Twenty Years of Missouri Natural Areas: Protecting the Genuine Article

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Published on: Mar. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 26, 2010

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Missouri Natural Areas System. In a sense it seems strange to think of this as a milestone, since natural areas themselves are essentially timeless. Their natural communities reach back to the last ice age, and their geology much further.

But in terms of human endeavors, 20 years of successful cooperation by government and the private sector is truly an achievement worth celebrating.

In 1976, while a biologist in Illinois, I learned that the citizens of neighboring Missouri had passed a Conservation Sales Tax that would help protect natural areas. I joined the Conservation Department to help build this expanded natural areas program. We would buy high quality areas, as well as add staff for administration, inventory and management.

I joined a project that was already well developed. The Conservation Department had begun a natural areas program on its lands in 1970. Bill Crawford, a retired wildlife research chief, recalls that in the late 1960s, he studied natural areas programs in Wisconsin and Illinois. He recommended that the Conservation Department get involved with its natural areas resource.

Key staff and administration supported Crawford's idea. "Soon we were underway. Director Carl Noren formed a committee to develop a natural areas system on conservation lands. And it took off. It was one of the fun times of my professional life."

Allen Brohn, assistant director now retired, chaired the fledgling Conservation Department program. Assistant state forester and later natural history chief John Wylie remembers the early efforts: "Foresters and biologists nominated and evaluated outstanding areas on conservation lands, the committee and director reviewed them and the Conservation Commission designated the best of them as MDC Natural Areas. We wanted to protect the best examples of our state's original landscape in all its diverse forms. Natural areas are living museums of our natural history - our state's crown jewels, so to speak - and over time they become biological benchmarks."

Even without additional employees or funds to buy public land during those early years, fine areas such as Taberville Prairie, Clifty Creek, Blue Spring and Lichen Glade became units of the new system. By the end of the nation's bicentennial, 49 areas and about 6,000 acres comprised the Conservation Department system. The Nature Conservancy, the Missouri Prairie Foundation, and the L-A-D Foundation owned some of these areas, but all were managed by the Conservation Department.

In April 1977 the Department of Natural Resources joined the

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