Tuesday, May 03, 2011

In harm's way


I fell apart last night over fish and wine at one of my favorite outposts in the Ozarks. Sitting there at 7 pm, clearing skies revealing a beautiful sunset, I knew the levee at Bird's Point was scheduled to be breached at 9. I've been upset about it all week, of course, but last night was the proverbial tipping point. The original plan was to breach the levee less than 1/2mile from the last bastion of biodiversity in Mississippi County. A National Natural Landmark, a designated Natural Area, it's own Important Bird Area status, the only stand of original bottomland hardwood forest that was spared the brutal logging and ditching of the whole region.

After I finished audibly sobbing at the table, after the restaurant manager visited my table to offer a fresh bottle of wine on the house (which I refused. I guess he thought I was sobbing over the turned wine I was first served? And how the bartender refused to take back the vinegar and replace it with a new glass? That's worth being angry over, but not crying over.), I had to stop thinking about it.

I cordoned myself off today, away from anyone who could give me news about the woodlands and forest down there, and I spent the day birding in the Ozarks. If the blast of the levee, the sheer force of the river water didn't level the remaining trees, then the sediment and standing water will undoubtedly impact the fragile floral diversity. I've seen the impacts of levee breaches, and I've seen the impacts of significant standing water on delicate wetland ecosystems that depend on periodic, short lived flooding events. The rich flora associated with these systems that have adapted to flooding and drought at varying intensities and durations cannot survive under standing water for months on end. If the area in southeast Missouri is buried under several feet of sediment, the flora will not survive. Not even Aster pilosuscan live under those circumstances. Unnatural flooding such as this doesn't help ecosystems, and with the Mississippi River so impaired by locks and dams along its entire length (barring at Commerce, Missouri), no natural flood cycles--the kind that replenish the soil and that provide standing pools of water for wetland plants-- will ever occur there again. There is nothing natural about the levee breach.

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