As Earth Day 2013 approaches on Monday, I encourage everyone to take a moment to reflect on their individual impact on the air, land and water resources right here in Southwestern Illinois. Are we doing everything we can as individuals, as communities and as a region to pass along a strong environmental legacy to our children and grand- children?
Earth Day began in 1970 as a way to teach and encourage out-of-the-box thinking on ways in which we can better care for our environment and prevent further destruction of our precious natural resources.
Although there has been tremendous progress in only 43 years, our earth's resources are being challenged at an ever-alarming rate due to increases in global population, changes in climate patterns and many other factors. The need for out-of-the-box thinking in regard to our natural resources never has been greater.
Southwestern Illinois has a wealth of natural resources, which, if cared for, will remain strong assets for many future generations.
Our rivers, the Kaskaskia and Mississippi, offer an abundant supply of water for public drinking water services, navigation, recreation, fish & wildlife and industrial uses. Our land resources include more than 1 million acres of prime farmland -- some of the most productive soils in the world. The largest contiguous forest block in Illinois lies along the Kaskaskia River in Southwestern Illinois. The densest karst topography in the U.S. is also located here.
While our natural resources are abundant, all is not well. Several of our counties, including Madison, Monroe, St. Clair and portions of Randolph, are not attaining air quality standards.
More than 800 miles of our region's rivers and streams are listed as polluted beyond acceptable levels, and 90 percent of our wetland resources have been permanently lost. As development inches eastward, prime farmland is shrinking, forest resources are threatened by growing fragmentation and an explosion of invasive species, and our base of high-quality natural areas will disappear if left unattended.
Because state and federal resources directed toward environmental issues are rapidly waning, we must unite locally in addressing these concerns.
On Earth Day 2013, please take the opportunity to reflect on your commitment to live more sustainably over the next year. Whether acting individually, as a family, or by engaging in community greening events, your actions over the next 364 days will make a difference.
Invest in the nature of Southwestern Illinois.
David C. Eustis is president and CEO of HeartLands Conservancy, which focuses on conserving land, building greener communities and engaging individuals and communities in our natural resources.