Conservation Minnesota

A Great Crossroads for the Outdoors

“The last years of my life were spent in the cause of forestry, in that cause . . . the best work of my life was done.”*
General Christopher C. Andrews

For conservation in Minnesota, the big news this week was the confirmation hearing for Tom Landwehr as the DNR Commissioner in front of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee. Under Minnesota law, the governor can appoint commissioners upon the advice and consent of the Senate. Therefore, after the governor appoints a commissioner he can start to serve right away and at some time in the future the Senate can confirm that appointment. The Senate can also remove a Commissioner from office by specifically denying the confirmation, but they can only do this one time on an up-or-down vote. For that reason it is a common practice for the Senate to sit on a confirmation just to make the Commissioner sweat a little bit particularly when the governor is about another party.

Therefore, it was good news for Landwehr this week when the Senate committee unanimously recommended that he be confirmed. The matter will still have to be taken up by the full Senate for it to be final, but based on the dialogue in committee it looks like a green light for his confirmation by the full Senate. Having the confirmation behind him will hopefully strengthen his position going forward as he leads the DNR through a historic period of change. Therefore, I thought it appropriate to dedicate our history lesson for our friend Commissioner Landwehr.

Commissioner, next time you walk into the Office of the Governor I want you to look to the right at the historic painting over the receptionist’s desk. You will notice, behind the tired drummer boy in the picture, a distinguished union general riding his horse into Little Rock, Arkansas. Depending on how you recount the history of the DNR that man is your distant predecessor as Commissioner. He is General CC Andrews.

This painting is of the victorious march of the Minnesota Third Infantry into Little Rock, Arkansas in the summer of 1863. In the foreground of the painting is the exhausted drummer boy peaceably staggering up the road into Little Rock at the head of the line, the Minnesotans stretched out in the background coming up from the Arkansas River. Riding tall in the saddle just behind the drummer boy leading his exhausted column is the commander of the Minnesota Third, Gen. Andrews.

This son of a New Hampshire farmer grew up to excel in academics at a Boston Academy and gained admittance to the bar in Massachusetts. Swept up by the fever of Western expansion among the hardy stock of New Englanders, he relocated to St. Cloud, Minnesota in 1856 where he set up a law office in the midst of a lumber boom. His leadership qualities were soon recognized and, at barely 30 years of age, he was elected to the Minnesota State Senate soon after the state was admitted to the union.

During the Civil War Andrews distinguished himself quickly, rising to the rank of commander of the Minnesota Third. In one of the most successful campaigns in the western theater, Andrews’ Third executed an exhausting and brilliant 100-mile march on the Arkansas capitol of Little Rock. Despite being plagued by debilitating sickness, the Minnesotans out maneuvered the Confederate Army to capture Little Rock against a well-entrenched opposition with only a few shots being fired and minor casualties.

Andrews and the Minnesota Third remained on as the occupying force of Little Rock. Andrews’ tact and diplomacy gained him renown as a fair and benevolent occupying commander. He was instrumental in helping foster loyalty towards the Union within Arkansas who would soon reorganize as a free state. At the conclusion of the Civil War he was mustered out as a major general.

His excellent diplomatic skills demonstrated during his command in Arkansas did not go unrecognized. After the war he was tapped to be a diplomat for the United States to such countries as Norway, Sweden and Brazil. Despite his success at war and abroad, he yearned to return to Minnesota. He finally returned in the early 1880s and quickly became one of the leading, if not prophetic, voices for reform in our forestry practices. He preached against clear cutting and advocated for sound scientific conservation practices he had observed in Scandinavian countries.

In the wake of the 1894 great Hinckley forest fire, he pushed for a scientifically driven state forestry post to be created by the Legislature. The State Legislature, under pressure from the great Hinckley tragedy, needed to act but was still controlled by the lumber industry. Instead of a state forestry post as advocated by Andrews, they created the post of Chief Fire Warden. Not to be out maneuvered, the wily general outflanked the state legislature and successfully pushed for his appointment to the position.

He realized that passing bills in St. Paul would do little to change the forest landscape. Therefore, starting at age 65 he transformed this position over the next 27 years into a dominating force for forest conservation and sustainable management. He became an evangelist of good forest management in the townships all across the forested regions of our state. It was his tireless work out in the field that helped transform public opinion later, laying the groundwork for Minnesota’s early leadership in conservation. He never stopped pressing the concept of forestry protection until his death in 1922 at the age of 92. Our state honored him by naming a state forest after him just outside of Willow River.

Today Commissioner Landwehr, you are facing a state at a great crossroads when it comes to our great outdoors. The voters of Minnesota have blessed us with a constitutional amendment dedicating substantial resources for the preservation of our great outdoors. It’ll be under your tenure that the precedent will be set on whether these resources will go to expand the protections of natural resources future generations or simply be swallowed up to backfill in budget cuts. It will be also on your watch that the state will likely permit for the first time mining operations that could produce the most toxic runoff our lakes and rivers have ever tasted. You will play a critical role in protecting our future generations from having to clean up this damage. We are also facing an unprecedented invasion of invasive species on multiple fronts.

So Commissioner, your friends at Conservation Minnesota are wishing you all the best, confident you will fill the shoes of Gen. Andrews well. Just remember, every time you walk by the reception desk on your way to visit the governor, your old predecessor CC Andrews will be watching. We hope it will be said of you when you complete your tenure as Commissioner that your best work will have been done in protecting our outdoors for future generations.

*R. Newell Seale, Minnesota Forestry Comes of Age: Christopher C. Andrews 1895-1911, p. 15. Quoting from Alice E. Andrews, ed., The Recollections of Christopher C. Andrews (Cleveland; Arthur, Clark and Son, 1928) p 275

About John Tuma

John Tuma
John is a former state legislator and litigation attorney. He served in the Minnesota House of Representatives for eight years from the Northfield area, beginning in 1994. Elected as a Republican, John was known for his independent thinking and ability to work across party lines. He is well-known in Minnesota state government circles.
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John says:

A nice history and challenge lesson for our new commissioner, John. Thanks!
I hope he will take the legacy challenge on personally.

Dave Dempsey Dave says:

Good piece, John. We need more Minnesota conservation/environmental history stories to inspire us in the future. By the way, a rest stop along I-35 in Pine County is also named after Gen. Andrews.