Plentiful waterfowl populations will allow Missouri hunters to enjoy liberal duck and goose seasons and bag limits again this year. Although duck numbers are down for the second straight year, they remain well above the average of the last 10 years. Predictions are for the fall flight of most species to be at or above 1970s levels. Biologists predict a fall flight of 10.5 million mallards this year. Wet weather last spring hampered production of waterfowl food plants in Missouri, but water levels at wetland areas will be excellent.
Duck season will open Oct. 27 in the North Zone and run through Dec. 25. Canvasback ducks may not be taken in the North Zone except from Oct. 27 through Nov. 15.
In the Middle Zone, duck season will be Nov. 3 through Jan. 1, with canvasback hunting limited to Nov. 3 through Nov. 22. In the South Zone, duck season will run from Nov. 22 through Jan. 20, and canvasbacks may only be taken from Jan. 1 through Jan. 20.
The more restrictive season on canvasbacks reflects concern for this species' low numbers.
Two youth hunting days for waterfowl will precede regular duck season openings in each zone. Youth hunting days will be Oct. 20 and 21 in the North Zone, Oct. 27 and 28 in the Middle Zone, and Nov. 17 and 18 in the South Zone. Youth hunters can take one canvasback per day.
The Conservation Commission approved two changes in zone boundaries for the 2001-2002 through 2005-2006
waterfowl seasons in response to suggestions from duck hunters. One change moves the boundary between the North and Middle zones north so all of St. Louis and St. Charles counties and a small part of southern Lincoln County are included in the Middle Zone. The other change raises the boundary between the Middle and South zones so that Barton and portions of
Vernon and Jasper counties are in the South Zone.
Full details of waterfowl hunting regulations will be published in the "2001-2002 Migratory Bird Digest." The digest will be available wherever hunting permits are sold.
A number of landowners have contacted the Conservation Department asking about deer bag limits for youths hunting on family land during this year's new youth-only portion of firearms deer season. Wildlife Programs Supervisor Bill Heatherly offers the following clarification.
During the two youth-only days, a resident youth age 15 and younger may take one deer in accordance with the permits he or she holds. Landowners who own more than five acres but less than 75 acres do not qualify for no-cost landowner Any-Deer or Bonus-Deer permits.
Therefore, the only no-cost permit a 15-or-younger child of that landowner can have would be a "farm tag," which is valid for one antlered deer.
Consequently, during the two youth-only days, that child may take only one antlered deer and then is done for the season. If the child does not take an antlered deer during the two youth-only days, he or she may take one antlered deer during either the November or December muzzleloader portions of deer season.
An age 15-or-younger child of a landowner who owns 75 or more acres could have an Any-Deer, First Bonus and Second Bonus permit if the landowner requested those permits in the child's name.
Because the bag limit for the two youth-only days is one deer in accordance with permits held, that child may fill any one-but only one-of the three permits. Any unfilled permits may be used during the November and December muzzleloader portions of the season.
If you have further questions, refer to the "2001 Fall Deer and Turkey Hunting Information" guide, available wherever hunting permits are sold.
Duck hunters normally welcome rain, but unusually wet weather at Duck Creek Conservation Area may cost waterfowlers some hunting opportunities this year. Excessive rain in July and August delayed work on water control structures and ditch bank repairs at the 6,000-acre wetland area in Bollinger County. As a result, flooding of two pools in Unit A will be delayed.
Hunting in the timbered pools will not be affected directly by the construction project, but construction prohibited putting water from the summer rains into Pool 1. Lower than normal water levels in Pool 1 could restrict flooding. The improvements will permit better water management and help revitalize the aging green-tree wetland.
Fears that overabundant snow geese could devastate the environment around Hudson Bay are easing. Recent surveys show that snow goose numbers decreased from a 1998 peak of nearly 3 million to 2.3 million in January 2001. The downturn is attributed to a dramatic increase in snow goose harvest by hunters.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service eased restrictions on snow goose hunting starting in the mid 1990s. In addition to extending the hunting season, they permitted hunters to use electronic callers and guns capable of firing more than three shots before reloading. In Missouri alone, the liberal regulations allowed hunters to increase the annual snow goose harvest from 11,000 to more than 56,000.
