August 29, 2008
Save Nature From Developers, Politicians
By KEN MIDKIFF
Approaching Licking - about 125 miles south of here - the usual sign appeared: "Entering Texas County." But that sign was unnecessary because it seemed that every residence had a "Linda Garrett for County Commission" yard sign installed. While the high- visibility yards along Highway 63 might be expected to harbor political messages, these signs also were encountered on Highway 32 and even on graveled back roads.
Those of us who fish and swim in our state's streams know Linda Garrett well. The current Texas County commissioner, she is one of the most adamant supporters for removing sand and gravel from rivers and streams, and Texas County has a plethora of creeks ranging from little drainages coming off the hills to the Big Piney River. Ignoring basic laws of physics and apparently being unaware that nature abhors a vacuum, Garrett insists that sand and gravel removal will be beneficial.
According to her way of thinking - with talking points provided by the Farm Bureau - sand and gravel are just so much sediment. Removal will create aquatic habitat, deep swimming holes and, not coincidentally, line the pockets of her constituents, who would operate backhoes and dump trucks in our nation's waterways. The Texas County Commission also uses creek gravel in road surfacing, and complaints have been filed (and fines and penalties awarded by federal agencies) for conducting mining operation without any permit and for causing severe damage to the "prongs" area where the north and south forks of the Jacks Fork River come together.
Fortunately, Texas County is also home to somewhat more intelligent creatures that thrive in the many heavily wooded acres of the area. Barred owls, various species of woodpeckers, deer, turkey, coyotes, bobcats, raccoons and even an occasional armadillo inhabit the wilder spots in the county. Unconfirmed reports of mountain lions have been filed with the Department of Conservation. In addition to lands that absentee landowners have allowed to return to nature, the U.S. Forest Service has extensive holdings - including a major wilderness area.
Once the garish yard signs are passed and residences are no more, the forest primeval is entered, and a few feet from the gravel road, large trees and the forest inhabitants prevail.
It is pleasant to visit such places. And true to the language of the federal Wilderness Act, "Man is but a visitor, who does not remain," there were few traces of humankind in the Paddy Creek Wilderness Area. There is a trail, kept in place mostly by human feet. The Forest Service did its job years ago, laying out the trail and smoothing out some of the rough spots, and has mostly engaged in benign neglect ever since.
To be sure, not all of the forest and brush inhabitants are pleasant ones. Ticks and chiggers thrive and apparently viewed me as a moveable feast. Mosquitoes do quite well along the north and south branches of Paddy Creek, and this year's rainfall has allowed them to venture beyond the normal range. Fortunately, there are various types of smelly concoctions that repel such bloodsucking insects.
So, smelling like a drugstore and with an ample supply of water, I ventured into the wild.
A few hours later, I emerged from the depths of the forest onto the gravel road leading to the low-water bridge over Paddy Creek. Away from all things human and in particular those machines that manipulate, destroy and wreak havoc with the unresisting Earth, I was refreshed. Whoever was responsible for ensuring that the Wilderness Act became the law of the land seemed to recognize that we humans require places that are wild and free. I was grateful there are places such as Paddy Creek that remain essentially untouched and provide an example of what can occur if nature reigns.
It occurred to me as I emerged that once upon a time, not so long ago, Boone County contained immense areas of de facto wilderness. Without protections and with compliant elected and appointed officials, we have lost most of these areas to suburban sprawl and commercial development.
There are a few protected areas under the aegis of Missouri State Parks and the Missouri Department of Conservation. In the southeastern sections of this county, there are several acres of National Forest. But aside from these few spots, all else is up for grabs. If nothing else, a few hours in a bona fide federally designated Wilderness Area made me more determined to ensure that these few remaining spots retain their value and elected city council members and county commissioners don't let the mostly pristine areas we have left fall to the developers' schemes.
At least we don't have any sand and gravel mining operators or any elected officials under the sway of alleged agricultural organizations.
Ken Midkiff is Osage Group conservation chairman and author of "The Meat You Eat" and "Not a Drop to Drink." You can reach him via e-mail at [email protected]
Originally published by KEN MIDKIFF.
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