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A More Silent Spring

A different version of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring is taking place across Missouri's suburban areas. This "more silent spring" doesn't originate from pesticides, as in Carson's book. It is being brought forth under the more subtle guise of intensive development of our open space around metropolitan areas.

My own experience illustrates clearly the challenges we face to retain our sounds of spring. We purchased a home in 1996 in a partially developed neighborhood containing scattered woods and fields, a small creek and newly paved streets with lots clearly intended for future home sites. A friend told me of past hunting trips for deer, turkey and quail when the property was still a small farm. Our first year nature journal records fox, turkey and deer sightings, the sounds of numerous song birds, quail, spring peepers and Chuck-wills-widows and minnows in the creek-exciting moments in the early stages of discovering a neighborhood.

Fast forward now to the same area after extensive home development. The small creek has been repeatedly crossed with heavy equipment, most lots have been sanitized of wildlife habitat, and several small wet areas have been drained. This spring we have yet to see any deer or quail or hear the sound of spring peepers or Chuck-wills-widows, and minnows in the creek are few and far between.

A quieter spring also is taking place around many of our metropolitan areas as urban sprawl takes its toll. Without the sights and sounds of nature outside their doors, people are switching on their computers and televisions. We try to compensate with bird feeders and butterfly gardens and, while it helps, the variety and volume is mostly gone.

This is not a new experience for anyone who has grown up in this modern age. As kids, most of us chased imaginary and real critters and played at living wild in a convenient neighborhood woods. Now when we revisit those same areas all we see are buildings and sparrows.

What can we do to halt the suburban disappearance of the outdoor sounds and sights we love? From the President on down everyone is searching for a solution.

Outdoor education is a start but it doesn't have as much impact when we lack convenient woods or streams to practice our homework. The answer probably lies with finding common ground between economics and wildlife. We also must put faith in landowners' desire to retain a bit of the outdoor heritage they purchased. Conservation professionals can help them with technical advice or by leading the charge to acquire funds for neighborhood open space or greenways that will retain some of Missouri's outdoor essence.

The Conservation Department also has been acquiring by gift or purchase urban and suburban green space that can be left undeveloped as open, vibrant places for people to develop or retain their outdoor senses, and as places of refuge for wildlife hard-pressed by intensive development. Hopefully these areas can be connected to backyards and common land areas through materials and training offered by conservation groups and private landscapers.

Much more could be done in suburbia if Congress passes some version of the recently introduced Conservation and Reinvestment Act (H.R. 701, S.25), which includes provisions of the Teaming With Wildlife Initiative. This act would require some portion of federal receipts from offshore leases to be returned to the states on a matching basis for wildlife programs and habitat assistance work and for local parks and outdoor recreation. Missouri's potential allotment of up to $17 million annually could form a new core of assistance to local communities trying to slow down the loss of outdoor sights and sounds.

You can help by urging our congressional folks to co-sponsor a version of this bill. Talking to your developer in advance about leaving open space or the person on the bulldozer about to level your lot about saving a portion of wild habitat also can help. Requesting technical assistance on wildlife or forestry planning for your association might also pay big dividends. Permanent change can take place when people who live in the suburbs band together.

Let's not fool ourselves; a more silent spring is in the cards for many areas of our state. Perhaps, though, with your help, your neighborhood will never experience a totally silent spring.

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