As a veteran of several campaigns to protect wilderness, I’ve been quick to assert that the enactment of a particular law will protect the wild places I care about forever. I’m not alone. “Forever” is a word uttered reflexively and frequently by many environmental and conservation advocates.
But when it comes to conservation, what is forever?
A long time ago, I was told there are no permanent victories in conservation. What is protected once is always vulnerable to exploitation now or later. Congress or a state legislature can always un-protect wilderness or roll back clean water standards through a simple legislative act.
Some might find the news depressing. I would argue that it’s a positive challenge, the way a Minnesota winter is a challenge to our comfort and complacency. We are called upon each generation to stand and fight for air, water, land, fish and wildlife. To assure there is wilderness forever, advocates will have to work forever.
There is good news, though: none of Minnesota’s important wild places have ever been “un-protected.” The last several generations have had the courage and vision to stand guard over these places and assure their benefits continue for hunters, anglers, birders, campers and others. As we think about the future of mining close to wild places in Minnesota, there is good reason to believe current generations will maintain that courage and vision.
It all comes down to this: Eternal vigilance is the price of conservation.