Carl Noren was the director of the Missouri Department of Conservation during those years. He traced the Design for Conservation effort back to a 1967 conversation on a gravel bar with Conservation Commissioner Bob DeLaney.
"DeLaney was a great admirer of the Department, so when I gratuitously offered the opinion that the Department wasn't as good as some people thought it was, I got the kind of reception you might expect if you announced you were handing over defense secrets to the Russians," Noren recalled.
Noren identified five major areas that needed improvement:
- a larger non-game program;
- more funds for conventional fish and wildlife conservation programs;
- large-scale land acquisition for recreation and habitat;
- a stream preservation program and
- a dedicated source of funding for forest management.
"Once Missourians knew what the deficiencies were, we knew they would want solutions, leading to that most dismal of topics-money," Noren continued. "It was an unpalatable prospect, but Conservation Federation Director Ed Stegner and I embarked on the road anyway."
The following year, the Conservation Commission hired three well-respected progressives of the conservation movement, Charles Callison, Starker Leopold and Irving Fox, to study the Department and recommend changes to address the state's conservation needs. They conducted public meetings around the state throughout 1969 to gauge citizen desires for conservation.
In May, 1970, about 250 people turned out to listen to their findings. Their report listed many recommendations for an expanded program, but it carried a high price tag-$21 million. The same day, the Citizens' Committee for Conservation was formed to study potential revenue sources.
They proposed a tax on soft drinks that would bring in $20 million a year. Headed by Ted Scott of Buffalo, the Citizens' Committee for Conservation mobilized for action. Ed Stegner, whom Noren described as "a Maalox swigging workhorse who criss-crossed the state day and night," led the campaign, assisted by Abe Phillips, Sy Seidler, Doris Keefe and many unsung petition-carriers. They succeeded in getting 164,000 signatures-more than enough to put the initiative on the ballot.
But when it came time to certify the petitions, the secretary of state refused. The petitions lacked 11 words: "Be it enacted by the people of the state of Missouri..." The Citizens' Committee pursued the case through the Supreme Court, which ruled against the petitions.
It was a stunning defeat to the organizers and the rank-and-file conservationists who had patiently gathered signatures on street corners across the state. They had witnessed the support for an expanded conservation program among citizens, however, and vowed to keep fighting while the momentum was still strong.
Following the template of the amendment that created the Conservation Department in the Missouri Constitution, another initiative petition drive was set in motion in July 1975. This one called for a one-eighth-of-one-cent sales tax to be used for expanding conservation in the state.
Design for Conservation covered everything like a big tent. It appealed to the NRA and the Sierra Club alike. It called for building community lakes for close-to-home fishing, research on endangered species, developing stream accesses and, above all, more public land for recreation and species conservation. It was a carefully planned road map to what has become a national model for conservation.
The campaign for Design for Conservation reached to the corners of the countryside and the sidewalks of the cities. The campaign contained the passion of committed conservationists, captured in the words and images of Charles and Elizabeth Schwartz, Joel Vance, Jim Keller and James Keefe. The campaign reflected the values of Missourians in the 1970s projected against the needs of an unknown but frightening future.
A minimum of 100,000 signatures was needed; 208,000 were turned in. When the amendment appeared on the ballot of Nov. 2, 1976, it carried by a margin of 30,000 votes.
As this issue describes, the promises of Design for Conservation have been kept. In some ways, the frightening future also came to pass, in the form of terrorism, species extinction, pollution, crime, unemployment and loss of habitat. But some of these problems are being addressed with the best resources our state has to offer: the people of Missouri's enduring commitment to conservation.