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Losing Ground To Urban Sprawl

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Published on: Sep. 2, 2001

Last revision: Nov. 9, 2010

1990 and 1998, growth outside the city limits in Missouri had increased in all but 15 of Missouri's 114 counties. Rural populations accounted for more than 50 percent of the total population in 59 counties, many of which are in the Ozarks.

The human population shift has dramatic effects on wildlife and plant populations. Several things happen to natural resources as development occurs. First, as more houses dot the landscape, natural resources are destroyed. Some forest or grassland is lost for every house that is built. The new homes and mowed yards displace natural habitat.

Sprawl also results in habitat fragmentation. It divides expanses of forests and grasslands into smaller, disconnected pieces. Instead of having large blocks of forest habitat, we now have many small woodlands with grassy openings (yards), usually with a house set square in the middle of each one. Animals can no longer travel safely from one patch of habitat to another. One result of this habitat fragmentation is that our roads end up as killing fields for our deer, opossums, turtles and many other wildlife species.

Loss or fragmentation of their natural habitat directly threatens many species of wildlife. The prothonatory warbler, for example, a neotropical songbird, needs large blocks of forest for protection from competition by cowbirds, another exotic, predatory species. Biologists and ecologists have reported declines in plant and animal diversity and population numbers wherever development occurs.

The increase in development and loss of habitat also leads to more conflict between wildlife and people. In addition to the increase in car-animal collisions, we find more squirrels or raccoons in our attics, more skunks and groundhogs in our crawl spaces and beneath our decks and more snakes in our yards.

One of the more negative aspects of development is an inevitable increase in the amount of impervious surfaces in the form of building roofs, paved roads, driveways and sidewalks. Even short grass lawns on compacted soils can be considered impervious. When it rains, water runs off these surfaces quicker and in greater quantity than it would naturally, and reaches streams much faster than if it traveled through plants and soil, which work both as a sponge and a filter.

Because water is reaching streams faster and in higher volumes, flash floods and destabilized stream banks are greater problems than they used to be. To make matters worse, the runoff from impervious surfaces carries oil, road chemicals, spilled gasoline, misapplied lawn chemicals,

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