Protecting nature protects health, natural heritage
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Every living creature, including humans, depends on shelter and the availability of adequate and safe food and water to survive. Protecting natural resources like soil and water is critical for human health and sustaining populations.
When we conserve water and protect water quality, we protect our own health by ensuring safe and adequate supplies of water for drinking, domestic uses, recreation and economic development. Practicing land management that conserves soil and maintains its quality secures the resources that produce ample food, fiber and fuel products.
Protecting our natural resources ensures a legacy for future generations of animals and humans alike. Our natural heritage -- water, air, environments, geological features, and the biodiversity of plant and animal life -- is inherited from past generations, maintained by present generations and bestowed to future ones.
Much of Mississippi’s unique natural heritage is found underwater. In fact, the Southeast boasts the greatest freshwater fish diversity in the country, and Mississippi ranks fifth in fish diversity among all other states in the nation.
Several fish species are endemic to the state, meaning they are only found here. Endemic species include the Bayou darter, Yazoo shiner and Yazoo darter. A fourth species, the Pearl darter, occurred only in Mississippi and Louisiana. Because the Pearl darter is thought to be extinct in Louisiana, it may be found only in Mississippi now.
The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks has a program that tracks and maps Mississippi’s rarest animals, plants, exemplary natural communities and special geological features. Many of the animals in this program are aquatic, including mussels, crayfish, fish, amphibians and reptiles.
Aquatic creatures are impacted by pollutants and water quality degradation, as well as changes in water flow patterns. Water flows are influenced by precipitation and land use changes, such as urban development, as well as removing natural habitats like forests, grasslands and wetlands.
An endangered species is one where populations are threatened to a point that extinction might be possible if action is not taken. Endangered species represent a potential loss to Mississippi’s natural heritage, identity and legacy.
In this holiday season of giving, consider ways to protect nature and give the gift of health and natural heritage. There are several easy ways to act in your community:
- Shopping companies that tell customers about their production standards and methods;
- Conserving water in your home and reducing food waste;
- Planning outdoor family activities such as visiting state parks, hiking, biking, wildlife watching or hunting;
- Decorating for the holidays with items found in nature;
- Purchasing LED holiday lights and putting the lights on a timer;
- Donating to a local environmental organization instead of gifts;
- Buying from a local producer for holiday meals;
- Disposing of trash correctly and picking up waste when you see it outdoors; and
- Reducing your consumption of single-use plastics.
Editor’s Note: Extension Outdoors is a column authored by several different experts in the Mississippi State University Extension Service.