Funding for the Great Outdoors Marches On

JohnTumaFeature“For the American people thus to allow such calamities to habitually occur, without adopting any adequate means for their prevention causes our country to be regarded as in some respects only semi-civilized.”
General Christopher C. Andrews
August 22, 1894

One of Minnesota’s most flamboyant and persistent conservation champions was former Civil War General Christopher C. Andrews.  Lumber barons ruled Minnesota’s State Legislature during the latter half of the 1800s.  It was in the early 1880s that General Andrews returned to Minnesota after distinguished service as a diplomat for the United States to such countries as Norway, Sweden and Brazil.  During his visit to Scandinavian countries, he realized the extent to which America was destroying its vast timber resources due to a lack of a sustained forestry vision.

The General almost prophetically spoke the above words regarding the reoccurring calamity of forest fires as a result of bad forest management only nine days before the great Hinckley fire.  In the wake of this human tragedy, he pushed for a scientifically driven state forestry post.  Under the pressure of this great tragedy, the State Legislature needed to act but it was still controlled by lumber industry.  Rather than a state forestry post as advocated by Andrews, they created the post of Chief Fire Warden.  Not to be outdone, Andrews pushed for his appointment to the position and won.  Starting at age 65, he transformed this position over the next 27 years into one focused on forest conservation and sustainable management.  He never stopped pressing the concepts of forestry protection until his death in 1922 at the age of 92.  He truly gave vision to a sustainable forest for Minnesota. The State honored him by naming a state forest after him just outside of Willow River.

During the Civil War, Andrews distinguished himself as a commander of the Minnesota Third infantry.  In one of the most successful campaigns in the western theater, Andrews commanded the Minnesota Third as they marched on the Arkansas capitol of Little Rock.  Along with several other units under General Frederick Steele, they undertook a 100-mile march in the sweltering southern heat of August.  Despite being plagued by debilitating sickness, the Minnesota Third participated in one of the most renowned out maneuverings of the Confederate Army.  They helped capture Little Rock against a well-entrenched opposition losing very few soldiers.  Andrews and the Minnesota Third remained on as the occupying force of Little Rock, where he gained renown as a fair and benevolent commander.

My favorite Civil War painting in the Capitol, which hangs above the receptionist’s desk in the Governor’s Office, is the one by Stanley M. Authurs of the Minnesota Third infantry entering Little Rock.  It shows an exhausted drummer boy peaceably staggering up the road into Little Rock with the remainder of the victorious Minnesotans stretched out in the background coming up from the Arkansas River.  After marching in this faltering heat for two weeks, the troops look tired but victorious.  Over the shoulder of the young drummer boy rides the confident and strident commander of their unit, Christopher Columbus Andrews, the future apostle of Minnesota forestry.

This week, the House members of the 2014 Minnesota Legislature probably felt a little bit like that young drummer boy as they staggered through several long floor sessions before they go into Easter break. Two of those bills were critical to the protection of our great outdoors. The first was legislation to appropriate money from the Legacy Amendment funds for the restoration, protection, and enhancement of wetlands, prairies, forests, and habitat for fish, game, and wildlife. The Legislature receives recommendations from the Lassard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council (LSOHC) that carefully reviews proposals to fulfill its constitutional obligation. The Council recommended 42 proposals totaling $108.62 million helping to protect over 54,000 acres of critical habitat. Demonstrating a steady hand like General Andrews was the bill’s chief author, Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul). Conservation Minnesota strongly encouraged the Legislature to adhere to these LSOHC recommendations, and Hansen made sure that the House followed through, passing a bill this week without amendments.

The second bill of importance to the environment this week was the Legislative/Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources’ (LCCMR) recommended appropriations from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. These are dollars set aside from the state lottery. Conservation Minnesota strongly supports the hard work by the LCCMR to ensure that the money goes toward solid scientific base projects and is not doled out as pork to special interest groups. House author Rep. John Persell (DFL-Bemidji) followed in General Andrew’s footsteps by ensuring that good science was followed and the LCCMR recommendations were adhered to in the House.

As the legislative process continues, Conservation Minnesota will continue to work with Hansen and Persell to preserve these strong proposals for protecting our great outdoors. We congratulate them on their leadership in the House.

About John Tuma

John is a former state legislator and litigation attorney. He served in the Minnesota House of Representatives for eight years from the Northfield area, beginning in 1994. Elected as a Republican, John was known for his independent thinking and ability to work across party lines. He is well-known in Minnesota state government circles.
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