With only 1/100th of 1% remaining, tallgrass and shortgrass prairies are one of the rarest ecosystems on the planet. Once expansive mosaics of interconnected diversity, these biomes extended through most of our midwestern states. Today prairie remnants are small functionally extinct islands of great biodiversity, surrounded by seas of GMO monoculture, development and invasive species. Despite such precious rarity these prairie “postcard” relics, which survived the plow and pylon, face immense dangers.
Much attention has been directed toward the looming disaster which is Hydraulic Fracturing, but recognition must also be focused on the atrocity which is Frac Sand Mining. The destructive consequences of mining are well known and often too common, including habitat loss, air and water pollution, hazardous dust, excessive carbon emissions, high traffic frequency and noise pollution. These byproducts of mining are not new to our world of endless development and sprawl, but the stakes are higher now than ever before.
The greatest human flaw is a failure to recognize the big picture, an inability to see the interconnectedness of everything. In 1863 a settler could live lightly off of a few acres and would see endless undeveloped land in every direction. Under such low population density the use of natural resources was easily absorbed by the native biome (of course the Native Americans were the best example of sustainable living). As population grew the “settled” spaces began to expand outward. Then the small sections of land started to touch resulting in the need for legal definition and fencing. As agriculture became industrialized the fences were pulled out and the soil was turned under without restraint. Only islands of natural history exist today, usually protected by flooding or shallow top soil. In 2013 a land owner may look at forty acres and say “there are plenty of trees here for birds, I’ll just cut down a few”, though arrogantly fails to look beyond the fence row. On the outside of each boundary may sit thousands of acres, striped, plowed and sterilized by industrial agriculture. Over 150 years the islands of habitat are shrinking in frequency and size. The damage from fragmentation has already been done, but those who worship the winking dollar still want more.
Now new technologies are squeezing profits out of previously considered “useless land”. These ecosystems, once protected from human hands by their pure rugged terrain, survived the plow but are now falling to the blasting fuse and shovel. Remnants of 1/100th of 1%, more endangered than rainforests, are being blasted, dug, stripped and leveled to provide a necessary product for another destructive human practice. Underground, the concealed pollution and destruction caused by hydraulic fracturing requires a terrestrial travesty that is frac sand mining. Just as before, the industrial need to exploit our native biomes pushes forward, fulled by money, and legalized by filthy political inventions.
Just as it has happened for hundreds of years, the pursuit of profits shows no concern for anything beyond exploitation and wealth. The most disgusting fact of this exploitation is that we now collectively know better. History and validated research have told us that plundering any and every resource from the earth will result in adverse affects. A brief look at the Dust Bowl should be enough to shock every American into a mindset that values environmental protection, but we seem to have poor memory and the advertisements tell us not to worry.
If our society continues to ignore science the push for endless growth will cover us in sand. America will become a vast desert as native ecosystems are carelessly destroyed for meaningless numbers in a bank account, or hollow shares in a company. Only one species on earth makes such irrational and cataclysmic decisions based on the values of imaginary currency. It’s time that we figure out a better way.
On frac sand 131019.001 DB
May 20th, 2013
The recently proposed changes to the Wisconsin DNR endangered species list are a troubling distortion of wildlife vigor. The proposed removal of species such as Blanding’s Turtle, American fever-few and Prairie Indian-Plantain, among others, favors unsustainable development, and leaves even more of our native species increasingly vulnerable to extinction.
The Wisconsin DNR Species Status Assessment Worksheet (SAW) for Blanding’s Turtle acknowledges a long-term population decline of 30-50% over the past 200 years. The declines of American fever-few correlate with the expansion of human settlement: “American fever-few presumably suffered significant reductions in the state when the original prairies of southern Wisconsin were reduced by over 99% between 1850 and 1900”. The fate of Prairie Indian-Plantain shared similar reductions, as stated in the DNR-SAW: “Prairie Indian-plantain has likely suffered steep declines over the past 100 years due to conversion of habitat for agriculture, wetland draining and filling, and fire suppression”. Even a small examination of prairie or wetland ecosystems would prompt one to ask, why is Wisconsin willing to let these native species go unprotected by taking them off of the endangered species list?
The Wisconsin DNR Species Status Assessment Worksheet for Prairie Indian-Plantain acknowledges the likely motivation on Line 15 of Economic Impacts: “Probable costs from the proposed status change include removing legal protection would likely have small economic benefits by removing legal requirements to avoid or transplant individuals during pipeline or road construction projects, though transportation departments and utility corporations would still be strongly encouraged to do so.” Do these “small economic benefits by removing legal requirements” justify the permitted destruction of important native species? Incidentally, I am skeptical that most transportation departments or utility corporations will take the importance of these conservation recommendations seriously.
Why are we continuing to destroy precious plant and animal species for “small economic benefits”? I can only hope the citizens of Wisconsin and neighboring states will ask these questions. If you would like to review the species reports listed under the Wisconsin DNR “Recommended For Delisting” page visit http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/endangeredresources/etlist.html. Aldo Leopold said “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect”. If you agree with ongoing and expanded protection for at-risk species let your opinions be heard. We are all members of the same community.