I have met many different types of people since I began working as the private land conservationist for Cole and Osage counties. Each person I have met has expressed his or her passion and love for the outdoors and natural resource conservation in their own unique way! I consider myself very enthusiastic when it comes to conservation, so it only adds fuel to the fire when a landowner shares the same enthusiasm and eagerness to put natural resource management on the ground. This is exactly the attitude that Father John Groner had when I first spoke with him about planning management activities on his property.
Fr. Groner (John) grew up in Osage County. As a young man he was always tied to the land and conserving the state’s natural resources. “I always had two strong desires in my life, one to manage the land and the other to serve the Church.” At 65 years old, John has been serving the Catholic Church for more than four decades and has been the minister for churches all across the Midwest, as well as Italy. John feels that we all have a “spiritual” obligation to be stewards of the land and care for all of God’s creations. John first became interested with conservation as a young man, hunting and fishing the Osage County hills. Over the years as the land changed, he began to see a decrease in the abundance of wildlife he so much enjoyed as a young man. “It’s been years since I have even heard a quail out here,” he said over the phone during our first conversation.
John’s farm lies in Osage County. The farm has been in John’s family for more than 100 years. The farm was primarily used for grazing cattle. Groner Brothers Farms persisted for many years, but eventually the farm was divided between John and his brother. John’s brother elected to continue to graze cattle on his half of the property; however, John decided to work on improving wildlife habitat on his half.
My first opportunity to work with John came in early April. John contacted me explaining that he “wanted someone to come out and tell me if I’m on the right track.” John explained that he had been reading about Eastern redcedars invading open areas and unfortunately had two old fields on his property that were completely overtaken with them. “I figured they weren’t doing me any good like they were, so I decided to bulldoze them out.”
When I arrived on the property, I spoke with John about his goals and objectives for the property as we leaned against the side of his outdoor brick oven located off the patio of his cabin. He indicated that, plain and simple, he wanted to make his property “as diverse as he could and as beneficial to wildlife as possible.” Together, we created a management plan for his farm that included managing for forest health and wildlife habitat. The first project was to establish warm-season grasses and native forbs and legumes in the areas that were recently cleared of cedars. Due to timing, all of my Conservation Department cost-share dollars had been allocated. However, John was able to take advantage of cost-share monies made available through a Conservation Department matched grant with Quail Forever to assist him with his native warm-season grass conversion. Partnerships with NGOs (non-government organizations) such as Quail Forever are a crucial part of wildlife habitat and natural resource conservation. This cooperation between MDC and NGOs enable resource managers to assist cooperators like John Groner in putting management “on the ground” while at the same time creating a positive working relationship with external stakeholders. “I just can’t believe that we live in a state that has such unbelievable cost-share assistance!” John said. “It makes it so much easier and enticing for landowners to do the work.”
John is looking forward to his continued cooperation with the Conservation Department. Given the vast amount of management that John plans to carry out over the next few years, we have explored the opportunity to use other funding sources such as the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) or the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) through the USDA NRCS Office in Osage County. We are planning to begin implementing a timber-stand improvement project on his woodlands this fall. John is planning on conducting a prescribed burn on his woodland units this winter to reduce the leaf litter and to encourage growth of native forbs within the woodland areas. John’s love for the outdoors and his passion for conservation is an inspiration to all that are around him, and his hard work is a testament to the value that the vast majority of Missouri residents place on conserving their state’s forest, fish and wildlife resources.
Attitudes and commitments of landowners like John not only make Missouri a great place to hunt and fish but a great place to live as well.