The ultimate goal was to reduce North America's mid-continent snow goose population to 1.5 million, a 50 percent decrease. Waterfowl biologists believe this goal could be reached in the next five years if the current harvest rate continues.
"Missouri's Conservation Atlas" is your guide to nearly 1,000 conservation areas. The updated, 262-page book, measuring a big 11-by-15 inches, contains 114 detailed county maps and a fact-filled index listing activities, facilities, natural features, handicap access and other useful
information that will enhance your enjoyment of the outdoors. The atlas contains descriptions of each area and directions on how to reach it.
The rugged book with a water-resistant cover sells for $16 plus sales tax and, when necessary, shipping. It is available at conservation nature centers and
Conservation Department regional service centers statewide. You also can order by calling, toll-free, (877) 521-8632 or by visiting <www.mdcnatureshop.com> on the Web.
Another report of an exotic mussel sighting has fisheries biologists wondering if Missouri's time has come for a zebra mussel invasion.
A man at Lake of the Ozarks recently reported finding an adult zebra mussel on the hull of a boat he was minding for a friend. The boat had come to Missouri from Port Arrowhead Marina at Alton, Illinois. Last year, an alert marina worker at Lake of the Ozarks noticed a massive zebra mussel infestation on another boat that came from the Illinois marina.
Kansas officials recently found a zebra mussel in a holding tank at a catfish tournament. The tank had held a 31-pound blue catfish earlier. Some fish eat zebra mussels, and Kansas officials speculate that the big catfish regurgitated the mussel.
Interstate barge and pleasure boat traffic could serve as a vector for zebra mussels to hitch rides to Missouri waters, which so far have not been plagued with the exotic invaders. Where they take hold, zebra mussels cause millions of dollars of damage to watercraft and to city and industrial water intakes.
For more information about zebra mussels and how to avoid bringing them to Missouri, get a copy of "Zebra Mussels Come to Missouri" at any Conservation Department office or get information online.
A national awards program has recognized the Earth Angels of St. Louis for the group's work in promoting environmental awareness. The Earth Angels, who were featured in a June 1996 Conservationist article, received the Environmental Champions Award from the Gateway Region Choose Environmental Excellence program.
The Earth Angels help inner-city children connect with the natural world. Their hands-on activities include neighborhood cleanups, recycling drives, planting butterfly gardens, installing bird nest boxes and bat roosts, and an annual cleanup of the Sandy Point Island Eagle Sanctuary.
Dignitaries, including Secretary of Interior Gail Norton, Gov. Bob Holden, U.S. Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond and Conservation Commission Vice-Chairman Howard L. Wood, will gather in Vernon County this month to dedicate the 13,732-acre August A. Busch, Jr. Memorial Wetlands at Four Rivers Conservation Area.
The dedication will include unveiling of a monument of Mr. Busch, and also will highlight the partnerships that helped develop the area into a major wetland complex. The ceremony will begin at 11 a.m. Oct. 18 at the area headquarters.
To get there, take U.S. Highway 71 south three miles from Rich Hill to Hwy. TT. Go east on TT one mile and take the gravel road 1.75 miles south to area headquarters. Lunch will be served following the dedication.
Repairs began in September on the hatchery bridge at Roaring River State Park near Cassville, causing some temporary changes in access to the park's cabins.
Repairs on the bridge, which crosses Roaring River and leads to the hatchery, involve rebuilding half of the bridge on the downstream side. In conjunction with the repairs, crews will establish several parking spaces next to the bridge for people with disabilities. They will also build a sidewalk on both sides of the river on the downstream side and on the side leading to the hatchery on the upstream side. This will allow easier fishing access for visitors. The project also will include shoreline improvements and stabilization.
