As Minnesotans know, we have a multitude of natural resources and an environment we love to protect. Because of this, we are consistently ranked in the top five of all states for passing laws that benefit our environment. The ten states generally that garner top votes in their environmental quality are California, Vermont, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Oregon, Washington, Michigan, Maine, Massachusetts and New York.
I thought of this recently after coming back from a rafting trip in Oregon. Minnesota and Wisconsin are sometimes compared with Oregon and Washington in their political and environmental cultures. I remember well when a young man from Oregon came here in the 1980’s to do some work for a local conservation nonprofit because he knew that Minnesota cared for its environment.
We were in the midst of debating legislation to ban nonreturnable beverage containers, which had occurred during the late 1970’s too. Oregon had passed a law to do so, and this young man had a passion to educate us on it’s benefits. Oregon also was touted for having a strong land use planning law under the leadership of then-Governor Tom McCall.
Well, our strong unions here and the state soft drink association stopped a “bottle bill” from happening, and we never could gain enough momentum to pass statewide land use planning. I didn’t notice beverage containers strewn across the Oregon landscape, and their land use law has suffered from adverse court challenges over the years. Disparate development certainly has occurred across parts of Oregon I saw.
Some things I noticed between Oregon and Minnesota were the bikeways and bikers in towns like Bend and Eugene. Both states have great biking reputations and encourage their citizens to use bikes for healthy exercise and transportation. Their rivers, like ours, are slowly getting cleaner. Their Mississippi is the Columbia, their Minnesota is the Willamette, their St. Croix is the Rogue. And, of course, their Lake Superior coastline is the Pacific Ocean and all the great state parks alongside it.
Although they have far fewer lakes and wetlands than we do, Oregon does have impressive mountain ranges and they deal with ocean maritime law in their harbors and fishing pursuits. Their timber harvesting is more intensive than ours, while we have more current mining activity (Oregon traditionally mined gold). I was struck by how Oregonians love outdoor recreation and that may be the foundation for why they value and protect their environment.
Similarly, Minnesotans share this same value for environmental quality. We always should be proud of our abundant natural resources and the ways and history of ensuring that future citizens can enjoy them as we have done.