Wildlife Havens Squeezed by Human Needs

If wind turbines and birds aren't compatible, airplanes are even worse.

The Pocosin Lakes refuge in North Carolina borders the Great Dismal Swamp, and it is a vast wetland that is home to ducks, tundra swans, geese and other birds. But it is now severely threatened, according to the National Wildlife Refuge Association, by the proposed construction of a military airport just five miles from the refuge.

Similarly, the White River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas has more than 300 lakes and ponds that provide an oasis for animals ranging from bears to bald eagles. Without an adequate supply of water, the lakes would dry up, destroying the habitat.

But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is constructing a pumping station capable of sucking water out of the White River at the rate of more than 1,600 cubic feet per second to serve the needs of local rice farmers, according to the association. Thus the refuge is listed as under "severe risk."

Water is also an issue confronting the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, a vast, arid region of 1.5 million acres in southern Nevada. It is the largest wildlife refuge in the lower 48 states, and scarcely 4 inches of rain falls on its lower elevations each year.

But its southern boundary is a scant half-mile from the city limits of Las Vegas, the third-fastest growing metropolitan area in the country. The animals in the refuge, as well as the animals in the city, both need water. The conflict is bound to become critical for both.

None of these conflicts are the work of nefarious robber barons. Many folks these days recognize the need to provide some haven for other animals that also need a place to nest. But with an expanding population, and dwindling resources, something's got to give.

Let's hope that human needs, great though they may be, will not swamp the needs of those who were here before us. Surely there's room for all of us.

Lee Dye's column appears weekly on ABCNEWS.com. A former science writer for the Los Angeles Times, he now lives in Juneau, Alaska.

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