Work on the project should be finished before the start of the regular trout fishing season on March 1. The work will limit vehicle access to three cabins on the other side of the bridge at certain times of the day. Cabin guests will be notified in advance and encouraged to park on the other side of the bridge. No other visitors should be affected by the project.
The project is a cooperative effort between the Department of Natural Resources, which operates Roaring River State Park, and the Conservation Department, which operates the trout hatchery. For more information, call (417) 847-2539 or, toll-free, (800) 334-6946 (voice) or (800) 379-2419 (Telecommunications Device for the Deaf). For information on state parks and historic sites, go online.
Heavy-metal poisoning is claiming fewer waterfowl, thanks to a ban on lead shot for waterfowl hunting. A study published in the Journal of Wildlife Management says that deaths of waterfowl from ingesting lead shot while feeding are down by two-thirds from levels documented before the ban on lead shot for waterfowl hunting went into effect. In Missouri, the ban went into effect in 1977. All states adopted it by the mid 1980s.
The study, titled "Ingestion of Lead and Nontoxic Shotgun Pellets by Ducks in the Mississippi Flyway," concluded that the ban prevented the deaths of 1.4 million ducks in the 1997 fall migratory flight of 90 million. Producing the same number of birds through habitat conservation would have required buying and setting aside about half a million acres of nesting habitat.
Scientific experiments start with theories that are tested by manipulating variables under controlled circumstances. That's the method being used in the first long-term experiment with forest management on a large scale.
The Missouri Ozark Forest Ecosystem Project (MOFEP) began in 1991 on 9,000 acres of forest. It involves methodical observations of birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, mammals, trees, herbaceous plants, nuts, berries and even soil and climate conditions. These baseline data will allow researchers to tell how wildlife and vegetation change under different management plans.
On 3,000 acres of the study areas, trees are being harvested by clearcutting. On another 3,000 acres, trees are harvested by selective or group cuts. The remaining 3,000 acres comprise a control area where no trees are cut.
One-tenth of the acreage is harvested every 10 years on two-thirds of the study area. After each harvest cycle, researchers return and make new observations. After 100 years, these observations will reveal how each of the study tracts changed in response to different treatment. This will give forest managers a much better idea of how their activities affect the entire forest ecosystem, and not just trees.
Several observations have already been made following the first round of tree cutting. For example, one theory is that clearcutting hurts birds that need mature forest for nesting. But evidence emerging from MOFEP paints a much more complicated picture. Researchers have found fewer forest-nesting birds the first year after clearcutting, as expected. They were surprised, however, to discover that sightings of these birds also fell sharply in nearby control areas where no trees were cut. They also were surprised to find more of some species of forest-nesting birds on clearcut sites than were present before the trees were cut.
One reason may be that forest-nesting birds like the abundant insect food and protection from predators afforded by dense, brushy growth in clearcut areas. This pattern may hold in other large, contiguous forest tracts.
It's too early to draw conclusions based on the data collected so far, but you can be sure that forest managers will have a wealth of new information when the MOFEP study ends in 2091.
Fall is the best time to kill tall fescue or to disc fields to create places for quail and other ground-nesting wildlife to raise their young next year.
Many landowners provide places for bobwhite quail to nest but are baffled when the birds fail to thrive. This often is because they fail to provide the habitat necessary for quail to rear their young after hatching.
Quail can nest in even poor nesting cover, but most of the chicks will die unless they have access to areas where they can find food after hatching. This "brood habitat" also must be open enough to allow birds to move around, and it has to be close to nesting areas.
High-quality brood habitat has a sparse covering of broadleaf plants, not grasses. Land with 40- to 60-percent bare ground is ideal. Such areas give growing chicks access to an abundance of insects, a critical source of protein not only for young bobwhites, but for wild turkey poults, too.
To develop brood cover, mow, hay or graze fescue late in the season and allow it to regrow to about eight inches. Then spray it with one to two quarts of glyphosate (Roundup) or sulfosate (Touchdown 5). To kill seedlings, repeat the chemical treatment in the spring with either of these chemicals or with imazapic (Plateau). Clearing out fescue will allow native broadleaf plants to take over.
