Dying for democracy

Below is a letter-to-the-editor that I wrote which was published in this week’s Hudson, Wisconsin Star-Observer:

Memorial Day skiesDear Editor,

My wife Katie and I have been attending the Memorial Day celebration at Willow River Cemetery for several years. This year, we were made to feel unwelcome and we won’t attend again.

The event started well enough. We put our hands over our hearts and sang the “Star-Spangled Banner.” We stood solemnly as a prayer for the war dead was offered. Then the keynote speaker took the stage, a young man who had served a tour of duty in Iraq with the Wisconsin National Guard.

His remarks started off well enough, but soon descended into the sort of divisive, partisan language one finds on 24-hour cable news channels. He proclaimed that, to thank veterans, we should stand against health care reform and for the idea that we are a Christian nation.

At that point, I walked away. I strolled through the cemetery on that beautiful summer morning, admiring the bright flags flying over many graves, thinking of the many who have fought, and the many who have died. For a while, I could still hear the speaker’s voice, but not his words. Even unable to make out what he was saying, it sounded just as empty.

I came back to the ceremony in time to see the Honor Guard of veterans stand and deliver the 21-gun salute. I thought of my father who served in the Navy, of Katie and my grandfathers, who joined up during World War II, and of a good friend who will leave for the war in Afghanistan this winter.

The speaker’s words were of politics, not of memorial. It assigned political ideology to thousands of dead heroes, who sacrificed their lives for any number of reasons. Chief among those reasons was surely the ideal of democracy. His words cheapened their loss and the day, and sought out the things that divide us on a day we should all stand together.

Greg Seitz
Maplewood, MN

– “Disliked Memorial Day speech,” June 4, 2010


Legacy Amendment money at work in St. Croix watershed

The St. Croix: clean water, great recreation, and valuable habitat.I’m glad to hear that money from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment–which Minnesota voters passed in 2008 to increase the statewide sales tax to fund conservation, arts and culture project–is going to make a real impact in the St. Croix River watershed.

Minnesota conservation legend Darby Nelson, who now serves on the Lessard Council which makes recommendations to the Legislature on how to spend the money on habitat projects every year, mentions a couple interesting projects that the council is recommending in a post on The first one addresses a dire need along the Lower St. Croix where development is threatening the river:

A million dollar allocation to Washington County will help preserve fish and wildlife habitat by protecting 253 acres of critical riparian habitat and one mile of shoreland. The work will complete a permanently protected three mile continuous corridor along the lower St. Croix.

Referencing the original application (PDF), it looks to be primarily conservation easements on some land located adjacent to St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park and Carpenter Nature Center.

Valley Creek, a unique trout stream in Afton and a St. Croix tributary, will benefit from a $1.2 million allocation:

This stream that flows into the St. Croix is one of very few trout streams in Minnesota where trout populations can perpetuate themselves through natural reproduction. According to Tom Waters, retired fisheries professor at the University of Minnesota, not only is this stream one of the best producers of trout in the state but it is believed to be in the top ten percent of trout streams in the world by that measure. More than twenty endangered or at risk wildlife species call the stream’s watershed home.

Here is the full request (PDF). By all accounts, it’s an amazing little stream and the only trout stream of any note within 50 miles of my home. But I’ve never fished it and probably never will, because landowners along the stream are notoriously protective and gaining any access is all but impossible. It grates against the sensibilities of many of us trout fishers who so value public access to public waters.

Maybe this issue speaks to the struggle many conservation organizations–and particularly the secretive trout-fishing community–face : do you publicize and open up a stream to fishing so you build a strong community that will work for its protection? Or is the added pressure not worth the political potential? In this case, it seems like the landowners and a nonprofit were enough to get the job done.

A bit further from the river, but in the watershed, I recently learned that Lake Elmo Park Reserve, a popular destination for cross-country skiing, will be getting some lighted ski trails for nighttime skiing and a beautiful barn on the property will be converted to a chalet/warming house, all with our tax dollars. Edit: D’oh. By my own map of the watershed, it appears the the Park Reserve is actually just outside the watershed.

It’s really great hearing about all this and it’s exactly why I voted “yes.” Let’s hope the legislature respects the Lessard Council’s hard work and approves these projects in the upcoming session!

Related blog posts about the amendment from back when it was being debated: