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Trout "spring thing" falls on Sunday this year

The opening day of catch-and-keep season at Missouri's four trout parks marks the arrival of spring for thousands of Missourians. And when the annual "spring thing" falls on a weekend, as it does this year, the crowds at trout parks swell.

The last time the season opener fell on Sunday was in 1992. Blue skies and unseasonably warm weather that day contributed to a record crowd of more than 12,000 tag-buying anglers, not to mention uncounted thousands of spectators, at Roaring River, Bennett Spring and Montauk state parks and the privately owned Maramec Spring Park.

Last year the event took place on Saturday, but frigid weather limited tag sales to a modest 11,000-plus.

Will this year's attendance set a new record? That depends on the weather.

To find out more about special opening-day events at trout parks, call:

  • Roaring River StatePark near Cassville, (417) 847-2539.
  • Bennett Spring State Park near Lebanon, (573) 532-3228.
  • Montauk State Park near Licking, (573) 548-2201.
  • Maramec Spring Park near St. James, (573) 265-7387.

A tip for those who plan to fish at trout parks on opening day: buy your permit ahead of time to avoid long lines at the parks March 1.

Prepare nest boxes now for summer guests

Songbirds will be winging their way back to Missouri soon in search of places to nest. You can make their work easier by getting nest boxes ready.

If you already have nest boxes, now is the time to remove last year's material, which can harbor bird parasites. Put a teaspoon of sulfur or cedar chips in each compartment to control mites and other pests.

Apply a fresh coat of paint or stain before putting the houses back up. Boxes should be up by March, when males of many bird species begin arriving to stake out territories.

Bluebirds, martins and other summer tenants will be glad you found such a useful project to cure your cabin fever.

The Conservation Department booklet Woodworking for Wildlife has plans for building nest boxes for birds from owls to chickadees. To receive a copy, write to Missouri Department of Conservation, Woodworking for Wildlife, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180.

Commission helps fund museum

The Conservation Commission recently voted to help fund the American National Fish and Wildlife Living Museum and Aquarium in Springfield.

"We've never before been presented with the opportunity to reach as many people with our conservation materials and message," said Conservation Commission Chairman Ron Stites. "Projected attendance for the first year alone is expected to be more than 1.2 million people. This will be a world class facility that shows Missouri truly leads the world in support of conservation."

The American National Fish and Wildlife Living Museum and Aquarium Foundation was established as a not-for-profit group to build and operate the museum. The museum is expected to cost an estimated $40 million and open its doors by January 2001.

Plans call for the museum to include wildlife in natural-looking habitat, including a stream with fish flowing into a lake. Outdoor heritage exhibits will highlight hunters' and anglers' conservation achievements.

"The quality and scope of the project assure us that both the state and the nation will benefit from this museum," said Conservation Department Director Jerry Conley. "The foundation directors are nationally known in conservation and academic fields. We have the opportunity to educate millions of visitors about early conservation efforts in Missouri and the importance of caring for fish, forests and wildlife into the next millennium."

The commission told the Conservation Department staff to negotiate a financial agreement with the museum foundation for funding the project. It stipulated that the agreement maximize return on the commission's investment.

The commission committed $2.5 million, with payments of $500,000 per year for five years to begin when the museum opens in 2001. The commission also has the option to extend payments for an additional 10 years for a total potential contribution of $7.5 million. In return, the museum foundation's board of directors pledged 12.5 percent of the museum's net operating revenues for projects directed by the Conservation Commission.

"This financial arrangement represents an excellent investment for our agency and for the state," said Conley. "The Conservation Department will play a highly visible role in planning and designing the educational component of the museum. When it draws visitors from around the world, more people than ever before will be exposed to the leadership role Missourians have played in support of conservation."

Natural gifts preserve state lands

Missourians who own land and are concerned about what will happen to it when they are gone can ensure the future stewardship of their acres and reap tax benefits now.

For some, donating land or other property to the Conservation Department is a way of preserving priceless natural treasures. For others, it is a way to memorialize loved ones and their devotion to a special place. Financial advantages accompany all such gifts.

For more information about conservation donations or memorials, write to Donations Coordinator, Conservation Department, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180 or call (573) 751-4115.

Permits expire this month

Are your hunting and fishing permits about to expire?

In the past, permits were good for a calendar year. Now, state permits expire at the end of February. Don't forget to renew yours before going fishing or hunting this spring.

Outdoors people who might be particularly susceptible to permit slip-ups include trout anglers, goose hunters and those who hunt crows.

Anglers headed for trout parks March 1 would be wise to buy fishing permits beforehand. Buying early prevents the inconvenience of standing in line with other last-minute buyers.

Vulture Venture set for Feb. 7

The third annual Vulture Venture will take place Feb. 7 at Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery in Branson. This event coincides with the winter gathering of hundreds of turkey vultures and black vultures near the hatchery on Lake Taneycomo.

Visitors will have the opportunity to see hundreds of wild vultures outdoors and a captive vulture from the Dickerson Park Zoo. Hourly slide shows about vultures will be shown at the hatchery visitor center.

