A great cause we can all agree with

Funding for Minnesota conservation efforts should come before new stadiums.

Saturday’s Ducks, Wetlands and Clean Water rally at the State Capitol proved that groups often at odds with one another can play nice when the stakes are big. And it seems that this time, they are.

The rally united conservationists, hunters, Democrats, Republicans, outdoor-sporting enthusiasts and environmentalists in the fight to keep Minnesota’s ailing wetland ecosystems alive and healthy for future generations. Speakers included Gov. Tim Pawlenty; Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar; and retired Vikings coach Bud Grant.

Grant’s remarks might have had the greatest punch: He gave his unequivocal opinion that funding for conservation efforts in Minnesota should come before luxuries such as new stadiums for Minnesota sports teams.

And he is right. Home to professional teams in all major sports, as well as a Big Ten school’s sporting events, the Twin Cities can chalk up these assets as significant quality-of-life improvers. But what about quality of life in more remote areas?

Minnesotans need to solidify their priorities. While it would be nice to have a football stadium that doesn’t look like a giant marshmallow and a baseball stadium with better seating and an open-air option, these luxuries must come second to keeping our water clean and resources alive. For those whose Sunday entertainment comes from enjoying the outdoors or hunting, rather than watching the big game, this habitat is critical.

Saturday’s rally organizers cited water-testing results that found 40 percent of Minnesota’s lakes and streams to be below the Clean Water Act’s standards, which is unacceptable for a state theoretically committed to clean air, water and renewable energy. This pollution impacts wildlife and decreases population numbers for hunters and anglers.

This is one area of conservation in which Pawlenty shines, by pushing to raise and divert money to conservation of natural resources from sewer taxes and sales taxes. The State Legislature should follow Grant’s and Pawlenty’s advice and focus on one of the nonmetropolitan reasons Minnesota is so attractive: its wetland ecosystems.