscious and turn a profit. As the article begins by noting, etched on the front door of Patagonia’s headquarters is this quote from David Brower: “There is no business to be done on a dead planet.”

Camping on the Croix: Full Disclosure

The National Park Service recently presented several options for managing camping on the St. Croix River between St. Croix Falls and Stillwater. This is the second in a series examing that proposal.

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s very hard for me to objectively judge the camping management alternatives presented by the Park Service. Even though in my heart I want to see policies in place that are best for the river, I can’t help evaluating the options selfishly, with my own interests still squatting in whatever corner of my mind they can.

It took me a while to realize it, but of all the things that initially turned me off to the Park Service’s “preferred alternative,” the first and foremost thing was not that the new regulations would restrict access, thereby offending some egalitarian ideals of public lands. Certainly, that is a major consideration, but the first thing to flicker across my subconscious as I read the proposal was purely selfish. This line was the culprit:

“…[L]imiting tent camping to designated campsites…”

I was afraid of getting out there and not being able to find a site, right? Not really, they’re talking about having around 45 sites, plenty to handle the demand I’ve observed. I didn’t like the idea of not being able to just camp wherever I felt like, right? Well, a little, but I’ve never lamented that in the Boundary Waters or anywhere else.

No, it wasn’t either of those things. I was afraid they were going to put my campsite on their map!

There is a certain site on that section of river that for many reasons is special to me. Partly, it’s a sentimental thing. Mostly, it’s just an awesome site, and it’s almost perfectly hidden. Landing where a very small creek falls down 20 feet of rocks into the river, you walk up an invisible trail, around a tall berm of earth, and find a wonderful spot next to that little creek, complete with a beat-up picnic table and an old fire ring. On top of the berm, tall pines reach toward the sky.

I stop at the site every time I paddle that strech of river. Not usually to camp, but for a snack break, to stand on top of the berm and look at the marsh across the channel, see all the way to the bluffs on the distant shore, or sit at the picnic table, with the creek gurgling by. Often, I talk with whoever I’m with about when we can return and stay a night.

Even though it’s an established site, it’s not one of the three or four designated sites already mapped on that stretch. If it got put on a map, I realized any schmuck could beach their rented Alumacraft and take the site, maybe depriving me of the opportunity, surely not appreciating the fine site.

Not so egalitarian of me, eh?

Second to my fear that the site would be charted, discovered and subsequently unavailable to me was the fear that it would not be. If it was not, it would be illegal to enjoy a night at one of the small paradises of my life. Truly a strange thought.

I confess all this as a means of purging it. I need to deal with it here before diving into the Park Service’s proposal. But ultimately, it also reminds me of something very important: that human beings setting about to make decisions for a river is nothing less than foolish. We are selfish, ephemeral and endlessly fallible. Meanwhile, the river is ambivalent and objective, just the type of qualities we wish we could exhibit while making these types of decisions about conservation. But we can’t.

So I have already come to one firm conclusion. Obvious, maybe, but it is that any decision made on this matter should be what is best for the river. There is no pleasing everyone, because some people think that regulation would violate their rights to use the river however they choose. Others (riverfront property-holders for the most part) think the current lack of regulation is ridiculous and encourages trespassing, littering, noisy partying and environmental abuse.

And then there’s me. I don’t know what I think yet. Except that they better not take my site away from me.

[tags]conservation, national park service, camping, land management[/tags]

Local Photographer Makes Good in Nature Conservancy Contest

Fishing on Slough Creek, Yellowstone National ParkBack in December, I posted about The Nature Conservancy‘s photo contest (I thought they were showing some real “Web 2.0″ acumen). I even included some of my photos in the post, which a couple of you urged me to enter. Well, I did and today I have great news!

I did not win.

But, a fellow Minnesotan did!

That’s right, of approximately 15,000 photos submitted by more than 2,000 photographers, representing amazing wildlife and natural areas on probably just about every continent, Curt Preuss of Rochester won the “Best Photo from a Conservancy Preserve” category. Congratulations!

The shot of a grasshopper sparrow, taken at the Conservancy’s Weaver Dunes Scientific and Natural Area, is really stunning. An incredible capture and a beautiful image.

Not to boast, but this just reinforces something I already knew: that Minnesota is full of beautiful places and creatures, as well as people who truly appreciate it.

Only further impressing me with their ability to use this contest to engage their members, the Conservancy has opened up voting for the “People’s Choice Awards.” Vote now! (It’s a great excuse to look at some beautiful nature photos.)

Camping on the Croix: Introduction to a Defining Debate

October on the St. CroixThis is the first in a series on proposed changes to camping management policies on the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, a topic of continued interest to me.

The National Park Service released a proposal this week for new camping regulations on the St. Croix River between St. Croix Falls and Stillwater. Presenting several management options, the Park Service also identified its “preferred” choice:

“…[L]imiting tent camping to designated campsites, establishing group size limits, and requiring carry-in, carry-out or onboard toilets. All overnight users would need to be in possession of an annual overnight use pass which would be available free-of-charge.”

When the evalutation and planning process began about eighteen months ago, I submitted a letter advocating management be as liberal as possible (“For the Record,” 11/07/2005). At the time, I stated that as important as the conservation and protection of this beautiful river is to me, it is also important that it remains accessible. Not only because it is the public’s land, but because I feared that increased regulation would mean decreased usage, which would lead to fewer and less-passionate stewards of the riverway.

“To make camping on these public lands cumbersome and confusing through new regulations will discourage many people from visiting, unsure about the legality of camping or simply if they will be able to find a ‘designated campsite’ for a night on the river. I believe this would destroy the spirit of the river and change for the worse the way that people think of it, which will result in a lack of feelings of ownership and consequent disrespect for the river.”

In many ways, it was a strange conclusion for me to come to. As a fan of the BWCAW‘s strict regulations — including requiring visitors to camp at designated sites, restricting the number of entries at each entry point every day, and restricting group size — and even being a proponent of reducing the number of permits allotted for some of those entry points, I surprised myself for opposing increased regulation on the St. Croix. But, I thought about it quite a bit and ended up going with what my gut told me.

The debate is framed by two opposing perspectives on public land use (each with their own merits) which have defined the issue for the last century: access vs. conservation.

The current battleground in this long-running conflict, being a stretch of water that I know as well as any, and that I care for as much as any, presents a good chance for me to really dive in, inform myself, and form some opinions I can live with. Sure, going with my gut will factor into it, but I need to quantify that with some serious reflection, study and discussion.

Right now, I don’t claim to know what would be best. I’m doing my best to keep my own selfish feelings on the matter out of my evaluation, but that is often easier said than done. In subsequent posts, I’ll discuss at greater length those interests and a bit about “self-purification” as a process in participating in something like this.

I’ll also examine in detail the regulation alternatives that the Park Service has proposed, the implications of those details, and my own observations of use and abuse on this stretch of river.

Lastly, I should mention now that there is an open house regarding the plan hosted by the Park Service at William O’ Brien State Park on March 6 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. I’ll be there and I hope anyone else who is interested will attend as well.

Reading and Resources

[tags]national park service, national parks, camping, conservation, policy, st. croix river, wild and scenic river[/tags]