Low Tide on the North Coast and New Commissioners

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I took a long weekend up to the South Shore of Lake Superior to visit a friend and it seems we got some new commissioners while I was out.

First things first, the fact that Lake Superior is a foot below normal – an 80 year low and expected to continue down – is readily apparent.  Heading up the shore with my friend, who was born and raised on the South Shore, we noticed a number of new sand bars and other items that could easily inhibit trout and other fish from living life (and therefore reproducing) properly.  Again, it shows the importance of passing the Great Lakes Compact.  Given that only 1% or so of the water in Lake Superior comes from the annual precipitation, we don’t have any water to mess around with (the rest of the water is a parting gift from the glaciers).  On the plus side, the U.S. Coast Guard is discontinuing live-fire exercises on the Great Lakes, which will prevent 6,900 pounds of lead and 2,800 pounds of copper from being put into the Lakes each year.

It was just before I got back to the Minnesota border that MPR informed me that Mark Holsten and Brad Moore have been appointed as commissioners of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Pollution Control Agency (PCA), respectively.  No big surprise on either of those.  The choice of Holsten is disappointing though. 

While I was pondering what the Holsten DNR might feel like, I heard the voice of Gary Botzek, executive director for MEP member group Minnesota Conservation Federation and a person I respect a lot, come into my head and reassure me that it’ll be all right.  No I wasn’t going crazy, Gary was interviewed by MPR.  Thus, I was willing to overlook some past transgressions and try to be optimistic about the new appointment.  That is, until I read the DNR press release on the topic this morning. 

It was during the legislative fights on Off-Highway Vehicles (OHVs) a couple of sessions ago that I most frequently saw then Deputy Commissioner Holsten in action.  It did not make me very proud to be a taxpayer and willing supporter of various DNR fees. As mention, I was going to let bygones be bygones, until I read one of Holsten’s cited credentials as “improved management of ATV trails to protect the environment.”  Pardon? 

Under Holsten’s steering of the boat at the Capitol, ATV management was reversed by the legislature to assume that in state forests north of Highway 2 (where 74 percent of State Forest land is found), ATVs are allowed to travel on any trail unless there is a sign saying they cannot.  Two fundamental problems exist with this policy.  One, if a hoodlum wants to ride on a trail, all they have to do is remove the sign and then they and every other rider can say that there is no sign telling them not too. Two, if that same hoodlum (and I have no reason to believe that most riders aren’t good, caring folks) wants to create a new trail through the woods (or wetlands), the next law abiding rider to come along has no way of knowing that he or she should not be traveling on this damaging route.  Prior to Holsten’s efforts to reverse this law, ATVs were permitted to travel on trails that had signs demonstrating them as open.  This not only encouraged the maintenance of the signs by lawful riders, it ensured that DNR staff would first check a trail to make sure a trail was suitable for motorized use.   The burden is now on the DNR staff to look at each forest and close off unsuitable trails.  In the mean time, long-lasting damage is being done to our forests and wetlands that will largely go unquantified.  To try to pass this policy off as benefiting the environment is just downright deceitful.  Is this the type of thing that we can expect from Commissioner Holsten’s DNR? 

For now, I guess I’ll wait and see if any of these issues come up during his confirmation process in the state senate.

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