Sunday, October 7, 2007

One Acre at a Time

A lot of people don’t realize how beautiful Kansas is. When people think of natural beauty, they often think of mountains and forests. Kansas is lacking in both. In terms of natural beauty, however, Kansas lacks little. There are few more imposing and awe-inspiring views on earth than the sea of grass in the Flint Hills. Standing atop a plateau, with the wind very nearly blasting you out of your shoes, you feel the enormity of the sky above and you can’t help but feel a little overwhelmed.

Even in the agricultural lands of Kansas, I’ve often found pockets of beauty. On Friday I was out in the field, doing an environmental assessment on a site that will one day be flooded for a dam. From the road the site looks pretty boring: Overgrown pasture abutting cropland. But I went out and walked the site anyway. The pasture was like a bizarro-world tall-grass prairie. Instead of a nearly impenetrable sea of 6-foot bluestem, I was wading through a nearly impenetrable sea of 6 foot ragweed. I had been following a stream, and lost it when it meandered and I wandered into the pasture.

In order to find my way back to the stream, I did what any Kansas-born kid would do: Look for the trees. Stumbling forward towards a huge cottonwood, I suddenly burst out of the pasture and into an area where the tree canopy had cut off light to the grown, and the underbrush was sparse. All around me were mulberry trees, grape vines, cottonwoods, gooseberry, and red-bud trees. In the surprisingly still air of this pocket of semi-forest there were monarch butterflies wafting around, and I startled deer from their slumber. I felt like I had stumbled into another county. The stream had obviously criss-crossed this area of the valley a dozen times, as evidenced by old, dry stream channels. In the active channel was the only remaining pocket of water anywhere in this entire stream-reach.

Pockets of natural areas like this are probably more common than I know, and pretty important for the general welfare of the surrounding animal community. This isn’t the most obvious habitat to protect, and it isn’t the most obvious habitat to try and get replaced, but you can say that a thousand times and then you’ll have lost a thousand little pockets like this. That starts to add up.

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