About Bob Hartkopf
Bob Hartkopf is a retired
high school science teacher and a lifetime ecologist and environmental
activist. Growing up on his family’s farm near Appleton,
Minnesota in Swift County, Hartkopf read the works of other ecologists
like Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson. Inspired by their ideas, Hartkopf
became a one man activist group as one of the earliest voices for
wetland restoration in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest.
Though living and teaching in Fargo, Hartkopf noticed drastic environmental
changes during his visits to the family farm in Swift County. The
ducks had disappeared. Canada geese no longer nested in the tall
grasses around the marsh. The tall grass was gone, burned off to
make room for more farmland.
Hartkopf decided this tragedy needed to be recorded, so he created
Cry of the Marsh, a short documentary that, though only 12 minutes
long, presents a startling witness to the devastated wildlife and
plant life, sacrificed in the name of modern farming.
Cry of the Marsh was released in April 1970 to coincide with the
first Earth Day. Since the premier, Hartkopf has traveled extensively
to show his film and talk about the need to restore a balance in
the rural landscape.
Wetland restoration affects all Minnesotans. Wetlands provide natural
controls against flooding; they filter our water table; and they
host a wide range of animal life that insure the healthy order of
our ecosystem. In the days after Hurricane Katrina, experts said
wetlands could have provided better flood control than levees.
Because of state drainage laws combined with
state and federal policies, wetlands have all but disappeared from
the Minnesota’s landscape.
While these laws and policies enabled an abundant food supply, they
also wreaked havoc on Minnesota’s wildlife and ecological health.
Without wetlands, farm chemicals and other nitrates wash into our
rivers every day, depleting the water of oxygen and other healthful
The federal government has instituted buy
back programs to restore wetlands, but older drainage laws prevent
them from having full impact. Perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate those laws. Hartkopf’s
work reminds us that we can find a healthy balance for our land use,
that we can restore and strengthen our ecosystem, and that working
for environmental change is possible.