The Awful Truth: The grim prospects for Minnesota's great outdoors

In recent years, the juggernaut that is the Minnesota real estate industry has inspired plenty of jeremiads. It's no mystery why. Minnesotans have long taken pride in the natural beauty of the place, and it is vanishing before their eyes at an appalling pace. With so much formerly pristine countryside being subdivided, paved or otherwise degraded, the time to act is now. Actually, the time to act was a decade or two back. But, as the man says, better late than never.

All this is addressed in considerable detail in a 56-page report released yesterday by the Minnesota Campaign for Conservation. The report opens on an optimistic note. The first passage, titled "Minnesota's Past Points the Way to a Proud Future," makes the usual high-minded points about the state's legacy as a leader in conservation and its ample natural resources.

No doubt, what follows is intended as an inspiring call to arms--or at least a call to staunch the bleeding. But the grim litany of statistics and trends outlined in the rest of the document will make anyone who cares about Minnesota's outdoor heritage lunge for the Kleenex.

A taste:

By 2030, the report estimates, more than one million acres of open space in Minnesota will be plowed over for homes, malls and roads; that is roughly equal to all the land in Hennepin, Ramsey, Dakota and Carver counties.

In the last decade, the report states, the seven county metro area alone lost approximately 140,000 acres of agricultural and open space to development.

You think your favorite lake is crowded now? Brother, you don't know anything about crowded. Between 2000 and 2030, according to the report, the state's population is expected to increase 28 percent (to approximately 6.2 million people).

A few other sobering facts:

The Brainerd Lakes area has achieved the dubious status as the fastest growing "micropolitan" area in the Midwest, and 28th in the entire nation.

In the next 20 years, between 500 and 600 new single family homes are expected to be built on the shores of Lake Vermilion, which has long been regarded as one of Minnesota's most picturesque bodies of water.

Large corporations--utilities and timber concerns--are rapidly selling off previously unbroken tracts of northern forest to real estate speculators. Prices are skyrocketing. Habitat for sensitive species is vanishing.

Environmental spending--as a percentage of the state budget--is plunging to historic lows. In 2001, for instance, approximately $228 million was appropriated from the general fund for expenditures at "primary conservation agencies" such as the DNR; the general fund appropriation for 2007 is pegged at $123 million.

Minnesota now ranks 37th in the nation in percentage of its budget spent on state parks.

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