This is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. In challenging times, nature can bring us calm, hope and joy. This is a moment to reflect on the benefits of nature in our lives.
The crisis we are facing is unprecedented in its reach and brings with it great uncertainty. We know, however, that we are all in this together and nature helps us stay strong. As a community, we can connect through nature and our passion for protecting it.
In Minnesota, we love our prairies, forests, rivers, streams and lakes. That’s never been more apparent with so many of us venturing out — while hopefully taking steps to protect ourselves and others — to enjoy our public lands.
The power to sooth, uplift and restore
Nature is our ally through this difficult time. Although we must practice physical distancing, we should keep nature close in our hearts and minds. Nature has the power to soothe, uplift and restore. Nature’s resilience reminds us of our own resilience and provides hope that the time will come when we can move forward and recover together.
Not only does nature enrich our lives, it plays an underappreciated but critical role in our livelihoods. The numbers here are from prior to COVID-19, and we imagine that they will change; nevertheless, it’s clear that our lands and waters will play a significant role in our economy as we recover.
- The state’s renowned lakes and rivers support a $16-billion-dollar annual tourism and recreational economy, including fishing, hunting, birding, wilderness recreation and other nature-based activities.
- Fishing alone generates more than $2.8 billion dollars in direct expenditures in Minnesota each year, $342 million in state and local taxes and supports 43,800 jobs.
- Abundant surface and groundwater resources enable more than $18 billion in farm sector production annually, supporting almost one-third of rural Minnesota’s economy.
- To remain profitable, manufacturing and other sectors of Minnesota’s economy depend on reliable supplies of clean water; rivers are critical for transporting agricultural products and manufactured goods as well as generating electricity.
- The Mississippi River and its headwaters area provide drinking water for more than 44 percent of Minnesota’s population. About 1.2 million people in the state get their drinking water from the Mississippi, including residents of St. Paul, Minneapolis, several suburbs, St. Cloud, and rural communities. An additional 1.3 million Minnesotans get their drinking water from groundwater wells in the region.
Majority of Minnesota waters are impaired
Unfortunately, more than 56 percent of our waters in Minnesota, including stretches of the Mississippi River, are now considered impaired.
Minnesota will grow considerably warmer and wetter during this century as a result of climate change, and this poses additional threats to the health of our waters, including the risk of more frequent and devastating flooding.
Simply put, nature is an essential business. We need to invest in the protection of our most valuable and productive natural resources.
Regrettably, we’ve regressed when it comes to funding for conservation in Minnesota. We’re leaning on limited dollars from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy amendment while traditional funding sources such as bonding have been slashed.
Our vision for Minnesota is a healthy and resilient system that provides clean air and drinking water, well-managed forests and prairies, excellent habitat for fish and wildlife, and world-class recreation opportunities while storing more carbon in the ground and supporting a vibrant economy.
Important elements of bonding bill
That’s why we’re advocating for $7 million for Forests for the Future, $3 million for Reinvest in Minnesota Working Grasslands Easements and $7 million for reforestation in state forests in this year’s state bonding bill. We hope you’ll join us in supporting this request.
As we rebuild, we want to ensure we do so in a way that increases our natural resiliency.
Contact your elected leaders at the Minnesota Capitol and let them know that protecting and restoring our lands and waters is critical to our well-being and prosperity for both present and future generations.
Nature is here for you today, and we can all be here for nature tomorrow. Together we can take action to protect nature this Earth Day!
Ann Mulholland of St. Paul is the director of The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.
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