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Pioneer Editorial: Strategies for state's resources

All of us enjoy our natural resources, and certainly we want to strive to protect them for future generations. But we've lacked a comprehensive plan that ensures that our activities won't endanger the delicate balance we need between resource use and abuse -- until now.

The University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment and the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources released a new report Tuesday, Statewide Conservation and Preservation Plan, that charts long-term strategies for tackling critical issues and trends that affect Minnesota's environment and natural resources.

The report provides a host of strategies in seven key areas -- land and water habitat fragmentation, loss and conversion; land-use practices; transportation; energy production and use; toxic contaminants; impacts on resource consumption; and, invasive species. Framed around those areas are processes which lead to specific recommendations. The report calls for processes that encompass an integrated planning approach for natural resource management, critical land protection, land and water restoration, sustainability practices, and economic incentives for a sustainable society.

For instance, the report calls for funding the preparation and implementation of a state land use, development and investment guide. Noting that large tracts of privately held forested lands are rapidly being divided into smaller parcels and sold for developments that take away from public use and timber harvest, the "state needs to develop a statewide vision and goals for forestlands that provides guidance to local and county governments to make land-use decisions that maintain habitat, water quality and economic health."

Similarly, the report makes recommendations to improve and restore shallow lakes, use tax credits and other incentives to sustain wetlands, and move people quicker to renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal. It calls for permanent protection of the highest priority shorelands through acquisition. Keeping water on the landscape over broader areas and for a longer period of time will improve water quality, reduce flooding and maintain habitat for wildlife and game species.

The report recommends an agricultural strategy where a transition is preferred from renewable fuel feedstocks to perennial crops. Streambank erosion can be reduced through reductions in peak water flows, and upland and gully erosion can be prevented through soil conservation practices.

In transportation, it lays out suggestions to reduce per capital vehicle miles of travel through compact mixed-use development and multi- and intermodal transportation systems. And it would promote alternative energy production strategies that balance or optimize production of food, feed, fiber, energy and other products with protection or improvements of environmental quality.

As the report is dissected and its parts make their way through the Legislature, debate will be thorough and sometimes heated over the best methods. But the report released Tuesday provides a comprehensive and solid foundation for putting Minnesota on a future that preserves our precious natural resources.