The Canada lynx may be Minnesota’s most reclusive resident, but we know much more about this boreal forest wild cat than we did 10 years ago. A story in the current issue of the Minnesota Volunteer describes how researchers at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, used radio-collars to track lynx movements and learn about their habitat needs, reproduction, range and behavior.
What the researchers learned about lynx has practical applications. Minnesota’s lynx are classified as “threatened” on the federal Endangered Species List, which means the animal and its habitat must be considered in forest management and development projects. Perhaps the most important outcome of the radio collar research is a better understanding of how lynx coexist with people. According to the Volunteer, lynx do not need to be a flashpoint for environmental controversy. Unfortunately, the successful lynx study may soon seem like a nostalgic song from the days of wine and roses. Recent news stories suggest the current crop of legislators takes a dim view of science.
Recently, the Duluth News-Tribune reported some legislators were second-guessing–they called it “reconsidering”–funding recommendations made by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources for monies derived from the state lottery. In the crosshairs were projects that had to do with research and environmental education. The News Tribune quoted Senator Denny McNamara, the new chair of the committee, saying “I think the last few years the LCCMR has become more focused on funding research and educational things as opposed to emerging on-the-ground issues.”
To be fair, McNamara’s contention that money should go to on-the-ground projects is a point well taken, but applied research is needed to direct those conservation efforts. You just can’t have one without the other. However, he doesn’t appear to be the only committee member who is hesitant about spending money on science. Science clearly isn’t on the radar of Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen of Alexandria, who explained his reason for second-guessing LCCMR recommendations this way. According to the News-Tribune, he said, “If I have to go on record and say, global warming—no, I think it’s a farce. I think it’s a fallacy. When it comes to that kind of studying, I can’t be anything other than honest. I just don’t buy it, and I think there’s a lot of folks that don’t.”
Ok, at least we know Senator Ingebrigtsen isn’t troubled with an open mind. While he may have formed a rock-solid opinion on the subject of climate change, many Minnesotans are taking a more objective approach. They want to know more about how climate change may affect our state and our lives. It might even surprise Senator Ingebrigtsen to learn these Minnesotans are not hippie-weirdoes, Al Gore disciples or closet Commies. Instead they are business and community leaders who understand climate change may have significant economic consequences. From the farmland to the forest, we depend upon weather as we know it to grow cash crops and timber for market. Even tourism depends upon consistent winter snow for snowmobiling, skiing and other recreational activities. While the Senator may think what he wants, one would hope that as a responsible leader that he doesn’t try to impose those beliefs on others or to block science that may challenge his beliefs.
Unfortunately, Senator Ingebrigtsen is sending further signals that he thinks what he thinks—science and conservation be damned. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune recently reported he has introduced legislation to eliminate special fishing regulations intended to improve the size and age structure of northern pike populations, a common fish species that has suffered from decades of overharvest. A companion bill was introduced in the House by Representative Tom Hackbarth. In a state with 1.5 million anglers, the politicians are acting on behalf of a few thousand winter spearers who say special regulations intended to protect mid-sized pike from overharvest impede their ability to kill fish with spears. According to the Star-Tribune, Ingebrigtsen, chair of the powerful Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, said of spearing interests, “I represent what I think is a dying sport in Minnesota.”
The current law—intended to protect spearers, not pike—limits the number of Minnesota lakes that may have special pike regulations to just 125. Ingebrigtsen and Hackbarth intend rewrite the law and reduce pike protection to just 60 lakes, eliminating existing special regulations on more than 60 lakes. The incentive for developing the special regulations in the first place came from anglers who were concerned big and medium-sized pike had disappeared from most Minnesota lakes due to overfishing. Biologists developed size limits intended to protect mid-sized pike from harvest, restoring a necessary predator to lake ecosystems. Special regulations are developed through a public process with plenty of input from lake associations and interested anglers, as well as research and data specific to the lake’s pike population. The regulations often prove successful at restoring larger pike to the ecosystem and are applauded by many anglers. By rewriting the law through a St. Paul power play, Ingebrigtsen and Hackbarth are trying to toss the public process and fisheries science in the trash.
We’ll have to wait and see whether or not the entire Legislature agrees to pull the plug on northern pike management, science-based conservation and public participation. In the meantime, anyone who cares about the outdoors better pay careful attention to the shenanigans in St. Paul. Actually, Senator Ingebrigtsen may be right. Not only is global warming a farce, but some legislators are still stuck in the Ice Age.