When I started working for the Conservation Department, I felt a sense of being at home with people who deeply enjoyed nature and the outdoors as much as I did. We didn’t all like to do the same things outside, but we sure did appreciate each other’s passion for the diverse life out there. You might hear one person tell the latest turkey-hunting tale while another described the latest find in blooming wildflowers.
It’s still like that where I work today. But this is not the Missouri of 20 years ago and most Missourians’ connections with the outdoors, as in every other state with people living increasingly urban lives, are changing too. Now sometimes the difference among people isn’t in what they do outdoors, but in whether they have time do anything in the outdoors at all.
Our Outreach and Education Division for the Missouri Conservation Department is lucky to play a part in serving people who enjoy visiting nature centers as well as those who enjoy shooting ranges (which may or may not be the same people). We teach about planting native wildflowers as well as how to fish and hunt.
However, even though many Missourians are still active in enjoying the outdoors, letters and comments we receive suggest that the overall tolerance of differences in the ways we enjoy nature may be declining a bit. For instance, we get responses to our magazine from people who are offended by the sight of hunting illustrations as well as people who are offended by what they perceive as too many flowers or birds. I can understand people wanting to see more on topics of interest to them, but I don’t understand a lack of appreciation that sometimes borders on intolerance of different interests.
The great thing about Missouri’s model for conservation is that it’s a big tent, something John Hoskins, director of our agency, noted at the recent Missouri Conservation Federation meeting. We all have a role in it, and hopefully will continue to not only tolerate, but also appreciate our differences. Whether it’s a fishing rod or a hunting rifle or a garden hoe or TV with nature shows—we all get to enjoy the quality of life that keeping nature healthy provides.