It's a small thing, really. Each time you purchase a taxable item in Minnesota, a tiny fraction of the cost—three-eighths of 1 percent, to be exact—goes mainly toward projects that enhance the state's natural resources. Some of the money goes to worthy arts and cultural heritage initiatives, but the lion's share is funneled into three funds that protect and improve fish and wildlife habitat, restore and protect water quality in lakes, rivers, and streams, and support parks and trails of state and regional importance.
As writer Joe Albert points out in "The Long Reach of Legacy", this funding mechanism, approved by state voters in the 2008 Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, has had far-reaching benefits for Minnesota's wild places and things. Campgrounds and trails have been built, ecologically rich land tracts have been preserved, fishing and hunting opportunities have been boosted, and wildlife from moose to loons to rattlesnakes have gotten a helping hand. Without these dedicated funds, many of these projects would have languished, been underfunded, or simply gone undone. Once you become aware of just how much the Legacy Amendment has accomplished for the state, it's hard to imagine what our landscape would look like without it.
The story of the Legacy Amendment is woven into this magazine's coverage over the past decade. A search of the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer online archives—which were digitized, it must be noted, with a grant funded by the cultural heritage portion of the amendment—turns up dozens of mentions of Legacy-linked projects, as well as coverage of the years-long debate that preceded the amendment's passage.
This issue continues the thread. "Brook Trout Stronghold" by writer Tom Hazelton tells the story of one creature that has benefited from Legacy: the brook trout, an astonishingly beautiful fish native to many of the twisting, spring-fed streams of southeastern Minnesota. Just a few decades ago, brook trout populations were on the edge, hammered by land-use changes that degraded their waters and diminished their habitat as well as by competition from the bigger, more aggressive nonnative brown trout that were stocked in many of their streams.
Since then, brook trout have made a remarkable turnaround: They are now in nearly 70 percent of streams in southeastern Minnesota, a huge leap from the 1970s, when they were in only a few. And this is despite that the brook trout is, as Hazelton notes, a delicate creature that needs just the right mix of conditions to flourish.
How did this little fish persist? Legacy monies have helped by funding angling easements on streams to protect brook trout populations. These agreements with landowners help protect habitat and preserve water quality while providing angler access. Legacy also helps pay for stream restoration work by the DNR and partner organizations that benefits brook and brown trout alike by creating more and better habitat.
A force mightier than money is also at work here: nature. New genetic testing, Hazelton writes, has shown that some of these resilient brook trout may be carrying DNA from original native populations, giving them traits particularly well suited to their place. Basically, it appears these "heritage" trout were made to be here and are programmed to persist—but only if we protect and preserve the things they need to live.
The Legacy Amendment sunsets in 2034. It's a certainty that Minnesota's landscape will look different then, and that new challenges will face our natural resources—but it's also certain that we'll have a deeper understanding of the natural world and the ways we can help it. One of the most important ones, it seems, will be to keep this legacy alive.
Keith Goetzman, acting editor