No other creature on the face of the earth has the power to transform their environment like humans can.

No other creature on the face of the earth has the power to transform their environment like humans can.
While some animals, like beavers, can alter their surroundings to make things more habitable for them, human activity is far more potent. The challenge for us then, is to move beyond the “can we do it” to a more responsible “should we do it” when making changes to nature. And while we will always be building and removing and shaping the places around us, we should be thoughtful stewards of our world where our impact is more for the better than the worse. But that’s a big challenge.
One example of a huge environmental impact happens when a dam is built across a river. The nearby Table Rock Dam was completed back in 1958 and it drastically changed things for the White River there. The project was one of many by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and it had two main goals: control devastating floods and produce hydroelectric power. The area had already established itself as a prime fishing and recreation area as far back as the 1930s, and that trend continues to this day. Table Rock was the third Corps multi-purpose, high-head dam project to be built on the White River, following the construction of Norfork and Bull Shoals dams.
The ways are varied that dams can impact the environment, with many aspects, perhaps unknown to many, that can be irreversibly altered. Most obviously, the dam walls off one side from the other, blocking fish migrations and trapping sediments. It also turns a free-flowing river into a slack-water habitat on one side. This will change the temperature, chemistry, depth, dissolved oxygen levels and other aspects of that ecosystem. Additionally, reservoirs often host non-native and invasive species (snails, algae, predatory fish) that further undermine the river's natural communities of plants and animals.
But the greatest effect actually happens downstream from the dam. Subtle changes in the timing and quantities of water flow can have large impacts on aquatic and riparian (streamside) life. Lack of sediment flow encourages bank erosion, riverbeds can deepen, lowering of the water table, and reduced habitat for fish that spawn in river bottoms, as well as for invertebrates. Large dams have led to the extinction of many fish and aquatic species, disappearance of floodplain life and other regrettable consequences.
Getting back to Table Rock Dam, trying to mitigate for the damages such a huge project has led the Corps to Neosho. Our hatchery’s rainbow trout are put in the water below the dam to help repopulate Lake Taneycomo with a viable and recreationally sound fish population. While they are not the native warm water bass and catfish that once swam in that area, they are the substitute that was chosen. Thousands of people are still drawn to the area for outdoor activities that benefit greatly from our work here at the hatchery.

Bruce Hallman writes a column for the Neosho Daily News.