I happened to walk past the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) monument at Gooseberry Falls State Park the other day. Fishing pal Theodore wondered if such a notion could actually work nowadays, what with OSHA and the ACLU, New Deal bashers, labor laws and other modern-day contrivances meant to protect the proletariat.

After some thought, we guessed an old washed up, one-legged general with the social skills and charm of Jimmy Durante could resurrect the old work program from the dust bin of history.

The landscapes of America are wanting. No matter the efforts over the years to legislate protections for lands and waters, the relentless grind of economic forces and an ever-expanding society continue to pressure the sustainability of our resources. We can apply labels and say that "we're green" and that trees are a renewable resource and that minelands will be reclaimed according to the law but we're kidding ourselves if we think we're not having a widening impact on the landscape. The footprint is ever increasing.

In the meantime, we're hoping that someone is out there watching over our public lands and resources for us. We keep hoping that we're going to leave the landscape in good shape for future generations, that we're doing the right thing. We hope. We cross our fingers.

It's time for a public works program like the CCC.

Public agencies meant to manage and protect our natural resources are often shuffled to the background in the world of economic forces, the world of the bottom line. Budgets are often underfunded and cannot adequately provide sustainable management of lands in this time of constant and dramatic change. Timber, mineral and energy development seem to supercede recreation, wildlife and fisheries. Public land managers often don't have the manpower or budgets to adequately address issues across the landscape.

We, the People, just don't want to put our tax dollars to much of anything that pays for public resources, no matter if it's roads or wastewater systems or trees. Many folks just don't seem to understand that these things don't fix themselves after we use them. The shared resources of the nation are like orphans of a sort. We simply trust, we hope, that everything is fine.

Now that we're grinding up maple trees for paper and removing marginal timberlands for an expanding bio-fuel industry, there are few places in the northern landscape that are off the map. I've heard it said so many times that "trees grow back, what's the problem." Well, for one, what kinds of trees grow back and just how long we allow them to grow back is a big issue. I've said it before and I'll say it again. We have cultivated a pulp farm over the years and pulp is the lowest common denominator in terms of economics.

In a land of trees, how many people work in a producing sawmill in this county? A handful, perhaps? We are cultivating pulp, not higher grade saw timber or other higher value timber products. That is a choice made by all of us. It won't happen on its own. Bio-fuels can provide a renewable source of income and reduce the need for fossil fuels--but only if we reduce the dependence on fossil fuels and understand that bio-fuels means cutting timber, not just finding this new magic fuel source just sitting out there in the woods awaiting our arrival.

Years ago, the state-sponsored Generic Environmental Impact Statement on Minnesota's timber harvest indicated that there was a sustainable level at which 3-4 million cords of wood a year could be harvested. The catch was that mitigation strategies were also included to make sure that amount of wood would be replaced and landscapes not altered toward an eventual vanishing point. In other words, sustainable can't be about extraction of the resource without an intent to replace and improve on what was removed.

It takes investment to sustain a profit over the long run. In this sense, profit is both economic and social.

I'm not quite sure where the one-legged general would take his conservation troops but I would think there are plenty of land managers that would appreciate the assistance. I'm not quite sure why but we in this nation keep thinking that we'll get something for nothing even though we also understand no known system in this universe works that way.

Bring back the CCC.