A Giant Voice for Conservation
harvest, much of it for the market. The Fish and Game Department lacked the expertise, the means and the leadership to restore fish and game to the state.
The newly formed Federation of Missouri Sportsmen (the name changed twice, before settling on the Conservation Federation of Missouri) had two main goals: to separate fish and game management from politics and to establish a non-political Conservation Commission that had sufficient clout to enforce and manage forests, fish and wildlife.
Working statewide, the group gathered enough petition signatures to force a 1936 vote on a constitutional amendment that would authorize the formation of a four-member, bipartisan Conservation Commission. That commission would have full power to "take over the control and regulation of the restoration and conservation of birds, fish, game, forests and all wildlife resources of the state."
Prior to the vote, the Federation popularized the slogan "Bring 'em back to Missouri" ("em" meaning wildlife and fish) by displaying it on billboards, bumper stickers and cafe napkins, as well as in newspaper and magazine advertisements.
The message found a home in the hearts of Missourians, who voted overwhelmingly (71 percent) in support of Proposition 4, which created the Conservation Department. It was fine irony: a political action group giving birth to a non-political agency.
It is fitting that the first president of the Federation, Columbia publisher E. Sydney Stephens, was named chairman of the first Conservation Commission, which he had worked so hard to create.
That giant voice of the Conservation Federation has reverberated around the state many times in the last 60 years, particularly when the Conservation Department's existence, autonomy and power were being challenged by legislators.
The Federation also guided and helped the Citizens Committee for Conservation when that group was formed to find a way to finance Design for Conservation, a three-part plan that included acquiring more lands, expanding public services and increasing research and development.
Thanks in large part to the tireless work of former Conservation Federation Executive Ed Stegner and the Federation staff, voters finally approved a constitutional amendment - the one-eighth cent conservation sales tax - that became effective in July 1977. The Conservation Department finally had a reliable source of funding for its programs.
The achievements made possible by the sales tax amendment made it possible for the Missouri Conservation Department to become one of the top conservation agencies in the country.
Those who appreciate the beauty of the Ozarks and its clear, free-flowing streams