The following is an edited speech I delivered to the Pheasants Forever Pheasant Fest banquet in Omaha on Jan 29. .
BACK IN 1982, AN IDEA WAS HATCHED BY A GROUP OF MINNESOTA BIRD HUNTERS. IT WAS A DREAM IDEA REALLY. LET'S HAVE PHEASANTS FOREVER.
FOREVER? HA. IN MINNESOTA THAT'S WISHFUL THINKING. MINNESOTA HAS YEARNED TO BE A SOUTH DAKOTA FOR DECADES WITH LITTLE SUCCESS. WHY? LITTLE GRASSLANDS. LOTS OF BLACK EARTH FARMING. FENCEROW TO FENCEROW. WETLANDS, 90 PERCENT DRAINED IN PHEASANT COUNTRY. AND DON'T FORGET WINTER.
SOUTH DAKOTA IS FAMOUS FOR PHEASANTS. MINNESOTA IS FAMOUS FOR WINTERS.
NO MATTER. THE IDEA OF PHEASANTS FOREVER GAINED STRENGTH AND MEMBERS AND HOPE.
TODAY, PHEASANTS IN AMERICA ARE NEARER BEING--- FOREVER--- THAN EVER BEFORE.
PF MEMBERS NOW NUMBER MORE THAN125,000 STRONG.
YOUR COLLECTIVE STRENGTH RESTS IN 600 CHAPTERS ACROSS AMERICA.
THE MONEY YOU RAISE STAYS HOME AND GOES ON THE GROUND.
YOU'VE TOUCHED MORE THAN 5 MILLION ACRES TO MAKE LIFE EASIER FOR THE RINGNECK PHEASANT.
YOU'VE HELPED FINANCE MORE THAN 1,000 LAND PURCHASES, PRESERVING MORE THAN 135,000 ACRES TO SUSTAIN WILD CREATURES, INCLUDING RINGNECKS.
YOU'VE PAID FOR A PRESENCE IN THE NATION'S CAPITAL TO HAVE A SAY IN FEDERAL CONSERVATION AND FARM PROGRAMS.
BUT THE CHALLENGES TO PHEASANTS FOREVER HAVE NOT DIMINISHED.
WE ARE ENGAGED IN A GREAT WAR ON THE LANDSCAPE, TESTING WHETHER THIS NATION HAS THE WILL TO CONSERVE ITS NATURAL RESOURCES.
I DROVE THROUGH MY HOME STATE OF IOWA TO GET HERE THE OTHER DAY. I SAW A DEAD ROOSTER IN THE ROAD DITCH. I THINK IT DIED……OF LONELINESS.
HOW SAD….WHAT'S HAPPENED TO MY BOYHOOD HUNTING GROUNDS WHERE I AS 12 YEAR OLD SHOT MY FIRST RINGNECK WITH A .SINGLE SHOT .410, A CHRISTMAS GIFT FROM MY PARENTS.
HOW SAD…. IOWA'S PHEASANT POPULATION HAS COLLAPSED TO THE LOWEST COUNTS IN HISTORY.
HOW SAD….ALONG WITH THE BIRDS, THE NUMBER OF PHEASANT HUNTERS IN IOWA ALSO HAS DECLINED AND WITH IT THE NUMBER OF IOWANS WHO GIVE A DAMN ABOUT THE BIRD'S FUTURE.
WHY THIS PHEASANT COLLAPSE IN IOWA? WINTER WEATHER? SPRING RAINS? FLOODING? CORN PRICES? ALL PLAYED A PART.
BUT THE BIGGEST REASON IOWA'S RINGNECK COUNTS ARE IN THE TOILET IS BECAUSE OF THIS NATION'S FEDERAL FARM POLICIES THAT EMPHASIZE TEMPORARY CONSERVATION PROGRAMS.
IN MINNESOTA, BIRD COUNTS IN 2010 PLUNGED AS WELL TO 22 PERCENT BELOW A 10 YEAR AVERAGE.
WHY? TEMPORARY CRP AND OTHER FEDERAL FARM PROGRAMS WILL EVENTUALLY BRING MINNESOTA BACK TO MEDIOCRE PHEASANT NUMBERS. IT'S HAPPENED BEFORE.
