Back from the Ashes

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Published on: Sep. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 5, 2010

at a time when most other fish and wildlife agencies were separate from forestry departments. The early Missouri conservationists recognized that a healthy forest was essential to healthy fish and wildlife populations.

In 1938, the Conservation Commission hired former Forest Service employee George O. White as state forester in the Division of Fish, Game and Forestry. Fire control was his first big job. He hired four young foresters and sent them out to organize districts. They were William Towell, Arthur Meyer, August Schmidt and Edward Seay, with Charles Kirk soon joining them.

Money was tight and equipment scarce. The Conservation Commission issued each district forester a pickup truck, an ax, a one-man crosscut saw, a long-handled shovel, a dozen council rakes and a couple of backpack pumps.

Fire detection depended on a few scattered lookouts, word of mouth, sense of smell and the U.S. mail. One district forester recalled receiving a post card from a neighboring district. It read, "If you are at all concerned with the most interesting phase of our work technically known as fire suppression, you should be informed that you have had a fire in progress since Tuesday P.M. in Sec. 28, T28N, R2E."

Education was, and still is, the key. People had to learn the need for fire protection. The foresters had to teach rural folks not to burn and persuade city folks to finance protection. The "Showboat" was put into operation, borrowing an earlier idea from Paul Dunn. This was a truck with generator, screen and projector that took forestry movies into the Ozark hills where there was no electricity. Foresters showed the movies in schools, general stores and churches - anywhere they could get a group of people together. The Showboat operated for 12 years, even through World War II.

White also encouraged tree planting on private land. He believed that if someone invested time and sweat in planting trees, they would be less likely to let their seedlings burn.

The Conservation Department established a seedling nursery at Meramec State Forest and eventually took over operation of the Forest Service nursery at Licking. The two nurseries produced millions of trees and wildlife shrubs for replanting burned and eroded land. When the Meramec Nursery closed in 1962, the Conservation Department moved all nursery operations to Licking. The Licking Nursery was named in honor of White upon his retirement in 1960.

The Conservation Commission in 1940 authorized a farm forestry program in

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