Where development rules, ducks lose
Duck hunters, bird watchers and anybody who cares about nature should know about the "Rally at the Capitol," an event being staged to show support for Minnesota's ducks, wetlands and water. It's scheduled for 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 2, on the Capitol mall in St. Paul.
The idea for the rally started with Dennis Anderson, outdoors writer at the Star Tribune, who lamented the poor duck season he and most other hunters had last fall. His call for a rally appeared in December and since that time he's been joined by other hunters and environmentalists who are alarmed by the decline in Minnesota's waterfowl. Conservation activist Dave Zentner of Duluth will coordinate the rally, which is expected to draw thousands.
It'll be interesting to see what results from the rally, which is sure to get extensive media coverage. No doubt we'll see on the 10 o'clock news a bunch of guys in camo shouting some catchy slogan.
But what happens after everybody goes home? Will Minnesota actually have more ducks one day because of this rally?
For any new conservation agenda to have a lasting impact it must reach private landowners, especially farmers, on whose lands most of our precious remaining wetlands are found. If it's more profitable to drain wetlands than save them, wetlands will continue to be drained no matter what laws we pass. The DNR has bought wetlands and designated them as Wildlife Management Areas for more than 40 years and duck numbers continue to decline. Minnesota has had a "no net loss" wetlands policy since 1991 and how much good has it done?
At the recent DNR Roundtable in Breezy Point, a graph was shown that illustrates how Minnesota continues to lose wetlands. In the period from 1995 to 2003, Minnesotans removed 11,093 acres of wetlands and replaced 5,920 acres. The reason we replaced fewer acres than we lost is because some acreage is exempt from replacement requirements under our present wetlands conservation act.
"And those numbers are unreliable," said Doug North, DNR wetlands program coordinator, "because they only represent what people say they'll do, not what actually gets done. Some people fill out the paperwork and then never do the project."
To get a better handle on what's really happening, North said the DNR will develop a wetlands monitoring system that will use aerial photography or satellite photos to monitor the landscape. Up to 600 sample plots would be selected and aerial photos taken every two to five years. The photos would be examined to determine if wetlands are present.
"The trick," North said, "is determining what type of remote sensor would work best for detecting wetlands. How many plots do we need and where? Of course we'll need money for all this. But eventually we must have a system like that."
Changing people's attitudes toward wetlands will be the toughest challenge. Commercial developers continue to eat up our wetlands. In Crow Wing County about 75 percent of the applications to fill wetlands over the past three years have come from commercial developers, said Keith Pohl of the Crow Wing County Soil and Water Conservation District. The new Wal-Mart Super Center resulted in the filling of a quarter acre of wetland. Reed's Sporting Goods, which sells gear to duck hunters, removed 3.81 acres of wetlands to build its Baxter store. Reed's replaced 4.34 acres of wetlands, including 2.42 acres onsite, but are replacement wetlands better than the original?
The ducks will decide.
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