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Putting habitat reclamation into contextPosted Tuesday, July 3, 2012, at 11:40 AM
NIMBY -- Not In My Back Yard.
The phrase echoes in my head every time I attend a hearing on Jameson Island or any issue attached to the Missouri River Environmental Recovery Project.
I can only imagine the uproar if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced a project to make the Kansas City Plaza and Brush Creek, transform back into a "creek" again, free to roam as it no doubt was before Lewis and Clark explored the Missouri River in 1804.
Or what about a proposal to undo work along the Little Blue River, which has been altered considerably (and at great cost) since my childhood.
Now as I read history books, is it hard to imagine what Jackson County looked like before urbanization took over. Today, a shopping mall and more than a dozen restaurants line the Blue River valley where Quantrill's raiders and federal troops once hunted one another. There is no longer a natural tree in sight. In the same land, before and after the Civil War, farmers turned over fertile prairie ground and let it grow in corn, wheat, oats and animals. That farmland is mostly gone, given up for suburban homes and concrete.
What if the thousands of acres of shopping malls, casinos, neighborhoods and businesses, which are now located in the Missouri River bottoms --many have been built since 1993 --were razed and made "natural" again?
I can hear the protests now.
After all, such a project would affect civilization, progress and the American economy. Detractors would shut it down before it ever got out of the planning stages.
What most don't realize though, is Congress authorized the Corps to purchase 167,500 acres of bottom land to develop for habitat recovery. Roughly 67,000 acres are already being operated as wildlife refuges along the river. If the remaining 100,000 acres are taken out of production it will affect all of us much more than the loss of another chain store.
This year, even in our country's budget crunch, the Corps was awarded $18 million more for river recovery than last year, a whopping $90 million as opposed to roughly $7 million for river maintenance.
Since 1993, Congress has authorized $600 million for habitat restoration, with only a third of the proposed sites completed.
Yet, no one but farmers seems to protest.
I understand why. It's a NIMBY thing.
In the concreted neighborhood of identical houses, small yards and nosy neighbors of my childhood, the thought that somewhere a little land somewhere else was open, free and natural was comforting. It made me feel less guilty about my part in urbanizing America.
After all, driving by on Interstate 70, along acres and acres of corn, beans and pasture, it is hard to imagine farm land is disappearing. It won't hurt if a little more goes back to its natural state.
But those of tasked with growing food see former farm ground move out of production everyday. We have improved technology and now feed more people than ever. But we also have a growing population. And soon, those two things will collide.
We see it clearly.
Farm land and soil are finite. One day, sooner rather than later, we won't have enough open space left to feed ourselves, let alone other countries.
As Missourians, we like parks, and we support them with tax money and attendance. And they pay us back in tourism dollars. Last year more than 18 million people visited at least one of Missouri's state parks which encompass more than 200,000 acres.
But it doesn't seem to be so, for the 16,700 acre (just one-third of the proposed 60,000 acres) Muddy River Wildlife Preserve located between Kansas City and St. Louis. According to their website, 20,000 people visit yearly. A 2009 report showed approximately 8,000 people spent some time at Jameson Island. That's not many considering the more than 100,000 yearly visitors Arrow Rock claim.
The lack of use is not really surprising. After all, most of us look for the closest parking space at our nearby grocery store, so it's doubtful we are going to spend a lot of time hiking in a 1,800 acre jungle of trees, ticks, poisonous snakes and mosquitos -- even if we probably should.
As opposed to tourism dollars generated from Missouri Parks, these wildlife preserves have cost us more than $600 million thus far with less than half of the acreage purchased or developed. The land is taken off the county tax rolls, with little tourism money to offset the loss.
As farmers and as consumers we need to get the word out, especially to Congress, who made the laws. Right now, environmental interests and their money are trumping common sense.
We need to borrow the forethought of our "greatest generation," which fought world wars and survived the great depression.
They developed the Missouri River Bank Stabilization and Navigation Project's with the mission to use the river for "The greatest good to the greatest number of people."
Developing more habitat for wildlife, certainly doesn't meet that criteria.
But four out of four people eat, or want to, everyday. It's not a choice or an outing. It's a necessity.
Jameson Island is a beautiful slice of a world long-gone, much like Arrow Rock itself. The wildlife habitats already in Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa and Missouri should be maintained to preserve habitat for wildlife and endangered species. The hatchery program already in use to raise pallid sturgeons and stock them as one-year-olds needs to be continued. Hopefully, soon those efforts will aid with recovery and natural propagation of the ancient fish. It also provides hunting and hiking opportunities for some and should continue.
But just like we know we can't afford to make all our cities go back to the 1800s, we can't afford to let any more of our most productive farmland slip from our fingers.
It's time to remind Congress enough is enough. It's time to get back to operating the Missouri River for the greatest good to the greatest number of people.
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