Family photo


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 elements.

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.

Echoes of Cry of the Marsh is a production of the
University of Minnesota Morris
with cooperation with Pioneer Public Television • 2007