Saturday, May 24, 2014

Trashed out

When Doug drinks too much coffee, he grows increasingly anxious about asteroids or meteors slated to destroy Earth in 1,000,000 years or so. I don't share this anxiety about the asteroids or meteors, nor do I lose sleep about the future of the sun, which may involve a massive implosion in 5,000,000 years or something. I lose sleep over what's happening here and now, over unstoppable, largescale ecosystem destruction occurring on our prairies and in our woodlands, over unstoppable climate change, over the lasting impacts of the 2010 BP oil spill (which few are monitoring), Missouri's deer overpopulation problem, birds and cell phone towers, urban sprawl, and the list goes on. And it doesn't take caffeine to make me anxious.

So, for the sake of my mental health, I try to avoid places that show signs of degradation. I seek out the now-rare high quality sites in Missouri, the areas without a deer overpopulation problem, without mismanagement issues, places that haven't been destroyed by development, grazing, or other forms of resource extraction. Sadly, as the years progress, even in my short tenure here, there aren't a lot of places like that left.

I moved here permanently in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina. Since then, I've focused much of my recreational time in Missouri's Ozark Highlands, especially in the woodlands, glades and fast moving, spring-fed streams. In less than ten years, I've seen biotic homogenization occur at a rapid pace; with development pressing at every corner, the White River glades that had suffered so many years of abuse from grazing are now housing developments. With increased urbanization all over the Ozarks, the deer overpopulation problem has increased exponentially with signs of deer browse on everything from coneflowers and white oaks to boxelder. I try to find places without a deer problem. Or places without a mismanagement problem that show signs of misapplication of fire, of "thinning" with no ecological sense behind it (like the recent anti-maple craze going on), and so forth. It's getting harder by the month.

I try to go to the rivers. In less than ten years, I saw the one last decent stretch of the Meramec River morph from a becoming-degraded stream to a river with ranch style houses on the banks, the smallmouth bass replaced with drum and carp, fertilizer runoff and cattle. Rare mussels don't have a chance. So I stay away from the bush honeysuckle-St. Louis sprawl areas like the Meramec. I try to visit other areas that were under threat of development in 2005, disappearing places that are becoming more urbanized and those remaining natural places more enticing to recreationalists seeking a natural experience. It's a one-two punch: With that love of natural places comes threats of their own right. "Loved to death." Some of the most pristine natural places in Missouri are loved to death with the features that attracted all the photographers and hikers and floaters disappearing because of all that love of place and development at the borders.

So I try to go to the places that helped me decide to move here after Katrina. It's sort of fun -even as a 41 year old- to see that small trees become big trees in nine years. But depressing in a less than juvenile fascination to see that as years progress, the constant pressure of introduced trout has annihilated the sculpin and other native populations in one of the rivers I liked to visit. In 2003, on my first Missouri Ozark river float, my canoe partner told me about growing up on the river and always finding hellbenders under the big slab rocks. And that was in his short lifetime. So hellbenders were history even when I fell in love with the river. But in my nine years I've seen major development of the whole valley by float outfitters with campgrounds (with little regard for wastewater treatment), cows in the river, continuous pressure by trout that have impacted the native crayfish and fish diversity, the introduction of non-native aquatic plants like Potomogeton crispus displacing spring flora, and so forth. Biotic homogenization is occurring at a rapid pace. My visits to the last remaining high quality sites are just writing testimony.

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