With print journalism on the ropes, it’s astounding that Minnesota Conservation Volunteer is going strong 80 years in. Our loyal readers deserve much of the credit for MCV’s longevity. Your donations have carried us through many challenges, including global recessions and this year’s coronavirus pandemic. A Superior-size thank you for your support!
Some background before you dig into this commemorative issue: The Minnesota Department of Conservation, the predecessor of the Minnesota DNR, founded the magazine in October 1940 to educate the public about its work. The premiere issue was, in a word, wordy, with only a few black and white photos and illustrations to break up the dense, rather serious essays sprinkled throughout. How serious, you ask? An article on conservation legislation began with this thrilling bit of prose: “Public recognition of the fact that the present game and fish laws furnish an adequate basis for proper and efficient game management programs is wide-spread in general.”
But the Volunteer’s debut wasn’t all policy talk. In a lovely profile of the goldfinch, known then as Minnesota’s unofficial state bird, ornithologist William Kilgore wrote, “It is a pretty sight to see one of these trim little black and yellow birds clinging to a thistle head, busily feeding.” And who didn’t love the short item on Nanny, a tame deer raised by a northern Minnesota farmer?
“This deer is not penned up, nor tied, but has range of the countryside,” wrote Thief River Falls game warden William Borchert. “She always stays close to the farm buildings most of the time. She even is allowed in the house, and I have seen her in the parlor.”
MCV added more visuals over time to balance out all those words, including oil paintings, cartoons, and, starting in 1970, color photography. The magazine’s tone shifted as well, loosening to reflect larger journalism trends. “Mosquitos bothering you?” asked a pithy little sidebar in 1951. “Here’s a sure-fire dope that you can mix for yourself.” (The “dope” was a mix of olive oil, beechwood creosote, gum camphor, and oil of pennyroyal. Please don’t try this at home.)
Though beloved from the start—for years, there was a waiting list for subscriptions—MCV wasn’t perfect. Early stories about Minnesota’s canoe country erased Native Americans from the historic narrative, focusing instead on the French fur traders who once traveled the land. Other articles could be read as more subtly revisionist. The excerpt on page 20, for example, implies that indigenous groups and white explorers arrived in our region around the same time.
The magazine’s writers and editors, meanwhile, were mostly white males, though female authors such as Grace Lee Nute contributed on occasion. The Volunteer began to diversify in the ’80s and ’90s, with stories on Hmong hunters, black anglers, and Ojibwe maple syrup makers. In 1989, Kathleen Weflen became MCV’s first female editor in chief. We carry on her vision today, working hard to diversify our story mix as well as our writer and photographer pools.
The magazine will continue to evolve, inevitably responding to audience interests and future conservation challenges. I predict a larger focus on climate change as well as equity issues in the outdoors. Whatever the case may be, here’s to eight more decades of vital, in-the-field reporting. (Hi to anyone digging through our archives in the year 3000. Are there flying cars yet? Or maybe no cars at all? I have so many questions.)
P.S. We included a celebratory sticker in this issue to make our anniversary extra special. Slap it on your water bottle, bike helmet, wherever. Many thanks to St. Paul illustrator Michael Jacobsen for his clever design.
Chris Clayton, editor in chief