Not long ago, my daughter Kayla followed in my footsteps and graduated from Missouri State University in Springfield. On a recent visit, we compared notes about college experiences and marveled at how much the community has grown since I started college in 1969. In fact, much of the land on the south side of Springfield has been developed since my college days to accommodate the growth of the city.
Explorer Henry Rowe Schoolcraft traveled the Missouri and Arkansas Ozarks in the winter of 1818–1819, including the Springfield area. Schoolcraft left a journal, and in a Jan. 4, 1819, entry, he wrote:
“The prairies, which commence at the distance of a mile west of this river [James River] are the most rich, extensive and beautiful, of any which I have ever seen west of the Mississippi River. They are covered by a coarse wild grass, which attains so great a height that it completely hides a man on horseback in riding through it.”
In his writings, Schoolcraft also mentioned buffalo, deer and other wildlife where Kayla now lives. It must have been difficult for Schoolcraft and others of his time to imagine the vast expanses of unpopulated land and bountiful wildlife as having a limit. We now know different. Wildlife such as the bison have faded from the Missouri wild, and available land no longer exceeds the desire for people to own it for reasons too numerous to mention.
A demographics study described the Springfield/Branson area as a growth hotspot in the 1990s. The same study also reported a statewide trend for Missourians to relocate from cities and towns to surrounding rural areas. As this trend continues, there will be escalating pressure on Missouri land to continue producing crops/livestock forage ($5 billion/year industry), forest products ($4.4 billion/year industry) and hunting/fishing ($2.4 billion/year industry) along with places for more homes and community expansion. How we use land and incorporate conservation will affect the future vitality of these industries, along with availability of natural resources such as ample/clean water, productive soil and the fish, forest and wildlife resources that define Missouri’s outdoor heritage.
There are also choices in how land is used and managed. Each acre is part of the whole and, therefore, it seems wise to incorporate as much conservation as practical to ensure future generations also have land-use choices as well as opportunity to enjoy fish, forest, wildlife and other natural resources. It also occurs to me that if conservation is to be achieved, then it will be because people take responsibility to make positive changes “here and now,” rather than leaving the work for someone else to handle “there and then.”
-Bill McGuire, private land services division chief
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