Forestry programs are the wrong place to swing the budget axby Pete Boelter
North Branch, Minn. — Last Friday was Arbor Day. In Minnesota, we value trees. Celebrations and ceremonial tree plantings were planned around the state. This Arbor Day was special, because it marked the 100th anniversary of the Minnesota Forest Service.
Unfortunately, this is a sad time for the DNR Forestry Division. Bills either approved or under consideration in the state Legislature would eliminate the Sustainable Forest Incentive Act and shut down the Badoura and Gen. C.C. Andrews state nurseries. Other forestry programs have been cut as well.
Of these actions, closing the nurseries is the worst. How can legislators vote to destroy a state legacy? Our trees are a recognizable symbol of our state. Even the design of the Minnesota state quarter shows a forest background. One-third of our state is forest land. The nurseries have been responsible for our ability to regenerate these forests.
I and other members of my family own an 80-acre plot north of Nashwauk. Fifty-five years ago, the group planted several thousand seedlings. They were bought at a reasonable rate from Gen. C.C. Andrews State Nursery and are now a distinguished part of our property landscape. We have a membership in the Minnesota Forestry Association and participate in the sustainable forest program. We try to be good stewards of the property and have developed a land management plan to enhance our forest and game habitat. Over 100 years ago, these 80 acres were home to a logging camp. Our family history is tied to the state's lumbering and forest history.
By statute, the nurseries are obligated to be self-sustaining. Eliminating these state nurseries is needless and their existence does not affect the state's $5 billion budget deficit.
I wrote my legislator to plead for the nurseries and did receive a reply. He said that as part of the effort to balance the budget, all state agencies that competed with the private sector were being looked at. The House Bill was authored and argued on the floor by Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings. His nursery business is now in his son's name. A Star Tribune article questioned whether this constituted a conflict of interest. My feeling is that the economics of the bill were misrepresented. Further, eliminating these nurseries eliminates jobs in outstate Minnesota. Where are these employees at Willow River and Akeley going to find like employment?
I am now retired; my first job was teaching American history. I value our history and think preserving it is important. By closing these nurseries we are closing a chapter of our living history. We are eroding and eliminating a piece of our heritage.
The Gen. C.C. Andrews Nursery was named after a famous Minnesota historical figure. Andrews was a Civil War general. He entered the service as a private. A state legislator, he served later as an ambassador to Norway and Sweden, where he learned forestry. He was the state's first fire marshal. If he were alive today I bet he would feel honored to have a nursery in his name. He would likely be shocked and saddened by the closings.
How do the people feel about such cuts to the DNR? I thought that had been answered in 2008, when voters passed the Legacy Amendment and raised their own taxes, in part to enhance and protect our natural resources. Now it appears the Legislature doesn't share the same commitment to maintaining this legacy. I hope the governor can respond to this shortsightedness with a timely veto.
Pete Boelter, of North Branch, is a retired educator.