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More to Every Story

Though I once met the late John McKane and read his impassioned stories in the Volunteer, I did not have a full picture of this energetic editor and environmental activist until I'd talked with his family. On a recent visit to the Conservation Volunteer office in St. Paul, his daughter, three sons, and a granddaughter shared memories of the man who edited this magazine from 1962 to 1976. They remembered him writing his stories in a single draft on his manual typewriter. Whenever a new wildlife management area opened, he'd pack up the whole family and travel to the dedication.

McKane developed his conservation ethic as a hunter and angler. When he returned from serving as a Navy fighter pilot during World War II, he saw the spring-fed lake next to his boyhood home had been filled with dredging from the construction of Lock and Dam No. 2. That's when he became a conservationist.

Every story is too long to tell in its entirety. Yet, uncovering a back story, subplot, telling detail, or person behind the scenes can add important dimensions to the original. Consider some additions to stories in this issue:

"Ghost Towns" recalls three towns in the early days of statehood but does not take up the most haunting back story -- the displacement of the Indian people. Commemorating the state's 75th anniversary in 1933, The Minnesota Conservationist published a story called "Our Heritage from the Pioneer." It said: "The Indians were the real pioneers and citizens of the State, but their life knew no state line boundaries and they travelled where they willed, following the seasons and the need of food."

"Ghost Towns" notes the impact of railroads on pioneer towns. Railroads also profoundly affected wildlife, according to The Use and Conservation of Minnesota Wildlife, 1850?1900, by Evadene Burris Swanson. Railroads brought more settlers. Swanson said cultivated acres in the state increased from around 600,000 in 1865, to 3 million in 1875. And expanding railroad networks gave hunters greater access to wildlife and to commercial markets for fur and feathers. "The transition from 'meat' hunters to market hunters was sometimes a quick one," Swanson wrote.

In this issue "Hunting for Decoys" describes the role of market hunters in the early manufacture of waterfowl decoys. In addition to waterfowl, market hunters targeted shorebirds, songbirds, and passenger pigeons. "It was not always necessary to be a good shot to collect food," Swanson wrote. "Many of these birds were garnered by snares, nets, or decoys of several types. . . . Meadowlarks were brought in by special decoy. Mirrors were attached to a ball, then this was fastened to a stick and twirled."

As times change, attitudes and ethics evolve. Reading "Where Raptors Soar," you might be surprised to learn that Minnesotans have not always admired these birds of prey. The overlook called Hawk Ridge once attracted people using the birds as target practice. In 1933 The Minnesota Conservationist presented an argument for the protection of some hawks and owls; although, state law at that time said all species of hawks and owls could be taken in any manner at any time. The story described each species and defined it as beneficial or detrimental to domestic poultry and game birds.

People can change, and so can trees. "Wildly Adaptable Trees" looks back on 150 years of landscape changes that have favored tree species with certain adaptations. Behind the scenes in this story is Welby Smith, one of the state's premier botanists. Smith has been quietly going afield with notebook and plant press and studying the native trees of Minnesota for most of his life.

"If you see me in the office during the field season," he says, "I'm not doing my job." You can see the impressive results of his work in Trees and Shrubs of Minnesota, just published by the University of Minnesota Press. This 708-page book, with more than 1,000 photographs taken by Smith, will be our state's definitive tree guide for decades to come. It's a resource for everyone who wants to know more of the tree story.

Kathleen Weflen, editor
kathleen.weflen@state.mn.us

 

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