Minnesota-North Dakota-South Dakota

Rich Biske, Freshwater Conservation Program Director

In this role, Rich provides strategic direction, vision and oversight to The Nature Conservancy’s freshwater conservation work in the three states.

Rich has more than 14 years of experience in conservation with positions in natural resource planning and protection. He has been with the Conservancy for nine years. Rich holds a B.S. in Natural Resources and Environmental Studies from the University of Minnesota (2001).

Nature.org:

You're the first freshwater conservation program director for The Nature Conservancy’s Minnesota-North Dakota-South Dakota chapter. Why was the position created?

Rich Biske:

The Conservancy is focused on protecting fresh water, forests and grasslands in the three states, and we now have staff leads for all three habitat types. We think this is a good way to organize our work to ensure we’re focusing our time and resources on our priorities and, in doing so, protecting more land and water for people and nature.

Nature.org:

Why is protecting rivers, lakes and groundwater in MN, ND and SD important?

Rich Biske:

Every living creature, including people, depends on reliable sources of clean, safe water. We’re fortunate in our three states that we have an abundant supply. Our focus is to make sure that it continues to be there, not only today, but for future generations.

Nature.org:

What are some of the challenges you see facing our waters?

Rich Biske:

What happens on the land impacts the health of our waters. Conversion of land in the past from forests, wetlands and grasslands to urban and agricultural uses has left us with polluted, nutrient-rich waters in some parts of our three states. A growing population and ongoing land use changes are threatening our currently healthy lakes, rivers and groundwater supply. And climate change, which can lead to flooding due to more intense rain events, as well as to droughts, is exacerbating these other problems.

Nature.org:

Where is The Nature Conservancy focusing its efforts to conserve fresh water?

Rich Biske:

In Minnesota, we are focused on protecting healthy waters in three parts of the state—the headwaters of the Mississippi River above Minneapolis and St. Paul, the watershed of the St. Croix River, and in the watersheds of the Root and other rivers in southeast Minnesota. Over the next year, we will engage in a planning process to identify our priority freshwater conservation areas in North and South Dakota.

Nature.org:

What is this concept about “keeping healthy waters healthy,” that you and others in the chapter are talking about?

Rich Biske:

For a long time, the Conservancy and other conservation groups and agencies have been fixing what’s broken—spending a lot of time and money to restore waters that have already been severely polluted or otherwise degraded. While this is important, it’s a very expensive way to do business. Meanwhile, we’re beginning to see more threats to healthy river and lake systems that are vital sources of drinking water and essential to recreation and our economy. We need to take action now to conserve the lands that surround these waters before they become degraded and much more difficult and expensive to restore.

Nature.org:

What are some of the most exciting projects the chapter is currently working on?

Rich Biske:

In southeast Minnesota, we’re protecting forests, floodplains and bluff prairies around coldwater streams that are important for trout and other fish and wildlife. In the St. Croix, we are working with partners to develop a watershed protection program to conserve forests and river and lake shoreline. And in the Mississippi River Headwaters area, our scientists are developing a blueprint that shows us where we need to protect land to have the maximum impact on conserving drinking water sources as well as habitat for fish and mussels.

Nature.org:

Anything new and exciting on the horizon that you can tell us about?

Rich Biske:

Clean, reliable water is important to doing business in Minnesota. We’re working on an exciting, new strategy now with the business community to create a water fund that will help raise private dollars to protect priority lands and waters in the Mississippi River Headwaters Area. The Conservancy has successfully created water funds in other parts of the U.S. and South America, and we think it will be a very important tool to protect the rivers and lakes we rely on for everything from drinking water to flood prevention, wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation opportunities.


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