RINGNECK PHEASANTS ALSO ARE VULNERABLE IN NEBRASKA, KANSAS, NORTH DAKOTA AND YES, EVEN THE BIRDS OF SOUTH DAKOTA ARE FACING TROUBLE AS THE ACRES OF CONSERVATION RESERVE LAND GO BACK UNDER THE PLOW.
FEDERAL FARM PROGRAMS THAT DEAL WITH CONSERVATION ON A TEMPORARY BASIS MAKE A MOCKERY OF CONSERVATION OF SOIL, WATER AND WILDLIFE AND DELIVER A FALSE PROMISE OF LAND AND WATER ACCOUNTABILITY.
WE MUST BRING THIS WASHINGTON CHARADE TO A HALT.
THIS FALL DRIVING ACROSS EASTERN NEBRASKA TO FILM PHEASANT FOREVER TELEVISION EPISODES I CANNOT FORGET A MASSIVE CROP FIELD OF ROLLING HILLS, SOIL LAID BARE FOR CORN OR SOYBEANS, WITH NOT A BLADE OF GRASS FOR WATERWAYS TO SLOW EROSION AND NOT A TERRACE TO BE SEEN.
WHAT HAPPENED TO BASIC SOIL CONSERVATION DOWN ON THE FARM. AGAIN, I'M BLAMING A FEDERAL POLICY THAT DOES NOT REWARD SOIL CONSERVATION, INSTEAD REWARDS BLACK EARTH FENCE ROW TO FENCE ROW FARMING THAT LEADS TO INCREASED SOIL EROSION, DECLINING WATER QUALITY AND SOMETHING CALLED A DEAD ZONE AT THE MOUTH OF THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER.
ON ANOTHER TRIP, I WAS VISITING WITH A SOUTH DAKOTA FARMER WHO WAS SHOWING ME HOW HE UTILIZED FEDERAL FARM PROGRAMS TO HELP WILDLIFE, GUIDED BY PHEASANT FOREVER FARM BILL BIOLOGISTS. HE SHOWED ME A CRP FIELD THAT WAS DESTINED TO GO UNDER THE PLOW. HE SHOWED ME A BEAUTIFUL 10 YEAR OLD STAND OF TREES.
HE SAID, I'M NOT GOING TO DIG OUT THE TREES.
I SAID, DO YOU MEAN YOU CAN TAKE OUT THOSE TREES IF YOU WANTED TO?
OH YES, HE SAID. THE FEDERAL PROGRAM ENDED.
BUT, I OBJECTED, WE THE AMERICAN TAXPAYERS PAID TO HAVE THOSE TREES PUT IN? WE PAID FOR SOIL AND WATER CONSERVATION; WE PAID FOR WILDLIFE COVER AND NOW 10 YEARS LATER, MY GOVERNMENT IS SAYING…OH, JUST KIDDIN' THE TREES AND THE BENEFITS CAN GO AWAY?
DOES ANYBODY THINK WE CAN SUSTAIN SOIL, WATER AND WILDLIFE
CONSERVATION IN AMERICA WITH THIS KIND OF GIVE AND TAKE WITH A GOVERNMENT STAMP OF APPROVAL?
INTERESTINGLY THE DAY AFTER MY SPEECH IN OMAHA, THE SUNDAY OMAHA WORLD HERALD RAN THIS NEBRASKA HEADLINE, ''CLOSER MONITORING PUTS MORE WATER ON CONTAMINATED LIST.''
AND WHEN I RETURNED TO MINNESOTA THE SAME DAY, THE MINNEAPOLIS STARTRIBUNE RAN A STORY ABOUT GROWING CONCERN FOR WATER QUALITY IN SOUTHEAST MINNESOTA. DO OUR WASHINGTON LEADERS UNDERSTAND WHAT'S HAPPENING IN FARM COUNTRY?
WHEN DO WE REPLACE THE USDA NONSENSE? WITH COMMONSENSE?
IN OUR RUSH TO PLANT MORE AND MORE CORN IN THE NAME OF ETHANOL, IT SEEMS WE ARE WILLING TO RISK EVERYTHING. OUR SOIL. OUR WATER, OUR WILDLIFE….NOT TO MENTION OUR WAY OF LIFE.