Fall discing stimulates ragweed, an excellent quail food, and creates bare patches. Quail prefer to nest within 50 feet of bare ground. To create this condition, disc 50-foot strips around the edges of fallow or hay fields and make several passes through fields. Leave these areas open for two years and create new ones each fall to replace those that have grown up.
Outdoor recreation opportunities on conservation areas are increasingly accessible to people with different physical abilities.
An example is the historic fire tower display installed at Runge Conservation Nature Center last year. The project brought a fire tower that no longer was needed in the Ozarks to the nature center in Jefferson City so visitors could experience the history of fire control in Missouri first-hand. To make the total experience available to people with mobility impairments, the Conservation Department installed a fire tower cabin at ground level and equipped it with a video monitor showing the elevated cabin's view.
New Conservation Department facilities are being designed for full accessibility, and dozens of existing facilities are being retrofitted for accessibility. To help Missourians with visual impairments enjoy the Missouri Conservationist, the magazine is available on audio tape. Those with hearing impairments can enjoy closed-captioned video tapes and programs with American sign interpretation at nature centers. The Department's Web site also is designed for accessibility to all users.
"Missouri's Accessible Outdoors," a popular 13-part series of booklets describing the Conservation Department's accessible facilities and programs statewide, is available in a searchable database online.
For more information about the Conservation Department's accessibility efforts, contact Debra Thompson, Missouri Department of Conservation, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180. Phone (573) 751-4115, ext. 3228.
Safari Club International is proud of the way hunters have been sharing their harvest, and it wants to encourage even more hunters to donate some of their harvest to the needy.
To make donating meat even easier, the Safari Club has created a Web site listing meat processors that participate in game-sharing programs nationwide. A national survey of meat processors showed that 8 of 10 commercial meat processors that handle wild game regularly channel wild meat to food banks or other charities. To find participating meat processors in your area, visit <www.safariclubfoundation.org/sahoutlet.htm> and click on "Humanitarian Services."
Eighty-two commercial meat processors participate in Missouri's statewide game-sharing program, Share the Harvest. Last year, hunters donated 49,260 pounds of venison to the needy through the program.
Enjoy the outdoors, crisp weather and fall colors during the Fallapalooza program at Burr Oak Woods Conservation Nature Center in Blue Springs Oct. 3.
This outdoor event is a celebration of forests and their bounty. See a sawmill in action, participate in the lumberjack camp activities, watch old-time crafters turn wood, bring your questions to the Tree Doctor, shake Smokey Bear's hand and listen to folk music.
All this and more family fun is free, so bring the children for a day of adventure. Festivities begin at 10 a.m. and continue through 2 p.m. For more information, call (816) 228-3766.
Free-ranging hogs are an increasing problem on both public and private land.
Feral hogs prey on quail and other ground-nesting wildlife and compete with deer and turkey for acorns and other food. Their rooting destroys natural vegetation and causes erosion. Furthermore, wild hogs carry diseases that are potentially devastating to agriculture and can infect humans.
Missouri citizens have an important role in solving the feral hog problem. In recent years, hunters and landowners have shot enough feral hogs to stop the animals from increasing in most counties. In some counties, hunting has actually reduced wild hog numbers.
Wild sows can produce 12 piglets a year, so controlling their numbers isn't easy. Hogs are hard to hunt, and they can be dangerous when cornered or wounded.
Missouri has an estimated at 1,000 to 3,000 feral hogs in at least 26 counties. Some are escaped livestock, but most are released deliberately. Bringing hogs into Missouri without testing for disease is illegal. So is releasing them into the wild.
Hunters may take wild hogs any time of year without bag limits. Most hunting opportunities are on public land at Fort Leonard Wood, the Mark Twain National Forest, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers properties and White Ranch Conservation Area south of West Plains.
The Conservation Department offers the following advice to those who hunt wild hogs:
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