Walz hosts ‘Conservation Potluck’

NEW ULM – U.S. Rep. Tim Walz and area conservation activists hosted a “Conservation Potluck” event Wednesday at Riverside Park to discuss issues impacting waterways and natural resources.

The casual event featured people sharing food and giving impromptu presentations on favorite conservation issues. Walz brought his “Hermann the German Hot Dish,” which won U.S. Sen. Al Franken’s hotdish competition this year. He spent the time just prior to the event fishing in the Minnesota River with his son.

Walz spoke about the tremendous gains made in bringing back wildlife and improving water quality in Minnesota rivers. He said these developments should spur people to push harder on achieving gains in conservation issues, and to reject the false dichotomy that conservation goals are in conflict with agriculture goals.

Hosting the potluck was part of Walz’s work as vice chair of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus. These groups are working to quantify the roughly $150 billion generated annually by hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities that take advantage of natural resources.

Showing that these activities are economic engines on the same level of organizations like the Mayo Clinic will help identify their impact in different regions, Walz said. Pushing for important conservation and sustainability goals in this context is easier to sell to other lawmakers and demonstrates the broad coalition that support this work.

“We need to make the argument that conservation is more than what you do when you have the luxury to afford it. We need to make the conversation that [conservation] is a main event, an economic engine,” said Walz.

A major topic brought up by other speakers was restarting work on the recently established National Blueways System, which designates major rivers and watersheds that cross multiple geographic and jurisdictional boundaries. The designation is part of the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative. It provides local organizations along the related river a commitment and access to collaborations with federal agencies that offer assistance in goals for the waterway.

However, the activities recently stalled in Missouri and Arkansas after organizations successfully lobbied for the designation’s repeal. The movement against the designation came out of concerns about the impact on property rights, despite the program being entirely voluntary and carrying language explicitly stating there was no authority over personal property.

Green Corridor Initiative Program Managers Bob Cobb, Coalition for a Clean Minnesota River Executive Director Scott Sparlin and former state representative Ted Suss urged people to advocate for a Blueways designation for the Minnesota River watershed to help regionally and potentially restart the program. They emphasized that people should focus on clearly explaining what the programs actually does and highlighting how the rivers impact regions by providing commerce and jobs. They believe the step backwards with the other Blueway was primarily due to misinformation and confusion on how the program actually works.

Another big topic was the failure to pass the farm bill and its potential impact on conservation programs if a compromise is not found. Walz said it is a classic example of fanaticism over minor policy issues derailing worthy projects. He said that if a compromise bill is not passed, several conservation programs and funding sources will be lost. He said the biggest consequence will be a large scale loss of opportunity to deal with issues facing rivers and watersheds.

(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at jmoniz@nujournal.com)

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