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Land Use Program

Our land use program consists of assisting environmental groups, citizens groups and individuals in their efforts to preserve and protect open space, forests and wilderness areas. Great Rivers issues comments on proposed rules that may affect environmentally sensitive areas, and as a last resort, represents environmental groups in litigation to enforce the laws.

Many environmental issues are ultimately about land use.  For example, environmental pollution can render land unfit for its highest and best use.  In addition, the purposes for which society chooses to utilize its lands will affect how much valuable wilderness will be preserved and how many natural resources will continue to be available for long-term human use. 

A major land-use concern surrounds the prevalence of lead mining in Missouri, which is the largest lead-producing state in the country.  Historic lead mining and smelting has contaminated large areas in the southeastern and southwestern portions of the state with the toxic residues of these activities, which in turn has affected public health and made many such contaminated areas uninhabitable.  In spite of this legacy, attempts are being made to expand lead extraction by mining in regions not previously mined and located in some particularly scenic wilderness locations.  In addition to giving rise to contaminated waste, mining would also destroy much of the adjoining forests, waterways and other undeveloped areas and habitats through road-building, heavy truck traffic and noise pollution.

Missouri is the home of several tracts of the Mark Twain National Forest, which is continuously threatened with destruction by the lack of sufficient control of private sector logging.  Authority to remove trees in these areas is often granted by government agencies without due consideration of the environmental effects, such as wilderness/ habitat destruction and the failure of private companies to utilize harvesting methods designed to maintain the sustainability of trees.  As a result, the wilderness benefits and long-term wood availability provided by these lands could be lost.

The indiscriminate and haphazard construction of levees along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers is another source of land-use concerns.  Flood-control levees often result in the commercial and/or residential development of the wetlands and other wild areas behind the levees, since these areas are theoretically protected by the levees from severe flooding. 

Contrary to these examples of actual and potential abuse of land, the restoration of abandoned coal mines is a success story.  Although coal mining is no longer a large-scale undertaking in Missouri, prior surface mining has denuded and scarred large areas of the state's natural areas.  However, federal law now requires that the companies who extracted the coal to reclaim, at their cost, many of these formerly mined areas. Reclamation of these abandoned sites, performed by the companies under the supervision of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, has eliminated polluting and unsafe conditions and resulted in the restoration of many of these areas to a natural open-space use.  Despite these efforts, more reclamation remains to be accomplished.

A primary purpose of Great Rivers is to promote the retention of wilderness and natural habitat--along with attempting to ensure that people are able to live and work without the threat of environmental pollution--by providing legal services to individuals and groups who are working for the achievement of these important goals.  All environmental protection activities must be undertaken with these ends in mind.

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