by Scott Hall
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune had a report Sunday on the close ties between Republican and DFL legislators and conservation groups like Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever. The story raised a good question about the ethics and personal and political conflicts surrounding legislators appropriating public money for projects the conservation groups support.
There is plenty of opportunity to debate the ethics of these deals, but I like two things about them. One is the transparency of the legislators and groups involved. It's actually refreshing to see the deal go down in plain view and legislators owning up to their support. Secondly, we can hold the projects up to the standards and purpose of the source of funding. A portion of the the Legacy money is intended to be used for worthy habitat restoration projects. After more than a hundred years of draining swamps and opening the prairies to agriculture, restoration is needed and going to take a long time. Long before the Legacy amendment passed, the DNR proposed a 50 year plan for wetland habitat restoration. Everyone knew that plan would go nowhere without sustained funding and the political will to back it up. The legacy money gives DNR and conservation organizations a chance to work together on some of these goals.
It's fair to argue over what makes one project more worthy than others, and, in that debate, the political influence of a group like Ducks Unlimited could make a difference. To me, the most worthy projects must create benefits beyond the interests of the groups that support them. For example, improving duck habitat should create positive environmental outcomes beyond what's good for ducks and duck hunters - like better water quality and habitat for other wildlife.
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