Vantage Point

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Open the Door!

One of the Conservation Department editors has a bumper sticker on her car that reads, "A Closed Mind Is a Wonderful Thing to Lose." When I see it I think of all the ways we close ourselves off to new experiences, ideas and ways of looking at the world.

A common expression of the closed mindset that is especially pervasive in institutions is resistance to change because "we've always done it this way."

The Conservation Department could easily fall prey to this mindset because, well, nothing succeeds like success. Fifty-nine years of successful stewardship of the state's fish, forests and wildlife should convince us we've got the right formula. Why tinker with it?

But it was by avoiding the "we've always done it this way" mentality that paved the way for success. Creators of the Conservation Department broke the mold from the beginning. Agencies in other states were known as "fish and game" departments. But J.T. Montgomery, a Sedalia attorney and early organizer of the Conservation Department, pointed out that to make a real difference to the quality of Missouri resources, the agency should include forests as well as fish and game.

Other agencies have directors appointed by politicians; Missouri's has a bi-partisan commission that appoints the director. But the 1970s brought about the most startling difference of all.

Other agencies rely almost entirely on sales of hunting and fishing permits and federal aid for funding; as a result, funds are spent almost exclusively on fish and game. Missourians looked around their state in the 1960s and realized they valued bluebirds as well as turkey and quail, wildflowers as well as timber. Habitat was dwindling as highways and strip malls devoured the landscape. Instead of continuing down the same tried-and-true path, Missourians embarked on a radical new direction. In 1976 they voted to tax themselves for an expanded conservation program to purchase public land and include non-game species like bluebirds, eagles, otters - even insects.

Choices and change continually present themselves. And admittedly, some changes are not always the best choice. The Conservation Department continues to rely on wisdom gained through years of success while anticipating future challenges and the changes they'll require.

Examples? Public input is one.

Missourians are more interested than ever in having a say about their fish, forests and wildlife. Town meetings and public hearings are a long tradition within the Conservation Department. Surveys are a newer tool that allow us to gauge feelings and attitudes in order to respond to public demand.

Readers who took part in the Conservationist survey last year may remember questions about what you liked and didn't like in the pages of this magazine. This issue, devoted to attracting wildlife to your back yard or back 40, is offered in response to that survey.

Want to attract backyard birds and butterflies? Plant native prairie grasses? Read another special section for kids? It's all here. As Spring approaches, we invite you to look for new ways of looking. Take part in the panorama of unfolding life. Enjoy the diversity of experiences and wildlife Missouri has to offer.

Open your doors to the out-of-doors!

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