Vantage Point

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Dec. 1998 - Vol. 59, No. 12

The painting on this month's cover is our Christmas card to you. Each December since 1989, the Conservationist magazine cover has not been a photo but a painting, created by one of our artists expressly for the holidays. The same artwork adorns the annual Christmas card the Conservation Department sends to each of its employees during the holiday season.

This year's artwork highlights conservation memories. The arrangement is not meant to be comprehensive or sequential; it's more of a whimsical collection that-like modern art-is meant to arouse thoughts, rather than steer them.

For me, the old bobber and line and the tooth-scarred fishing plug bring to mind the fact that Missouri's fishing can't be beat. You can scarcely find a pond in the state that isn't packed with panfish, and our state's waters are some of the best in the nation for bass, crappie and trout. The Conservation Department has been managing lakes and rivers for all kinds of fishing and stocking fish for anglers for more than 50 years. I wonder how many trophies we've helped put on walls, how many fond memories we've created.

Speaking of trophies, the acorns and the feather remind me of outstanding conservation success stories. When it comes to deer and turkey, grizzled old men never talk about the good old days. People back then were lucky to spot a deer during their entire childhood, and wild turkeys were strange creatures they read about in history books. Now the deer often outnumber people in rural areas, and we seem to set new records for turkey harvest every spring.

Waterfowl once blanketed the skies and wetlands, but market hunters and developers delivered a one-two punch to their populations, chopping them down by the thousands and filling in the habitat they needed to maintain their numbers. Wetlands now occupy a tiny fraction of the state they used to, but the Conservation Department has acquired and protected areas where hunters can still call to flocks of ducks and geese as their ancestors did.

The badge and tattered license make me realize that some of the most important work of the Conservation Department is protecting our best interests from others of our kind. Without regulations, including bag limits and seasons, wildlife and fish management wouldn't work. Through our acceptance of wildlife laws all of us form an association of conservationists who cooperate in protecting animals and their habitat, as we maintain our right to harvest a portion of the animals we protect.

Of course, the Conservation Department is not only about fish and game. The agency has acquired and maintains thousands of places for people to hike, watch wildlife, meditate or picnic. It works to protect and reestablish endangered species. It studies and monitors lesser known creatures that live under leaves or in caves. It helps people manage their land for maximum profits and for maximum wildlife value. It maintains a variety of habitats for a variety of plants and creatures, some so small you have to look for them with an eyepiece.

Not given to artistic ventures, I have built up a somewhat cruder collection of outdoor memorabilia. When I have a good day outdoors, I pocket some small rock-little more than a pebble- as a souvenir. I carry the rock with me for a few days, and every time I run across it while digging out keys or change, I'm reminded of the fun I had. Eventually, I transfer the rocks to a jar containing other rocks.

I've collected a jarful, and while I can't say that each rock evokes a specific memory, many do, and the sum of them reminds me that my life has not been all scurrying and care.

I urge you to take advantage of conservation lands and programs during this holiday season and throughout the coming year. They provide you with great places to go and wholesome things to do. Consider them our gifts to you. I hope you collect a jarful of good memories, too.

TOM CWYNAR

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