Hard times can help clarify what matters and pull people together. In his 1997 book Boundary Waters: The Grace of the Wild, author Paul Gruchow told about hiking with a friend and coming across the Stairway Portage in the wilderness. The Civilian Conservation Corps built the 119 steps of cedar logs in the 1930s. Gruchow remarked on the long-lasting benefits of CCC public works projects -- buildings, roads, picnic shelters, swimming beaches -- undertaken in the Depression era. And his friend replied: "It's amazing what we could afford when we didn't have money."
Perhaps we can afford to invest in the outdoors again.
On Nov. 4, Minnesota voters committed to helping our environment and natural resources in a big way by approving the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to the state constitution. Despite the global economic crisis, some 56 percent of voters chose to boost the state sales tax by three-eighths of a percent for the next 25 years. These dollars -- estimated to add up to more than $200 million annually -- will go into outdoor and cultural heritage projects. The Outdoor Heritage Fund will invest in protecting, restoring, and enhancing wetlands, prairies, forest, and habitat for fish, game, and wildlife. With passage of this long-range funding, the majority of Minnesotans seem to recognize that our lands and waters constitute critical resources for all of us.
The DNR will be among the agencies proposing projects to the Outdoor Heritage Council. The new fund provides an opportunity to "reinvest in the infrastructure of natural resources," says Wayne Edgerton, DNR agricultural policy coordinator. For example, he says, it would benefit clean water initiatives. With improved water quality, other benefits accrue -- better air quality, soil conservation, wildlife habitat and flood control.
With the prospect of long-term funding, resource managers have a chance to step back and ask: What will sustain natural resources for generations to come? The answers will require science and imagination.
Of course, conservation also depends on the innovative work of individuals. In this issue "Surgeons of the Forest" introduces a logger and his team of workhorses and tells how their slow, careful labor sustains them and the woods. Taking a step back in time, this entrepreneur has found a way to make a living while reducing the carbon footprint of his business. His accomplishments quite literally rely on people and animals pulling together.
Our bonds with other creatures can be rewarding in many ways. "Hup! Hup! Hundekjøring" conveys the exhilaration of dog and human harnessed together to cross-country ski.
Sometimes the bonds between people and other creatures disintegrate for little or no reason. Such is the case with many anglers who disparage the eelpout, or burbot. "For the Love of 'Pout" in this issue goes a long way toward setting the record straight for the world's only freshwater cod.
We have more to learn about our profound connections to fish. Consider the findings of paleontologist Neil Shubin of Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History. In his book Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body, he explains how various genes, switched on or off, have differentiated various bones. All creatures' bones contain the mineral hydroxyapatite. According to Shubin, the first hydroxyapatite-containing body parts were fish's teeth. Then fish developed bony heads to protect against bites from other fish. "There's a pattern common to every skull on earth," Shubin says, "whether it belongs to a shark, a bony fish, a salamander, or a human."
Discussing teeth, mammary glands, hair, scales, and feathers, he writes, "When you see these deep similarities among different organs and bodies, you begin to recognize that the diverse inhabitants of our world are just variations on a theme."
Likewise, the natural resources needs of earth's creatures are remarkably similar. Thus when people pull together on behalf of the environment, all inhabitants of our world stand to benefit.
Kathleen Weflen, editor