Thursday, June 21, 2007

Is Conservation For The Birds?

So it's the first day of summer.

Seen a sparrow lately?

A grackle?


If so, take a good look, because they are disappearing by the millions and millions.

The Audubon Society has catalogued vast declines among 20 species of American birds - - averaging 68%, the group has found - - telling us once again that human activity has a deep impact on the world around us.

You can shrug off the finding, or you can consider it in a larger context, and that would include what's happening with habitat and open space in our neck of the remaining woods in southeastern Wisconsin.

Waukesha County Executive officials indicates their county of 360,800 residents (2000 census numbers) will hit 509,000 by 2035 and is headed for 520,000, as the County's development plan is updated.

And 70% of the suburbs in the seven-county region in and around Milwaukee do not have apartment buildings.

What's the connection?

Development to house these new tens of thousands of residents is going to take place horizontally, across the land, in subdivided, relatively-spacious lots on formerly open space in Waukesha, and to similar degrees, in the other counties around Milwaukee - - Walworth, Ozaukee, Washington, Racine, and Kenosha, too.

Same story up north.

And in and around Dane County, too.

And among the pressures decimating the bird populations is the loss of land, with property near streams and rivers and lakes being the developers' main delight.

We should tell the truth.

We know that we are doing harm to the natural world.

We know all these things:

We know working farms are disappearing in Waukesha County. That story has been written, and written, and written some more.

We know that subdivisions are being built across the Kettle Moraine, that efforts to help put some farm land in conservancy in the Town of Mukwonago north, and in Washington County, failed in the spring elections with the help of real estate interests.

Loss of habitat?

Another old story.

The newspapers tell us every year as deer hunting season approaches that the animals are a suburban nuisance because their former territories in Wisconsin's woodlands keep falling to the bulldozer.

And that deer-and-car/motorcycle collisions are on the upswing because of larger deer herds, on the move and looking for habitat taken by urban sprawl.

Not my term, "urban sprawl."

That's what the WisDOT guy said in the quoted story.

"Car-deer crashes are pretty much determined by the size of the deer herd and urban sprawl," Wisconsin Department of Transportation spokesman Tim McClain said.

"It's development, increased urbanization. More vehicles interacting with deer."

And we know that development can create havoc among neighbors, ranging from devastating pollution flowing from just one badly-planned signature project in exurbia, to water wars between neighboring communities.

And I'm not talking about a looming fight between the City of Waukesha, or New Berlin, and the City of Milwaukee, over Lake Michigan water.

No: For a border skirmish, look no farther than the effort by the City of Waukesha to annex 40-some acres in the bordering Town of Waukesha for some new city well sites - - with possible water draw-down influencing the health of a true regional water-dependent resource, the 4,600-acre Vernon Marsh Wildlife Area.

Land. Water. Wildlife. The quality of human life and our interaction with the natural world, and other people.

It's all connected.

Except by policy-makers, who push common sense and a true common agenda to the bottom of the list, below ideology, exercising power and electioneering.

Polls show that most people want environmental protection.

Politicians ignore the people's goals everytime they sit on commissions or in committee meetings, or behind closed doors, to rubber-stamp another annexation, more farmland conversion, new wetlands fillings' and added lanes, inviting more traffic, onto already overbuilt highways.

All that construction also creates the grist for the gossip, chatter, and wheeling-and-dealing that would make it hard to sustain a conversation during this busy political fundraising season.

( ran a news release recently cataloguing just one week's fundraisers. Peruse it here.)

Maybe the conservation message can be better heard when the birds stop singing.

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