The following is an edited speech I delivered to the Pheasants Forever Pheasant Fest banquet in Omaha on Jan 29. .
New Year’s Resolutions I’d like to see from a few of my close personal friends:
Gov. Mark Dayton: I promise to select a new DNR commissioner who has the right credentials, who was a hunter and angler and who had a professional background in natural resources (and that means no political crony) and I will deliver on that promise.
New DNR Commissioner: I intend to hold regular press conferences to discuss current events, announce new initiatives and I will no longer simply rely on a ‘’news release’’ as my only mass communication to Minnesotans. And that’s not all. I will ask our fish and wildlife managers to think outside of the box, which means being bolder in how we manage public hunting areas and fishing lakes. When the fishing sucks, why do residents need to beg for change in how we stock, manage, whatever?
U.S.Sen. Amy Klobuchar: I resolve to sponsor a public forum about Minnesota’s ethanol program, its economic and environmental benefits or lack, thereof, and to settle questions about the reality of using corn-based ethanol in the future.
U.S. Sen. Al Franken: Although I’m a staunch supporter of ethanol subsidies for corn growers, I will conduct an investigation into why there are so many hillsides being plowed in Minnesota and what happened to soil conservation practices?
Tony Sutton, chair, Minnesota Republican Party: In the future, I resolve to understand why Minnesotans voted to raise their sales tax to preserve the state’s outdoor and natural resources and why the Legacy Amendment is so unlike those nasty tax hikes loved by DFLers.
Brian Melandez, chair, Minnesota DFL Party: I resolve to use my DFL connections to kick some ass regarding how the money for arts in the Legacy Amendment has been doled out and to make the artsy folks accountable in the future.
Dale Garner, Iowa wildlife chief: Somebody needs to tell it like it is to Iowans. As long as Iowa is ground zero for fence line to fence line farming, drainage ditches, field tiling, brush clearing, weed control and---from the Mississipipi to the Missouri---an endless sea of corn and soybean fields, Iowa is losing its pheasants, quail and, more importantly, an autumn tradition. Correction, it may be gone already.
Laura Ragan, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Those of us who work with the nation’s endangered species program will resolve to stand tall in support of our own profession, scientific wildlife management, and enlist wolf experts (Dave Mech, where are you?) to speak out about delisting the gray wolf in Minnesota and counter the biological nonsense from animal rights wolf managers. And if I get fired for standing up for the principles of wildlife management regarding the wolf I expect other professionals will come to my defense (Dave Mech, where are you?).
Gary Roach, walleye fishing expert: At the 2011 WaveWacker Walleye Tournament, if my partner Ron Schara gets the first, biggest and most walleyes in our boat, I will tell the world but if I outfish him I will say nothing.
Once more, Minnesotans are being told their 10,000 lakes are in trouble, courtesy of the state’s largest newspaper.
It’s not the first time such a warning has been delivered in a powerful way. With conviction. With mounting evidence of declining lake water quality. And dire predictions about the land of sky blue waters eventually turning pea-green.
Here’s my prediction: We won’t do enough to keep the blue and halt the green.
Why? Because we never have.
At the moment, many of the state’s water laws are antiquated and have been so for a long time. Drainage rules dealing with wetlands and ditches date back to 1915. At the turn of the century, the only good wetland was a drained one.
Yes, but we treasure out lakes more than swamps. Yes, but. Shoreline regulation and management of lakes is obviously inadequate or the dire warnings of pollution would have faded away a long time ago. Enforcement is weak or non-existant. Exceptions to the lakeshore rules are many as the news reports pointed out.
Our county commissioners often vote between a rock and hard place. Counties boast about saving loon nesting sites until.......a big development comes along. Know this: when push comes to shove county commissioners like tax money more than loons. And it’s always been that way. Why? Counties need money to operate, to provide the services we demand. Sorry loons.
Instead of 10,000 lakes on our license plates, how about 10,000 loopholes?
