WALKER -- DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr thinks saving northern Minnesota lakes and trees reaps more than just moral benefits for the state.

Landwehr repeatedly emphasized the financial value in conserving the state's waterways and forests as vital parts of the state's economy Wednesday in his remarks to a gathering of the Mississippi Headwaters Board at a resort on Leech Lake in Walker.

Lakes, rivers and forests are just as important to the north country as huge companies like Medtronic are to the Twin Cities metro, Landwehr said. At the same time, though, northern communities have to take care not to overharvest those resources, he said, getting his point across using the parable of the goose that laid golden eggs.

"It's the Mississippi River, it's the water, it's the forest; those are things that pitch out golden eggs," he said. "If we ... take care of them, they will continue to pitch out golden eggs. If we try to strangle them and get it out all at once, we shoot ourselves in the foot."

Landwehr acknowledged the MHB was originally formed to prevent the federal government from stepping in to manage land use near the Mississippi. Rather than having Washington control how property near the river and its tributaries would be managed, the Headwaters Board formed to give local governments in eight counties along the first 400 miles of the Mississippi (roughly Bemidji to Royalton) more control in protecting the waterway from pollution.

The DNR-funded Headwaters Board hasn't always gotten the support it needed, Landwehr said, but he was heartened by the new activity he saw on the part of the board.

"I do see a revitalized board," he said. "I personally have great confidence in the ability... of the board to do good things."

The Dayton administration is working to get more money allocated for the MHB during this year's supplemental budget session, Landwehr said. Additional funds would help keep board staff from being preoccupied with getting grant money to "keep the doors open" rather than their work with conservation projects, he said.

"I'm highly optimistic that will happen," Landwehr said of the potential budget boost. "I would love to see a fully staffed Headwaters Board."


Landwehr also spoke about how Headwaters Board communities could get funding for conservation projects through the Legacy Amendment, including the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Fund. The city of Bemidji is in the process of applying for a grant through Lessard-Sams to help secure money for cleanup of wood chip pollution on Lake Bemidji's south shore. However, in an interview after his remarks, Landwehr said the city should frame their proposal for state money as helping to restore the fish population in the lake rather than simply cleaning up the wood chips.

"If the proposal was presented in a way that (the project) was creating fish habitat, it might have some success," he said. "It's not uncommon in a situation like that, that you're restoring fish habitat ... so it's not as if it's a bait and switch."