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MORRISON: The Nature Conservancy joins forces with the US Corps of Engineers
Wednesday, June 23, 2004
By Joyce Morrison (admin@illinoisleader.com)
 

OPINION -- The Mighty Mississippi River is truly unique - it is the main artery dividing the East from the West. This magnificent river is multi-purpose.

The river supports habitat for all kinds of plant and animal species on its many islands and along the extensive shoreline. There are hundreds of little fingers and coves where recreation abounds, while co-existing with many species that call the river area their home.

Long overdue legislation has been introduced authorizing 1200 foot locks to be built on the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers to replace the outdated 600 foot locks. The shipping industry, commercial and agricultural businesses in Illinois, Missouri, Iowa and states bordering the rivers are looking with anticipation to the much-needed updates.

A major boost for the regionís economy will be the 48 million man-hours estimated to complete the 15 year project.

What is interesting about the legislation is half of the $2.4 billion in infrastructure improvements for the lock extensions would be paid for by the shipping industry through the Inland Waterway Trust Fund. The fund is made up of fees paid by shippers when they purchase their fuel.

The other half of the update cost, $1.2 billion, would be the governmentís share which is actually an investment with an economic return.

The $5.3 billion needed for the ecosystem by the environmentalists would be funded primarily by the federal government. For years, environmentalists have blocked the updating of these badly-needed lock and dam improvements and it has cost the taxpayers millions of dollars for the delay. This project is now allowed to move forward, but with excessive ecosystem structures being demanded and an agreement that The Nature Conservancy be a partner.

It is not clear whether the shipping funds or the federal government will pay for fish passages, floodplain restoration, water level management, backwater restoration and wing dam and dike restoration. But what is clear is The Nature Conservancy has partnered with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help maintain the Mississippi Riverís ecosystem even though the Corps has their own environmentalists.

"That vision resulted in last monthís announcement that the corpsí Mississippi Valley Division and The Nature conservancy had signed a regional cooperative agreement to promote collaborative water management of the Mississippi," according to Alton Illinois' paper, The Telegraph.

People along the Illinois River need to keep watch on TNCís participation because they come on board with an agenda.

The following story reports on how The Nature Conservancy restores Illinois River deals with the huge land acquisitions they have made along the Illinois River.

The Illinois chapter of the Nature Conservancy had gathered to begin charting the largest river-restoration project ever undertaken in the state. The non-profit environmental group wants to bring back the lakes, marshes and forests that once thrived in this area, reconnecting them to the Illinois River, which is now barricaded from the land by a 20-foot tall levee.

 

The Nature Conservancy calls its project key to restoring the Illinois a river that some have described as near death and habitat that has been disappearing at an alarming rate. By restoring the land and the way it interacts with the river, scientists hope to improve the river's water quality and re-establish homes for many species of plants and animals, some rare and threatened.

They also want to revive some semblance of the rhythm of flooding and recession that nature uses to control rivers more effectively than any levee ever built. The 7,600-acre swath of manicured farmland that the scientists eyed from their perch is a common example of how the modern world has transformed the Illinois and other large flood-plain rivers.

The Illinois River used to boast 400,000 acres of flood a plain-vast stretches of land that absorbed rising waters and spread them wide. It was a thriving system that diffused the river when it swelled too big and rejuvenated the land that had grown dry in its absence.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and to farmers, looking at 7600 acres of beautiful corn and beans the "scientists eyed from their perch" would be far more beautiful than swamps. Corn, beans and wheat taken from these fields would help to feed a hungry world.

A review of Genesis will show that Adam in his role as gardener had to tend the garden by the sweat of his brow. If this required building a levee or draining the land, Iím certain he did what was necessary along with removing the thistles and brush. No doubt he depended on this garden to produce food for Eve and the family.

What TNC fails to tell you about the 400,000 acres of floodplain that was a thriving system (and virtually of little use to mankind) has been farmed for well over a hundred years. And for over a hundred years land lying along the rivers has been some of the richest farmland in the nation and is still producing high quality products.

Malaria is known to have taken many lives in the wetland areas before the land was drained for production. Now we are faced with West Nile Virus. Do we want to add numbers to species like mosquitoes or should we be concerned about the lives of people and the food production that comes from the breadbasket of America?

With rare exceptions, areas of farmland along the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers have been safely protected behind the levees since the early 1900s. The Great Flood of 1993 was a 500 year flood.

Americans eat the safest and cheapest food in the world. As land is taken out of production for conservation easements, wetlands, endangered species and all the other reasons, will we become dependent on third world countries for our food?

FEMA no longer permits building in floodplain areas and brings counties into compliance with the threat they will lose their flood insurance program if they do not abide. Could the next step be that this land can no longer be farmed?

To promote the concept of urban sprawl, they say that sprawl is taking all the farmland. While it is true that some is taken, it is not taken in nearly the proportion than it is through other programs.

The Nature Conservancy has a vision for the Refuge Complex area, a joint venture among several states, to preserve 9,118,884 acres of habitat capable of supporting an annual breeding duck population of 1,542,000 by year 2013. That is just a tiny piece of The Nature Conservancyís vision. They also want 532,7ll acres of habitat on migration focus areas and to protect and/or increase habitats for wetland and associated upland wildlife species in the Joint Venture.....and that is still a beginning.

Holding about $3 billion in assets, The Nature Conservancy is often referred to as the real estate agent of the Federal Government. TNC owns millions of acres . . . much of which has been purchased with the help of government grants.

It should make landowners along the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers very uncomfortable to know TNC, acting as a real estate agent, partnering with the U.S. Corps of Engineers on such an important project, have their scientists "sitting on perches" eyeing their land.

 

Jim Beers, well known writer and former biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife writes,

TNC buys land to stop land uses by private owners from ranchers to home builders. While couched in terms of preservation, the result is always less privately owned land and more Federally owned land since TNC resells (at a profit) millions of acres to the Federal government. Say what you will, this also means less use of our environment from natural resources and recreation to the raising of families and strengthening of communities. Given the current scale of such acquisitions, this means a weaker United States of America.

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