If an industry dumps pollutants into a Minnesota river, there are laws with teeth to make the company pay. If a farmer’s cows take many dumps in a Minnesota river, well, it’s the farmer’s land and farmers can do what they want. Well, almost anything. If a farmer dams up a creek and deprrives the neighbors downstream, he’ll be court ordered to halt the practice. If the same farmer, plows up hills and washes his topsoil and farm chemicals into the same creek....well, it’s his land. Meanwhile, his farmer neighbors might be trying to do the right thing with land, soil and water conservation. Doing the right thing with soil and water may make for feel good. But there are no consequences for doing the wrong thing.
Lakeshore owners are no different. A cabin owner is free to speed up the greening of a lake to the detriment of everybody else on the lake.
In other words, in Minnesota, there are no serious consequences for cabin owners or farmers for dumping pollutants into water.
Private ownership of land is a hallowed right in America. But polluting public water ought not be a right. We all need to be accountable for anything done with the public’s natural resources.
But that’s not the state of Minnesota at the moment.
Minnesota desperately needs political leadership who will do the right thing for our lakes and rivers. But don’t float your boat.
It’s never happened yet.
When things don’t go right, it’s always gratifying to blame somebody else. It seems to be the American Way these days.
We outdoor types, for example, are fond of blaming DNR for just about everything connected to hunting and fishing.
Some deserved, of course.
So, too, the Legislature is an easy scapegoat. Oh, those state lawmakers, they seem so stupid about fishing and hunting.
And sometimes they are.
Years ago I was attending a legislative committee meeting while wearing my newspaper reporter’s hat and listening to the lawmakers debate changes in Minnesota’s deer season. As I looked around the hearing room, it dawned on me that possibly I was the only deer hunter in attendance. And nobody was asking for my opinion.
Yikes! But wait….whose fault is that? The answer is…..us.
Typically when it’s crunch time in the Legislature, it’s springtime in Minnesota. Who wants to worry about legislative stuff when the walleye season is coming up, the turkeys are gobbling, the crappies are biting and, oh yes, there’s a sports show on somewhere.
We outdoor types have been content to not be involved……but that’s changing.
Declining ducks, tribal fishing/hunting rights, gun rights issues, walleye collapses and more have stirred the political juices in the outdoor community. Organizers such as Garry Leaf, an outdoorsman with political savvy, have helped raise the collective voice of hunters and anglers.
The push to pass a constitutional amendment—the Legacy Amendment--- to do what the Legislature failed to do---increase funding for natural resource programs---passed by a hefty margin by voters in the 2008 election, thanks to political activism by sportsmen’s groups throughout Minnesota.
And now—another November election is on the horizon. It means it’s time to grill the candidates who want to be our political leaders. Ask tough questions. Do you hunt or fish? is not a tough question.
We need to know their views on the Legacy Amendment, the DNR agency, wildlife habitat acquisitions, access programs and so forth.
What’s their position on various tribal issues on the horizon in Minnesota as well as the Mille Lacs fishing arrangement? Would the Governor-to-be support an effort to moderate tribal netting of, say, northern pike in Mille Lacs?
These are all fair questions, but they need to be asked.
Life means never having a dull moment, huh?
Don’t worry, be happy.
Okay, you guessed it. The fish have been biting, of late.
Landed a bunch of nice walleyes: Where? At a place called Smoothrock Camp on Ontario’s Smoothrock Lake (west of Armstrong, Ont.).
Just as important: landed a good story.
It’s about a entrepreneur named David Dill. The name might ring a bell. David is a Minnesota Legislator who lives in Crane Lake and who once owned an aviation business.
Now---David is running a Canadian fishing camp and a fly-in outpost business known as Thunderhook Fly-ins. He’s also still wearing his political hat and running for re-election in Minnesota’s November election.
Please don’t think I’m David’s campaign manager, but I find it interesting that one of our lawmakers is also in the fishing business. I mean, that’s good…good to have someone making our fishing laws who also knows what it’s like to hold a fishing rod.
Okay, enough politics.
The walleye bite was awesome on Smoothrock. A jig and minnow in 20 feet of water produced in some places a walleye every 20 seconds. With fishing action like that we all could have our own fishing television show, huh?
Alas, the fish don’t always bite like that. I went bass fishing the other day and couldn’t catch a cold.
My mood turned to sugarless lemonade. And that ain’t good.