The hatchery will be open for vulture viewing from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Some viewing equipment will be provided, but bring binoculars or spotting scopes if you have them.

Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery is located below Table Rock Dam, 6 miles south of Branson on Highway 165. For more information, call the visitor center at (417) 334-4865.

Careful handling improves paddlefishing

Paddlefish snaggers can improve their luck by adapting catch-and-release fishing to their unique sport.

Anglers must release all paddlefish shorter than 24 inches. How they release them can directly affect how many survive to fight another day. Here are some tips for increasing the chances that a small paddlefish will grow into a tackle-testing adult.

  • Remove the hook without taking the fish out of the water.
  • When you must bring the fish into the boat to unhook it, work as quickly as possible. Paddlefish can't breathe air.
  • Don't let fish flop around inside a boat. This causes injuries.
  • Take time to work hooks out with as little injury as possible.
  • If the fish is exhausted after unhooking, hold it horizontal in the water for a few minutes to allow it to "catch its breath."

Animal-rights groups target Missouri's otter trapping season

The filing of a lawsuit in federal court in November marked the latest skirmish in a long-running battle between state wildlife management agencies and groups intent on ending human use of animals. This time, the battleground is Missouri.

The focus of the lawsuit is the Show-me State's 2-year-old season for trapping river otters. The suit was filed by the Animal Legal Defense Fund of San Rafael, Calif., the Humane Society of the United States, based in Washington, D.C., and the St. Louis Animal Rights Team. Their goal is to stop Missouri trappers from selling otter pelts.

The animal-rights groups claim to be concerned about Missouri's otter population. Biological data refute these arguments, but Conservation Department officials still are concerned.

"The fact that Missouri's otter population is thriving isn't going to stop animal-rights activists," says Conservation Department Wildlife Research Biologist David Hamilton. "Their most effective tools are emotion and misinformation, not biology."

Animal-rights groups oppose the use of animals for human benefit. They have targeted the fur trade because trappers are few and lack the political clout that hunters and anglers wield.

Animal-rights activists began their anti-trapping campaign by splashing blood on fur wearers. When these publicity stunts failed to turn public opinion, they changed their tactics. Instead of trying to kill demand for furs, they now are trying to eliminate the supply. In recent years, they have placed trapping bans on ballots in several states.

In the few states where these efforts succeeded (Colorado, Arizona and Massachussets), animal-rightists relied heavily on misinformation, claiming that trapping was decimating wildlife populations. They also misled voters into believing that trappers used traps with sharp teeth and caught large numbers of pets.

"By repeatedly tying misinformation about the ecological effects of trapping to emotional appeals about suffering animals, the animal rights crowd linked animal rights and ecology in popular perception," says Hamilton. "The notion that a rat is as important as a child is foreign to most people, and is completely unrelated to the question of how we should manage wildlife populations, but they plant that notion through logical sleight-of hand. It's the mainstay of anti-trapping campaigns."

Animal rights advocates may sincerely believe it is wrong for humans to use animals. But most Missourians don't agree. They aren't interested in giving up meat, wearing plastic instead of leather or turning down life-saving medical treatments that were developed with animal research.

"At present, 70 percent of Missourians say trapping is OK as long as it's regulated," says Hamilton. "But if we allow well-funded animal-rights groups from the East and West coasts to control the debate on issues like otter trapping, they will continue working to convince voters that animal rights is a form of wildlife management. Eventually, we could see ballot initiatives that result in piecemeal elimination first of trapping, then hunting and fishing."

The U.S. district court in Washington, D.C., dismissed the animal rights groups' lawsuit, saying they had failed to make their case. Judge Ricardo M. Urbina noted that river otters are not endangered and the decisions of the Conservation Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding Missouri's otter season were based on the "best available biological information." Hamilton said regardless of the outcome, the latest skirmish has met some of the key objectives of animal-rights groups.

"They got millions of dollars worth of free publicity in a state where animal rights wasn't even on the popular radar screen," says Hamilton. "They got a cause celebre to boost their fundraising efforts, and they got a chance to spread misinformation and build interest in an anti-trapping petition drive. But just because you're not a trapper doesn't mean this doesn't concern you. After trapping is banned, hunting and fishing will be next. This is how states lose their ability to conduct the kind of rational, science-based wildlife management programs that have made Missouri the envy of the nation."

The 'eyes of Missouri are upon us

Fisheries management biologists are working on several projects to improve walleye and sauger fishing in northeast Missouri.

A study at Long Branch Lake in Macon County began with the stocking of three different sizes of walleye. Biologists plan to study which size of walleye survives and grows best, using "genetic tagging" to tell the three groups of fish apart.

This doesn't involve genetic engineering. Biologists run blood tests on the fish before releasing them and use minute differences in the fish's DNA to tell them apart.

Mark Twain Lake in Monroe and Ralls counties is the site of similar study. Biologists want to know why walleye fishing there is only fair, despite stocking. To find out, they are stocking genetically fingerprinted walleyes in tributaries where food is abundant and predators few.

Don't be surprised if a Conservation Department employee asks to see your fish at Mark Twain Lake; they just want to check on the walleyes' numbers and growth.

