Conservation has changed with the times. Gone are the days when ducks and hunting were the main driving force. The newest generation of conservationists have a different focus.
“I think the view on conservation would be a lot more focused on clean water and renewable energy,” said John Lindstrom of Hutchinson, a 30-year-old biologist with Meeker County Ducks Unlimited.
Though Lindstrom is young, he has plans that would make artist Les Kouba proud.
As a biologist, Lindstrom, works with Ducks Unlimited to help protect and restore wetlands and natural habitats. His desire to preserve started with hunting at an early age. He recalled trips with friends and family to hunt geese, ducks and pheasants.
"It kind of instilled that passion for the outdoors and hunting,” he said. “That is definitely what laid the foundation for where I am today. From an early age, in high school, I had narrowed my focus for a potential career into something outdoors."
Lindstrom followed his passion after high school, graduating from Valley City State University in North Dakota with a degree in fisheries and wildlife sciences. He went on to graduate school to earn a master's degree in zoology and then worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in North Dakota before taking the job in Meeker County in 2016. He was recently featured by the Star Tribune as one of seven young Minnesota conservationists to watch.
While his work for Ducks Unlimited is focused on maintaining the waterfowl populations, he says much of what he does goes beyond benefiting hunters.
“We're able to impact a lot more than just having someone have the ability to hunt ducks in the fall by what we do,” Lindstrom said. “When we restore grassland or restore wetlands, there's a lot of ecosystem goods and services that aren't just focused on ducks and duck hunting.”
The most gratifying part of the job, he says, is seeing the effects of restoration projects not only on the wetlands, but the surrounding ecosystem. He takes pleasure in watching the transformation of lakes filled with toxins and invasive species.
“Building infrastructure to allow a temporary water level draw-down,” he said, “and then bringing the water back ... and seeing that water go from pea-soup green to crystal clear with wildlife everywhere … that's one of the more fulfilling parts of my job.”
It’s not always easy, though. Conservation projects are not without their politics. With many moving parts and issues such as permits, easements and disgruntled neighbors sometimes holding up projects, “it’s really disheartening to deal with,” Lindstrom said.
“That’s the hard part of my job,” he said. “When we have something tangible we can do, but for reasons beyond my control we aren’t able to do it.”
Despite the tough days, Lindstrom is determined to continue the fight. His major concern for the future is the continued degradation of wetlands and shallowed lakes, which has resulted in the loss of birds. He estimated about 90 percent of the state’s prairie wetlands and 99 percent of its native prairie grasslands have been lost.
And he says he’s not alone in his fight. He spoke highly of Minnesotans’ desire to conserve and protect natural resources, and pointed to the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment as proof of their commitment.
Lindstrom has a new reason for his work as well. With an 18-month-old son at home, he wants to make sure the same wetlands and hunting grounds he visited with his father are there for future generations.
“It’s not just what I want,” he said, “it’s what I think is valuable to Minnesota.”