Water conservation

Whether born or created, conservation leaders are sorely lacking in Minnesota

Numerous studies have shown that some people naturally possess leadership qualities, while others who lack these native skills can learn to lead.

The contrary belief that leaders are born, not created, dates back to the 1840s, when Thomas Carlyle, a Scottish philosopher, advanced the “great man theory”, which suggests that a number of individuals are inherently endowed qualities such as vision, honesty, assertiveness, commitment, empathy and willingness to take risks.

These people are able to draw on these qualities, the theory goes, when opportunities present themselves, to lead people toward a common goal – General William T. Sherman’s role in winning the Civil War, for example – or , more commonly, to a higher level. of the human condition, for example, in the case of the civil war, the end of slavery.

Carlyle believed that the course of human history is shaped by these individuals.

Yet no less a recognized American sports leader than legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi believed that leaders could be cultivated. “Leaders are not born,” Lombardi would say, “they are created. And they are created like anything else, through hard work.”

At stake in this space today is a subset of American leadership – conservation leadership, a concept far less studied than leadership per se, but no less important. Google, for example, “climate, change” and “habitat, disappearance”.

Yet conservation leadership is a skill rarely studied and, in Minnesota, as across the country, even more rarely practiced.

In a recent article, Brett Bruyere of Colorado State University reported that a search for the word “leadership” in the Web of Science database yielded over 35,000 peer-reviewed articles. Yet a search for “conservation leadership” returned only 60 results.

Which – if Minnesota is indicative of the rest of the nation, and it probably is – makes sense. Because, although the concept of conservation leadership is recognized and even taught by some Minnesota state agencies – the Association of Minnesota Soil and Water Conservation Districts, for example – and some nonprofit organizations, conservation leadership has historically been largely absent from day-to-day life in the state. -daily politics and policy-making.

In fact, Minnesota conservation history suggests that Carlyle, the Scottish philosopher, was ahead of his time.

Since 1858, when Minnesota joined the Union, whether in disputes over the state’s southeastern forests, tallgrass prairies, or northern border waters, conservation officials who have led protection of these areas grew organically, without formal training.

Without these conservation forerunners – including largely forgotten Minnesotans such as Marshall Lowe, a Murray County pioneer who fought the drainage of Bear Lake in the late 1800s, and larger-than-life figures such as Sigurd Olson , who led efforts to protect the BWCA – these resources could have been lost or further diminished.

This is all a prelude to the news of the day, that Governor Tim Walz refused to show up at Game Fair (due to scheduling conflicts, he says) to debate his main gubernatorial opponent, Scott Jensen, on conservation and related matters.

Certainly, if the past is a prologue, the debate would not make or destroy anyone’s political career. In 2018, Walz took on then-State House opponent Jeff Johnson in a debate on Game Fair, and the conservationists who attended were 1) unimpressed with Johnson, who seemed in largely unaware of the topics discussed, and 2) hopeful that Walz’s better performance would pay off if elected.

Walz was elected. But his first term resulted in little to no retention bonus.

It is true that the land and water stewardship record of his predecessor, Governor Mark Dayton, has been difficult to follow. But even by the low retention bar set by some former Minnesota governors — see Ventura, Jesse — Walz has been a disappointment. Not least because, more recently, he has not vetoed the handful of projects that Republicans have plotted in the allocation of the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, in the absence of consent or even review by the fund’s supervisor, the Legislative-Citizen Resources Commission of Minnesota. .

It should be obvious to politicians in Minnesota, as it is to most others, that the state’s lands, waters and wildlife continue to be assaulted by us – everyone – as most often manifested by the grinding machinery of agriculture, development and ever-increasing growth. human population.

Absent bold and visionary conservation leadership to mitigate these threats – and these losses – a bleaker quality of life awaits future generations of Minnesotans.

In a more perfect, or at least more hopeful, world, a Minnesota governor proud of his conservation accomplishments would welcome the opportunity to celebrate them, especially at a public event such as Game Fair, which attracts tens of thousands of hunters, anglers, hikers, boaters, paddlers – and voters.

Additionally, share a vision of a future in which Minnesotans can continue to enjoy clean water – both above and below the surface – as well as healthy forests, a diverse farmland landscape and abundant wildlife should be an opportunity any true conservation leader would appreciate, in part to reassure residents, but more importantly to inspire them.

It doesn’t help that Minnesota legislators these days are mostly an unserious bunch when it comes to the environment. And much of the voting public is indifferent to these questions or otherwise distracted.

This is why leadership at the top is and always has been most important.

Alexander the Great, who had the advantage of being educated until the age of 16 by Aristotle, and who, between the ages of 20 and 30, was undefeated in battle while amassing one of the greatest empires in this point in history, had a saying.

“I’m not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep. I’m afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.”