The American Dream

A lot of people who grew up in the post-World War II years yearned for a home in the country. Some of us never realized that dream, but many Missourians have managed to carve out a piece of what was once forest or agricultural land around our cities and towns for their dream homes in the country. The movement of people from the city has accelerated recently, to the point where we now have a phenomenon commonly known as "urban sprawl."

Urban sprawl is usually considered a bad thing. Experts in demographics predict that Missouri could be divided into as many as six million individual land ownerships by the year 2010. This represents a dramatic and challenging change in our pattern of land use. Fragmenting large pieces of property into smaller units results in increased commercial development and residential construction. It also results in a corresponding fragmentation or complete loss of quality wildlife habitat.

I have to confess that I am part of the problem. My wife and I own what we think is a wonderful eight acres of green space in Greene County, and most of our neighbors also live on 5-20 acre tracts of land.

I know from personal experience, however, that we who live on these small tracts of rural Missouri can have a positive impact on the land. As a professional forester, I have had the good fortune to work with many landowners during the past 30 years, and I have learned from their individual mistakes and successes.

One good friend, who lives on a wonderful 15-acre property in Newton County, showed me many years ago just how much quality wildlife habitat he could produce in a limited space. He likes to plant trees, and that's how I first met him. While working on some urban landscape issues in the area, I got a good look at his place, which he fondly calls "The Rabbit Patch." It is appropriately named, to be sure. He's done everything possible to produce quality upland wildlife habitat, and the bunnies and birds that live there are his rewards.

When I purchased my home and eight acres, the land was in pretty sad shape. It was part of a 40-acre tract that had a long history of past landowners trying to scratch out a living by grazing as many cows as possible. The pastures had been abused and neglected, and new trees and native grasses were beginning