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Tribute to Minnesota Conservation Corps

Seventy-six years ago this month, the Civilian Conserva-tion Corps broke ground on conservation efforts across Minnesota -- efforts that have sustain-ed our state's treasured nat-ural resources for genera-tions.

At the height of the Great Depres-sion, young men in every cor-ner of the state were unem-ployed. One in four was job-less; the rest were underem-ployed and underpaid. Over the next decades the CCC would put 77,000 young Minnesotans to work in the forests, fields and waters of the state doing valuable work we still benefit from today.

Speaking in Rochester in 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke of the importance of the program in accomplishing greatly needed efforts to preserve the nation's great natural resources. There was hunger and despair in Minnesota cities, but after generations of neglect there was work to do in the Minnesota wilderness.

Within one month of the CCC's establishment in 1933, camps were set up in the Superior National Forest, Bena, Caribou, Halfway, Pike Lake, Camp Ripley, Lake Itasca and all across the state; camps where young adults eager to work gave the energy and spirit of their youth to a greater cause and a good paycheck. Their work established and expanded Minnesota's state park system, controlled water use, managed forests, preserved hunting and fishing lands, constructed flood controls, and more.

The economic impact of the CCC in Minnesota during the Great Depression was significant. Employing thousands who would have otherwise sat idle or earned significantly less during those difficult years, the CCC gave many Minnesotans more than just a job, but hope for a better future.

Federal support for similar CCC programs employed thousands more through the 1970s until Congress withdrew funding in 1981. Recognizing the value of these continued conservation efforts, the state Legislature established the Minnesota Conservation Corps to do two things -- engage youth and young adults in enhancing natural resources and provide opportunities for training and life skills development. Since then, the program has been adopted by a non-profit organization committed to MCC's mission to preserve and restore Minnesota's environmental treasures.

Giving young Minnesotans the opportunity to work and enhance our state's natural resources is a tradition more than seven decades in the making - a tradition that has served Minnesota well, and one we ought to preserve.

The Minnesota Legislature acted to continue that tradition this session.

In the midst of the worst economic recession since 1942, there could be no more fitting opportunity to reestablish our commitment this proven program that has already done so much for our environment and our people.

Utilizing funds from the recently passed constitutional amendment approved by voters last November, the Legislature has appropriated $2 million in new funding each of the next two years for MCC efforts statewide. We have required the Department of Natural Resources, Board of Water and Soil Resources, and the Metropolitan Council to contract with the MCC on projects that will again protect and enhance Minnesota's natural resources, as well as our parks and trails.

The need today for jobs is great. Equally great is Minnesota's need to address serious and extensive conservation efforts statewide that have been neglected for far too long. Forty percent of Minnesota's water resources are considered impaired. Encroaching development is eliminating habitat for fish and wildlife. Our parks and trails need new, aggressive maintenance efforts to preserve the infrastructure that keeps those facilities functional for Minnesotans.

By renewing Minnesota's support for the MCC, we are beginning another chapte r in the long history of this valuable and productive program. The young men and women who serve in the MCC alongside the DNR, national Forest Service, soil and water conservation districts, and others deserve our gratitude and support. It is their efforts that daily preserve the natural assets that make Minnesota unique; their work is building a better, more sustainable future for our environment.

Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, is a member of the Minnesota House.