Would you like to get cash for fish? Some lucky anglers will receive cash rewards for walleye and sauger caught below navigation dams on the Mississippi River.

To determine the durability of the river's walleye and sauger fishery, biologists have marked hundreds of fish with 3-inch long, yellow "spaghetti" tags. Turn in one of these tags, and you can receive a cash reward of $5 to $100.

Biologists hope to learn the effects of seasonally heavy fishing, as well as the size and age of fish that people keep on the Mississippi River.

Though you won't get a cash reward at Lake Showme, the likelihood of catching a walleye in this 225-acre lake continues to climb. The lake, located near Memphis, has been stocked with 2,700 large walleye fingerlings since 1992.

-By Darcy Cashatt

Contest challenges young hunters

The 1998 Missouri Youth Hunter Education Challenge will be held June 20 and 21 at the United Sportsmen's Club in Jefferson City.

The event is designed to help youths develop outdoor skills and ethics. Competition is divided into junior (up to age 14) and senior (ages 14 through 18) divisions.

Events include a hands-on wildlife identification quiz, rifle, archery, shotgun and muzzleloader marksmanship, a hunting-safety trail, an orienteering course and a written hunter responsibility test. Two new events-air rifle shooting and turkey calling-will be added this year.

Prizes include guided hunts, gift certificates and thousands of dollars worth of hunting, fishing, camping and backpacking equipment.

Participants work with adult coaches to hone skills learned in hunter education classes. Competition intensifies the educational experience and spurs the contestants to study and work harder at improving their hunting skills.

Entry forms are available from Jan Morris, Missouri YHEC, P.O. Box 38, Imperial, MO 63052. Phone (314) 464-6214.

Wondering what to do with all that venison stacked up in your freezer? Try some of the following recipes.

Venison Stir-Fry

Cut a 1-pound venison roast into thin strips 1/2-inch wide. Marinate overnight in:

1/2 cup teriyaki sauce

4 cloves minced garlic

2 tsp ground ginger

Drain and reserve marinade. Sprinkle 3 tbsp corn starch onto meat and stir until coated. Place 3 tbsp peanut oil in a large, non-stick skillet over high heat. When oil begins to smoke, add meat. Stir continuously just until meat is cooked through. Remove to a large serving bowl.

Add 1 tbsp oil to fry pan. Add 1 pound of frozen oriental vegetables. Cook over high heat until thawed but still firm. Stir vegetables into serving bowl with meat.

Put reserved marinade in frying pan over low heat. Mix 1 tbsp corn starch with 1 cup cold water and pour slowly into simmering marinade, stirring constantly until thickened. Pour over meat and vegetables.

Serve over rice, with soy sauce on the side.

Spike Buck Spaghetti Sauce

Combine in a medium saucepan:

3 oz tomato paste

8 oz tomato sauce

1 1/2 cups water

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 medium onions, diced

2 tbsp chili powder

2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1/2 tsp anise seed

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp salt

2 bay leaves

Simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Crumble 1 pound uncooked, ground venison into sauce and turn heat very low. Cook uncovered, stirring regularly to minimize scorching, until very thick, about 2-3 hours. Serve over linguine noodles.

Big Buck Stromboli

Thaw 1 pound of store-bought white bread dough and let rise until double in size.

Brown 1 lb. ground venison, along with 1 tbsp fennel seed, 1 tsp salt, 2 tsp red pepper flakes and 1/4 tsp black pepper. Set aside to cool.

Roll out 1/4-inch thick on a floured surface. Spread browned meat evenly over dough. Add one large, soft, chopped tomato, one chopped bell pepper and 1/2 cup grated mozzarella cheese.

Roll up dough and tuck ends under to seal. Brush top with beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Place on a jelly roll pan and bake 30-40 minutes at 350 degrees, until golden brown.

Two cookbooks are particularly useful to deer hunters. Cy Littlebee's Guide to Cooking Fish and Game has 29 venison recipes. Copies are available for $3 plus tax at Conservation Department service centers and nature centers.

The NRA Members' Wild Game Cookbook has 114 pages of venison recipes and is available for $7.50 plus shipping. To order, call toll-free (800) 336-7402.

Early Birds

It may still feel like winter to humans, but birds already are arriving in Missouri to begin nest building and courtship. Birds that defend territories, build nests and lay eggs in February include great blue herons, wood ducks, red-winged blackbirds, prairie-chickens, wild turkeys, purple martins, bluebirds, mourning doves, Canada geese, swallows and phoebes. Bald eagles begin incubating eggs the first week of March.

Whitewater championships set for March 28-29

March 28 and 29 are the dates, and Millstream Gardens Conservation Area is the place for the 1998 Missouri Whitewater Championships.

Saturday competitions include kayak slalom events on the St. Francis River in spectacular gorges at Millstream Gardens. Sunday events include races with kayaks and whitewater canoes.

April 4 and 5 are the alternate dates for the event, in case weather or water levels are not suitable on the primary dates.

For more information, contact race director Dave Kovar, 5245 Lindenwood Ave., St. Louis, MO 63109. Or phone the Fredericktown Chamber of Commerce, (573) 783-2604.

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