Twenty Years of Missouri Natural Areas: Protecting the Genuine Article

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Published on: Mar. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 26, 2010

Conservation Department to create an interagency Missouri Natural Areas System. This partnership opened the door for natural area designation of outstanding state park lands. Allen Brohn headed the new interagency panel.

"There was strong interest by the Department of Natural Resources and other agencies in joining the Natural Areas Committee," he said, "making it a truly inclusive Missouri Natural Areas System. It was mainly a matter of working out operational mechanics, and assigning responsibilities. With solid cooperation, this was done quickly. And while not without problems, the state committee worked, and worked well. Then-Governor Joe Teasdale commented that he'd never seen a better example of interagency cooperation," Brohn recalled.

The new Missouri Natural Areas Committee sought other agencies, organizations, corporations and individuals who owned potential natural areas. Soon the U.S. Forest Service (Mark Twain National Forest) and the National Park Service (Ozark National Scenic Riverways) joined the Missouri Natural Areas Committee, adding these major federal landholding agencies to the team.

The Missouri Natural Areas Committee defines natural areas as biological communities or geological sites that are managed to perpetuate their natural character, diversity and ecological processes. Participating agencies agree that Missouri Natural Areas should encompass the best examples of all of our state's natural ecosystems, and that this is the best use for these special lands. Once designated, Missouri Natural Areas will forever be protected. Their natural values will not be compromised, except for a critical need for which there is no alternative.

Natural Areas management involves inviting public use without letting them damage the area, restoring the natural processes under which the native plants and animals developed and eliminating weedy, exotic plant species that compete with the native vegetation. We also protect Natural Areas from outside threats, such as roads, powerlines and pollution.

For example, a prairie area could have a small parking lot and a walking trail for visitor access. Managers would use prescribed burning to simulate natural prairie fires and to tip the balance against exotic grasses and trees that are foreign to a prairie ecosystem.

On this 20th anniversary, there are 168 Missouri Natural Areas with more than 44,000 acres. Recently, the Missouri Natural Areas Committee has recognized the importance of protecting large natural landscapes in different regions of the state. Places like Stegall Mountain, Carman Springs, St. Francois Mountains, Jacks Fork and Pelican Island Natural Areas are large enough to encompass many natural communities with all of their plants and wildlife,

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