The Population Debate

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Published on: Jun. 2, 1998

Last revision: Oct. 28, 2010

Someone once told me a friend had announced he was going to quit fishing in one of Missouri's popular state parks that has trout fishing. "He said it had gotten too crowded." After a pause, the friend added, "That was in 1955."

In 1955, Bennett Spring State Park recorded just under 34,000 anglers. By 1995 that number had grown to 185,504, a six-fold increase. Trout stocked in 1955 totaled 88,242; in 1995 that number stood at 433,540. Only a great advancement in the technology of rearing trout allowed the Conservation Department to keep up with demand.

Missouri's human population in 1955 was about 4 million. In 1995 it was estimated at 5,324,000. For people who enjoy the outdoors, the boom in population comes in the form of other people competing for the same resources-be they trout or wild turkeys. We see pictures of anglers stacked shoulder to shoulder on opening day, or arrive at our favorite conservation area to hunt and find another group ahead of us.

Missouri state government reported in 1996 that the five fastest growing counties between 1990 and 1995 were Stone (31.5 percent), Christian (30.9 percent), Taney (26.2 percent), St. Charles (16.7 percent) and Dallas (15.7 percent). St. Charles County, in the St. Louis metropolitan area, had by far the greatest numerical growth in the state, gaining over 35,000 people. The other counties in the top five were in the Ozarks, either in or around the Springfield metropolitan area.

Pressure for outdoor recreation has quadrupled. In the case of public lands, Missouri has kept pace because the 1/8 of one percent sales tax has allowed the Conservation Department to purchase more recreation and wildlife habitat acres. Still, the public land managed by the Conservation Department totals less than 2 percent of the state's land mass.

In addition to providing land for recreation, the Conservation Department also conserves land to protect wildlife and plant species. As Missouri's population has grown, the amount of some types of wildlife habitat has shrunk. Developed residential areas do not provide homes for prairie chickens or protect fragile caves or springs.

For example, the population density in St. Charles County was 257 people per square mile in 1980. A decade later that density had grown to 380 people per square mile, which meant that more upland fields, timbered acres and other wildlife habitat were converted to suburban lawns or asphalt roads and parking areas.

Is there a population problem, and

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