The world is in a nature crisis. Land is being lost at alarming rates, plants and wildlife are facing extinction, climate change is altering entire landscapes. Scientists warn that we could see more pandemics like the coronavirus unless we act to protect land and waters. It is time for action, and Minnesota can help lead the way by committing to protect 30% of our land and water by 2030. Minnesotans can embrace the 30×30 proposal, supported by the Biden administration.
Minnesotans understand that our land, water, and wildlife are our state’s most important assets. They tell us over and over in polls and surveys.
We are a unique state, made up of a mosaic of ecological regions. Our borders support aspen parklands, prairie grasslands, deciduous and coniferous forests. This diverse natural heritage, coupled with our more than 11,000 lakes and 104,000 miles of rivers and streams, makes Minnesota a special place to call home.
If we continue the path that we’re on, Minnesota’s land and water are at risk. As it stands, roughly 40% of Minnesota’s waters do not meet basic water quality standards. Prairie habitat is in decline, a threat to some of our state’s most beloved winged food production workers. Terrestrial and aquatic invasive species are covering the state, putting our native species and economic activity that depends on them at risk.
Beyond intrinsic beauty, this variety of resources also support two major industries in Minnesota: Agriculture and Outdoor Recreation. Minnesota ranks fourth nationwide in the total value of crops, and our $16.7 Billion Outdoor Recreation Economy employs over 140,000 Minnesotans. We established a new Outdoor Recreation Task Force designed to maximize the fishing, hunting, boating, and hiking experiences that people travel to Minnesota to experience. These industries, however, are currently in jeopardy.
For states like ours that support both agricultural and protected lands, the 30×30 national initiative to preserve 30% of land and waters is daunting. How can we meet the 30% criteria without threatening the livelihoods of agricultural workers and farmers? Can we protect lands without converting them?
There are options available for Minnesota to set and meet the 30×30 goals without jeopardizing the livelihoods of those who support our largest industry. Conservation easements, co-management, corridors, urban protected areas, freshwater protected areas, are examples of protections that won’t compromise our successful economy. These initiatives should include the voices of agricultural workers and outdoor recreation professionals (among many other stakeholders), centering the voices of those closest to the land. For 30×30 to be effective, it will need to feature investment in protecting both private and public lands, which invites creative planning, strategic mapping, and local insight.
The threats are real, but the solutions are apparent. Combating this natural crisis requires us to think of big solutions. That’s why Minnesota should commit to protecting 30% of our land and water by 2030. This commitment supports the recently announced goals of Governor Walz to achieve clean energy in Minnesota by 2040.
Pursuing a 30×30 strategy not only means ensuring the preservation of our land, water, wildlife, and economy for generations to come; with this commitment, Minnesota will join the ranks of other state, national, and global leaders who are at the forefront of this initiative. We can set an example for other states, as we have in the past, of how we should value our land and water.
For the future of our planet, for future generations of Minnesotans, join me in supporting a 30×30 conservation goal in Minnesota.
This op/ed was first published on MinnPost.