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Scott Rall: 1906 wildlife management looks familiar

Country music superstar Jason Aldeen recently released a song called "1994." It is on its way to the top of the country charts. I wondered when I heard the song where the 1994 came from. The year that I am talking about today is 1906 and it came from a book that was dropped off in my office a few months ago by local auctioneer Jack Sliver. We worked together at the Daily Globe back in the mid-1980's in the advertising department, so I have known Jack for almost 30 years.

The book is a like-new hard-bound copy of the 13th annual report of the Game and Fish Commissioners in Minnesota. The old title of the resource management organization in Minnesota has been replaced and the new title is the Department of Natural Resources. This book was published 55 years before I was even born and inside the cover is a ton of very interesting facts about game and fish management from over 110 years ago. The entire budget for all game and fish management in Minnesota in 1906 was a little over $49,000

I will share a paragraph from the summary letter to the governor of Minnesota who at that time was John A. Johnson. "We believe that the game and fish of Minnesota are worth the best efforts of the best citizens to preserve. It was left to us by our forefathers as a priceless heritage and should be handed down to our children for them to enjoy. We believe it is a crime to allow our game and fish to be sold as merchandise, because it belongs to all the people in their sovereign capacity."

This is as true today as it was over 100 years ago.

The letter is lengthy but I gleaned from its pages many of the issues regarding game and fish management in that day. The writer was asking the governor of that day to end the spring shooting of waterfowl and other animals in all states and went to great detail to explain how this policy would benefit game and fowl.

Minnesota in 1906 had already prohibited this practice. They campaigned for the states to relinquish their rights over migratory waterfowl and other birds to the wildlife managers on a federal level as to allow for much better management of species that moved across state lines every spring and fall. This did happen but I don't know in what year. Now we use flyway councils with all states and game agencies involved to determine safe level harvests of these same species. These people were very insightful even 11 decades to our rear.

South Dakota in 1906 had no formal game and fish laws and the writer delights in the fact that in that year South Dakota created their own game and fish department and had adopted all the laws currently on the books in Minnesota as the new laws of South Dakota. They called what Minnesota had done the model for game and fish management across the entire union.

One of the greatest threats of that day was the destruction of forest resources by timber companies and the resulting destruction of fisheries resources by those same companies. Timber harvest was impeding the vital fisheries efforts of the commission by floating logs down all the major rivers of the state during the commission's efforts to collect fish eggs for stocking. There was a lawsuit in the Supreme Court of the United States to stop the practice and to collect money from the timber companies to reimburse the states' residents for the lost fishing opportunities that they were denied as a result of the practice. The letter stated that the more forests we had the more game and fish would be available for Minnesota citizens for hunting and meat consumption.

There were more deer and elk in 1906 that at any other time in Minnesota history and these commissioners did not want to see that trend reversed by forest habitat destruction.

I was overwhelmed by the amount of fish stocking that was being done back in 1906. Over one billion fish eggs were harvested and distributed throughout the United States. The commissioners were desperate to receive a special railroad car to aid in their distribution.

They collected just about every fish species in Minnesota and noted that the trout fishing in Winona and Rushford were just a few of their successful efforts.

They asked for a civil service law that would make it impossible for wardens to be removed at the beck and call of some cheap, would-be politician who wants to make room for some friend who has become more zealous as a politician than the warden. This is their words, not mine. I give them credit for telling the governor what they really thought.

They asked for more funding and more attention be paid the resources of Minnesota and campaigned with great passion for the wildlife resources that they loved so much. They spared no opportunity to tell the governor that if properly managed that game and fish would provide more revenue to the state than any other industry.

It was the birth of hunting and fishing tourism as we now know it. It seems that nothing much has really changed over 110 years. They wanted science based management, more funding and less government/political interference. Sounds like a broken record that seems to have played continuously for over 11 decades.

One other worthy quote that is as true today as it was in 1906 is that "politics and game protection like oil and water will not mix and when ever tried, game and fish protection suffer and no one is really benefited." I have said this same thing at least a thousand times in the past 30 years. It's said that history is bound to repeat itself and after reading a book that is over 110 years old and comparing it to wildlife management in the modern age this saying seems to prove itself once again.

Scott Rall is The Daily Globe outdoors columnist. His column can also be read weekly at