Michael Pearce

We can see problems, but what will we do about them?

Like many outdoorsmen, I find fascination in reading J.R. Mead's "Hunting and Trading on the Great Plains."

My favorite book chronicles what the legendary frontiersman encountered hunting buffalo and trading with natives on the Kansas prairies between 1859 and 1875.

His tales of vast herds of buffalo are amazing, as are his tales of wolves so common that he poisoned 40 one night.

During my many readings, I've found it tragic that the above and more went from what seemed like never-ending numbers to never-more in about 20 years.

Lately I've wondered if future generations will some day read some things written today and feel a loss because those things by then are long gone.

Times have already changed in the natural world of Kansas. The near future could see even more.

Habitat loss has been, is and always will be a major threat. It's caused some major changes just within my adult years.

I have stories of finding a dozen coveys of quail and 100 or more greater prairie chickens a day in eastern Kansas counties where both are rare today.

We still have good numbers of both in some places, but every year things like encroaching cedars, intensive grazing, annual burning and spreading signs of civilization claim more habitat.

We're never more than the next federal farm bill away from seeing millions of acres of prime habitat converted to grazing or crop lands that offer little to the natural world.

Lose things like the Conservation Reserve Program and the days of seeing scores of pheasants and lesser prairie chickens per day will fade quickly. Numbers of many species of non-game animals would also dwindle.

Probably nothing in our natural world has impacted us as quickly and holds the immediate threat as foreign creatures we've brought to our waters.

Zebra mussels were first found in Kansas in 2003 and have since been transported to about a dozen lakes. I wonder if future generations will know what it's like to find a body of water where zebra mussels aren't upsetting the natural order.

They also may not know what it's like to take a simple boat ride on some lakes and rivers for fear of being injured by jumping silver carp.

Hard to believe they were first found in Kansas waters in 2006 and the first juvenile was netted in Kansas last summer.

Today at least a million young silvers and big-head carp are schooled in the Kansas River and its tributaries. The plankton-eating gluttons could dominate fish populations in our lakes in a few years.

So could invasive white perch, which have been scattered to other waters after accidental stockings at Wilson and Cheney lakes not long ago.

A five or six-year period when they decimated natural reproduction of about all native species at Cheney proves their threat.

Things like great crappie spawns and white bass runs could become history as three- to four-inch white perch become a lake's dominant fish.

But it doesn't have to be.

In Mead's day, nobody really saw the extermination of things such as buffalo and Carolina parakeets coming until it was too late for them to be saved.

Not so today. We can clearly see the problems past, present and future and we have the capability to save things.

With a little dedication we can stop the spread of invasive species and work to insure crucial habitat is protected and habitat programs succeed.

The question is, will we? And if we don't, how will future generations think of us when they long to experience the natural Kansas we let slip away?