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Vantage Point

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Change stirs excitement

The life of a conservation agency director is never dull! Directors in fact kid among themselves that we always seem to have "boredom on the run" in our jobs.

On a recent Saturday, for instance, I spent the early portion of the day in Jefferson City answering 30-plus e-mail messages from Conservation Department employees; then drove to St. Louis and spent most of the daylight hours with our Metro Coordinator Irv Logan looking at potential office sites in the metro area; our existing areas and offices including the new Columbia Bottoms area; and managed to stop by Forest Park and visit with some of our employees as they braved the cold and wind to teach outdoor skills to a few thousand Scouts at a campout.

After a quick jumpstart from Irv (I had left the lights on all day in my parked car) I made a fast run down Interstate 44 to Leasburg and our Huzzah Conservation Area to see how our discussions with Rainbow Family members, who were attempting to camp on the area and in the process creating some problems, were progressing. What a cultural change to be talking to the Rainbow Family gathering around the waterways of the Huzzah area versus Scouts camping in Forest Park!

I managed to miss our personnel initially on arrival but a radio call brought us together for a discussion of the day's events at the area. I liked the common sense approach taken by our supervisors, agents and foresters involved and admired their attitude of working with problems but still protecting a wonderful conservation area. Of course, at that stage (9:30 pm) I offered - like any good director - to spring for coffee and pie at the closest cafe. That turned into an excellent discussion on a variety of topics and Conservation Department events wrapped around a not-so-bad peach pie. Quietness finally came on the drive home by myself with the final excitement of the day a nice serenade from chuck-will's-widows at a rest stop north of Rolla while stretching my legs.

Of course if things ever even approach dullness, conservation folks are also capable of creating their own brand of excitement. Take our ongoing reorganization of the Conservation Department as a good example of internal excitement. After a ton of discussions with lots of folks, including suggestions received from readers via e-mail as a result of this column, we recommended to the Conservation Commission in April a series of changes that we believe will strengthen efforts the Conservation Department is making to continue providing the kind of conservation programs that made our state a household word in the conservation world.

These changes certainly carry no criticism of past work and programs - rather, they build on the efforts of those who carried the conservation flag and make possible our work today. Still, change - even handled correctly - stirs excitement, mainly of the positive type, and we find ourselves managing through that change. You'll probably notice this change initially in some new names - like the "Outreach and Education Division" - instead of the three predecessor divisions of Education, Information Services and Public Affairs.

New names will also catch your attention in particular positions as some personnel changes have accompanied these structural changes. Mainly, you'll find us operating with fewer divisions, a consolidation of similar functions into one shop, a standardization of district boundaries for better administration and service to you, the customer, and a shifting of many positions from the central office to the field. For you history buffs, we're even bringing back the old field services biologists (agents) positions to increase our one-on-one contact with landowners and agricultural and sports groups.

Overall, we believe this particular brand of change will open up exciting new avenues for the Conservation Department in the days to come. We would invite you to join in that excitement with your ideas, support and leadership on the many problems that face conservation in Missouri. The "Outside In" section of this magazine is an example of how we are encouraging public input. The journalism class at Hickman High School in Columbia produced the special insert this month. You can see a picture of these enthusiastic youngsters on page 5 of "Outside In."

While you have written many past chapters of wildlife and forestry conservation in partnership with the Conservation Commission and Conservation Department, the future still offers terrific potential for conservation and personal growth satisfaction. I would hate to face those long drives home without the sound of chuck-will's-widows at the rest stops. With your help and wisdom, those days will never come. Conservation can never have enough friends, so join us and make a difference in the exciting days ahead.

(Look for the director's column, "Vantage Point," in every other issue of the Conservationist.)

JERRY CONLEY

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