With love in the air on this Valentine’s Day, the state Legislature passed some on to Minnesota’s natural resources and cultural heritage as it approved the landmark Great Outdoors and Heritage Amendment as its first piece of business. The initiative, nearly a decade in the making, asks voters to amend the state Constitution to dedicate a small portion of the state sales tax to protect clean water, wildlife, natural areas and cultural heritage projects. Minnesota voters will decide on measure at the ballot box on November 4.
“This is a great day for all Minnesotans,” said Ryan Heiniger, of Ducks Unlimited and a member of a coalition of sportsmen, conservationists, environmentalists and cultural heritage advocates working on the amendment. “Legislators from both parties deserve a lot of credit for the hard work to pass this bill - as well as those legislators that worked tirelessly on this issue in years past. This will help protect our outdoor traditions.”
“This is really a story about partnership and determination,” said Steve Morse, Executive Director of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, a member of the coalition. “This has been a long road. Today, we have taken a major step forward to guarantee future generations can enjoy Minnesota’s quality of life just as we have.”
The amendment asks voters to increase the state sales tax by 3/8 percent to fund clean water projects, wildlife habitat, natural areas, parks and cultural heritage projects over a 25-year period. The timing couldn’t be better. Minnesota’s landscape is changing and is under tremendous pressure, yet funding natural resources remains near historic lows, and we are losing access for recreation. And, although arts and cultural programming is regularly recognized for excellence nationally, and generates billions of dollars annually for Minnesota’s economy, devastating cuts have reduced access in every county, while demand has been increasing rapidly.
“Minnesotans have a proud tradition of local access to great arts and culture,” said Sheila Smith, Executive Director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts. “Arts and cultural education are critical not only to our children’s future but also to our state’s economic well-being. This election day, Minnesota voters will help protect what they love most about the state - our lands, waters and way of life.”
When it comes to land conservation, the state currently invests half what Wisconsin does, just five dollars per person annually. While Minnesota has more natural resources than many states and more development pressure than at any point in its entire history, Minnesota’s investment in land conservation is at a historically low level.
“This will be a tremendous shot in the arm for our natural resources,” said Gary Botzek, of the Minnesota Conservation Federation. “This is an opportunity of a lifetime for Minnesota’s sportsmen and women to protect and enhance our fish and wildlife habitat.”
Over the next three decades, Minnesota’s population is projected to increase by 1.2 million people, faster than any other Midwestern state, with many counties in the top 100 fastest growing nationwide. Growth can be good, but we want to make sure that while we grow, we are protecting and preserving our most important natural areas, which are so much a part of why we love it here. Protecting our lands for wildlife habitat, fishing, hunting, and hiking is critical and the right thing to do for the state’s future.
“This amendment is about future generations, and increasing our investment in the future of Minnesota,” said Peggy Ladner, state director of The Nature Conservancy and a coalition member. “Acting now to ensure that we properly protect our water, natural areas and cultural heritage for our children and grandchildren is an investment well worth making. We look forward to continuing to build this case and encourage voters to approve this amendment in November of 2008. The next phase of our work begins today.”
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.