The title of this piece, along with "Litter: It's All About You," are being kicked around as potential slogans for an upcoming anti-litter campaign. Both make the point that the methodical trashing of our fair state must stop! If we don't slay this menace, in the future we'll be known as the state "Where the Trash Resides" instead of "Where the Rivers Run."
Visit your favorite natural spot and look around, or stick your head under the surface of a lake or stream. See if it's still natural and unblemished. We've far exceeded the oft-maligned Canada goose in our ability to mess up our habitat. Unless a volunteer or paid clean-up has occurred lately, your favorite area has been repeatedly violated.
Our Central Office employees don't even need to travel out of their way to be reminded of the problem. Our headquarters area has long frontage along a popular street and is downwind from a popular quick stop store. Keeping our grounds clean requires one person every morning picking up a bucketful of pop containers, paper, beer bottles, used diapers and worse. I'll bet the streets you travel and your neighborhood have similar problems.
Lorna Domke, the Conservation Department's newly assigned Anti-Litter Czar, has compiled some facts that need to be shared. Littering is a Missouri class A misdemeanor, although only on public lands. Last year our conservation agents made about 600 littering arrests. The Missouri Department of Transportation spends more than $6 million annually on roadside cleanup. The major activity of our 1,700 Stream Teams is litter pickup. According to Lorna, the primary trashing sources are usually pedestrians, drivers, household garbage cans, commercial dumpsters and construction sites.
People litter, according to Arizona State University research, because they don't care (87 percent), because they believe others will pick it up (19 percent), and because they are not aware of their actions (25 percent). These attitudes and use of our assets to deal with litter represents a terrific loss of our ability to keep Missouri as the nation's #1 conservation state.
Litter affects rural and urban Missouri alike-both where we live and where we want to play. A common reason landowners reject your request to use their land is the trash previous users left behind. Picking up the garbage bags of junk tossed nightly from passing cars onto their fields and ditches is not their idea of getting a break from their normal farming activities.
The Conservation Department has been content too long to simply pick up trash on public lands and write citations. This is a major statewide problem that decreases our ability to manage natural resources and your ability to use those resources. It is not a problem caused by only a few of our citizens.
We intend to tackle this problem in combination with our sister departments of Natural Resources, Transportation, and Agriculture, and with the Missouri Conservation Federation. The campaign hopes to enlist the support of communities, businesses, organizations and schools. Initial radio and television ads will try to make younger Missourians understand the responsibility of the individual in littering.
Many years ago my daughter, Wendy, fresh from a litter awareness school campaign, caught me tossing a gum wrapper. The lecture I received led to a mutual challenge that neither of us would ever litter again. We also promised to occasionally pick up others' trash to make up for past littering sins. Since then, I keep that pact in mind and either take my trash home with me or put it in a receptacle.
Please join us in a lifetime campaign of remembrance and awareness. We will need all the help and ideas you readers can offer to make this effort successful.
Together we can uncover Missouri and rediscover its natural beauty.
Jerry M. Conley, Director
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