Habitat destruction is one of the most pervasive environmental problems on planet Earth. It is the reason for much of the decline in biodiversity in recent decades and plays a role in climate change. Natural forces like floods and tornadoes have always destroyed habitat, but humans are destroying habitat at a faster pace than ever recorded before. This destruction is possibly the greatest threat to wildlife and the biggest challenge for humanity.
A Silent Witness
As a child growing up in Arkansas, I witnessed much destruction of hardwood forests to make way for pine plantations for making paper. I did not realize the scale of this destruction until I was an adult. Habitat destruction effected me personally me because I spent so much time outdoors camping, fishing, hiking and mountain biking. One particular weekend of camping comes to mind…
Camping with Crazies
I was a freshman at Hendrix College and eager to explore the many outdoor options of western Arkansas. One Saturday morning in April, a friend and I packed up my truck and headed west for the Ouachita Mountains. Our destination was Iron Springs campground, just north of Hot Springs, a famous resort town where Al Capone used to hang out long ago.
We arrived at the campground on Saturday evening with plenty of beer, music and meats for grilling. There was only one other vehicle in the entire campsite, a large RV full of crystal seekers. This part of Arkansas is known for its high-quality crystals and valuable stones. It is only an hour away from North America’s only active diamond mine at Murfreesboro.
Along came Freddy
It was a relatively calm evening until an old Jeep truck wheeled its way into the parking spot next to our campsite. When the door opened, a very thin, sun-dried character hopped out of the cab and made his way over to our site. He seemed nice, but was missing several of his teeth and you could tell that he had a rough life. He introduced himself as Fred and said that he lived just a few miles up the road in a mobile home with his mother. He later told us that he occasionally had to live in his truck when his mother could not put up with him any longer.
We started a fire and enjoyed burgers, beer and some classic rock songs as we found out more about Fred and his dysfunctional existence. Sometime around 10p.m. Fred opened the back of his Jeep and pulled out a half-gallon bottle of Wild Turkey 101 proof. It didn’t take him long to get half way through that bottle. As he became intoxicated, the conservation turned towards how Fred felt about the widening of the road near the campground and the timber companies in that area.
He told us about how much the area had changed during his lifetime, although it still seemed pretty undeveloped to us. We talked for a couple more hours and then decided that it was time to go to sleep. I was just about to fall into dreamland when I heard Fred screaming something unintelligible. I pulled the zipper of my tent slightly open and looked out to see what the commotion was all about. Fred was trying to make his way up the steep bank of the campsite towards the road and was throwing sticks at cars passing by. He was shouting things at the cars like, “Get out of my woods!” Due to his excessive drunkenness, he never made it all the way to the road but I am sure that all the motorists in the area got the message. They were not welcome near Fred’s forest.
Ironically, in Fred’s display of distaste for paved roads and traffic, he was the only one attempting an act of destruction that night, but his actions left a lasting impression on me. Yes, he was quite drunk and uneducated, but I still agreed with his fundamental premise: we do not need more roads in national parks and natural areas. We need more nature. We need more wildlife. Sometimes we find wisdom in strange places.
Your Call to Action
The experiences like these that I had as a child in the rivers, forest and parks of Arkansas have undefinable value in my life and it is our responsibility to ensure that future generations can have these same experiences. One of the simplest ways that we can prevent habitat destruction is to buy recycled products and reuse items rather than buying new ones. On a larger scale, we can donate our time and/or money to organizations like the Nature Conservancy that buy and protect large amounts of land for wildlife and human use. Without your help, there is no guarantee that any of the natural places we cherish will exist far into the future.