Order of the Day
With a full menu of options, the Statewide Conservation and Preservation Plan will serve Minnesota today and for many days to come.
By Lee Egerstrom
An 18-month-long study involving more than 100 University of Minnesota scientists, private consultants and experts from state agencies and nonprofit groups has served up the most sweeping look yet at Minnesota’s natural resources and the pressures altering the state’s environment.
In the technical world, the study is known as the Minnesota Statewide Conservation and Preservation Plan. It was presented in July to the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources.
In the not-so-technical world of everyday life, the question becomes how to make this massive project a workable template guiding public and private land and water uses in the years ahead.
“That’s what we’ve been asking ourselves since Day 1,” says Jean Coleman, the project coordinator from CR Planning in Minneapolis. “We’ve tried to keep future use in focus, every step of the way.”
Team member David Mulla, a professor in the U of M’s Department of Soil, Water and Climate, likens the entire effort to “writing a menu for a restaurant. We’re offering something for everyone,” says Mulla, a founding fellow of the Institute on the Environment, which is leading the SCPP partnership.
This is one big menu.
Heading into the final weeks of tweaking and testing, team members were rethinking some 65 recommendations that emerged from the hearings and conferences conducted across the state.
Like a five-course meal, all recommendations were grouped into five strategic areas, including Integrated Planning; Critical Land Protection; Land and Water Restoration; Sustainable Practices; and Economic Incentives for Sustainability.
In doing so, coordinator Coleman says the final project task is “prioritizing so it is workable for most everyone.”
Fortunately, many of the recommendations aren’t new. Rather, they bring together “best practices” now employed by private land owners, businesses, agencies and groups, says David Nelson, a private consultant with Nelson Sustainability in Afton, Minn., who attended the project’s public forum in May. That helps, he says, because it doesn’t add 60 or more new criteria for development and zoning people to learn at local levels of government.
Yet, what makes this plan unique from other conservation plans is that it provides multiple benefits across multiple natural resource areas, says Deborah Swackhamer, the SCPP principal investigator.
“We put the recommendations into a comprehensive and integrated framework, rather than a list that policymakers would cherry-pick from,” she says.
A spokesperson for the LCCMR adds that the full menu of recommendations doesn’t need immediate implementation. The plan is for guidance in future years; funding public investments to carry out the plan will be incremental.
At the same time, there is an urgency to make best economic use of the recommendations, say team members, because Minnesota’s quality of life and economic health are closely tied to clean air, water, forests, wildlife, fish and outdoor recreation.
This is especially true with emerging alternative energy development, says Laura Schmitt Olabisi, who is part of a team of U of M scientists advocating new research on perennial crops for fuel use.
“Minnesota is a leader in biofuels development,” she says. “It’s in our economic interest to lead in alternative energy research and development, but we have to do it right.”
LEE EGERSTROM is a fellow of the Minnesota 2020 think-tank and an author of several books on economic development themes. He is a former journalist with the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Knight Ridder Newspapers.
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Last modified on January 23, 2012