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Habitat: What's in it for us?

Have we become selfish? I’ve read social critics who believe our primary orientation has shifted from community and family to ourselves. They say our inward focus is a natural reaction to overcrowding and to ever increasing demands on our time and attention.

I see living refutations of that silly argument every time I walk through the offices of the Conservation Department. Selfishness doesn’t motivate people to work to save endangered species, create habitat for wildlife or make sure that our lakes and rivers are stuffed with fish. In the field, none of the volunteers I’ve seen cleaning trash from rivers or leading kids on nature hikes could be described as self-absorbed.

Leafing through this special issue on Missouri forests, you won’t find much evidence of people thinking only of themselves and the here-and-now. What you’ll find, instead, is selfless dedication to creating a better environment in Missouri.

Our foresters probably won’t benefit from trees planted today or from improved forest management practices, and you may not either, at least directly, but they and you will have created a more beautiful, more productive and more sensible landscape for future generations of people and animals.

Nor do I see hints of selfishness in the Fishable Waters Coalition of the American Sportfishing Association, an organization I support by serving as a member of its board of directors.

The Coalition is composed of a variety of organizations, ranging from the Izaak Walton League of America to the National Corn Growers Association, from Trout Unlimited to the BASS Anglers Sportsman Society. They have joined together to improve fishing in waterways across America. This group and the Conservation Department heartily supports the proposed Fishable Waters Act, which our own Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, and Tennessee Rep. John Tanner introduced to Congress this spring.

We have had a Clean Water Act working to improve water quality since 1972. However, one of the goals of the Clean Water Act, to restore our waterways to benefit fisheries and wildlife, has not been met. Sen. Bond’s Fishable Waters Act would enable some of the the money (up to 20 percent) available through the Clean Water Act to be used to support local, watershed-specific efforts to protect and restore fisheries habitat and improve water quality. The money would provide financial support either directly to landowners participating in approved projects or to designated watershed councils.

I’m excited about the possibilities offered by the Fishable Waters Act. It will help us protect our most valuable fisheries from non-point source pollution and work to restore degraded streams.

The new legislation doesn’t heap more regulations onto the Clean Water Act. In fact, participation would be voluntary. Those states that perceive good fishing to be important to the quality of life of their citizens are likely to sign on, because they get more decision-making power when it comes to spending federal funds available through the Clean Water Act.

Participation by landowners would be voluntary. Even if they aren’t lured into the program by the promise of more fish to catch, they might benefit from financial incentives or technical support or from the satisfaction of knowing that their cooperation will help improve the quality of our state’s fishable waterways.

St. Louis area residents also will have the opportunity to perform a generous act for the general good by voting this November to approve legislation that would establish and fund a system of parks and trails that encompasses the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County

Half of the proceeds from a 1/10th of a cent sales tax collected in each entity would go to the newly established Metropolitan Park and Recreation District, 30 percent would go to the individual county and 20 percent to the municipalities and local parks agencies to benefit parks.

The benefits multiply if Illinois residents vote in favor of a four-county companion district that would link up with the Missouri district to provide a bi-state system of parks and trails, which would include five counties and the City of St. Louis. The regional system would connect state, local and federal properties.

A few months ago, I remarked on the value of focusing on the positives, instead of negatives, when it comes to conservation. Thanks to the selfless efforts of concerned Missourians, I predict we’ll have no shortage of good news to report in the future.

Jerry Conley, Director

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