Respecting Public Lands
In 1976, the Conservation Department owned or managed about 300,000 acres. Back then, those who crafted Design for Conservation believed that public lands for Missouri citizens to enjoy should be our top priority. The trust Missouri citizens placed in us a quarter-century ago by passing Design for Conservation has allowed us to purchase, manage and protect 771,343 acres of land and to manage another 196,921 acres owned by other public agencies. The combined total today is more than three times the 1976 figure.
Department lands contribute greatly to the quality of life for our state's citizens. We do everything we can to invite a variety of safe recreational and educational uses of these lands as we work to maintain or increase their value to wildlife. Most Missouri outdoors women and men appreciate and respect our conservation areas but, sadly, some do not.
Littering of conservation areas and public waters has degraded our environment, detracted from the quality of our outdoor experiences and resulted in unnecessary cleanup costs. Vandalism, property damage and littering on Department lands cost taxpayers in excess of $200,000 each year. The impact is even higher if you factor in the many hours our staff spends repairing damages and catching vandals. This time would be better spent improving the conservation areas and natural resources citizens enjoy. To discourage littering and vandalism, the Conservation Commission may deny Missouri hunting and fishing privileges to those found guilty of these crimes.
Can these problems be solved? Yes! Successful conservation relies on a partnership between the government and the people. Conservation agents and citizens working together in creative ways can make a difference. Our 200 conservation agents who live and work in large and small communities throughout the state are dedicated to caring for our natural resources, and they appreciate citizen involvement.
Conservation agents are important, but citizens must be our leaders. They often recognize problems before we can. If caring and watchful outdoor citizens report violations quickly to conservation agents or the county sheriff, they make law enforcement much more effective. Cell phone users may now reach the Operation Game Thief hotline by simply dialing *OGT, or they can call our toll-free number (800) 392-1111.
Citizens can also help the cause of conservation by joining a Stream Team or getting involved in the "No MOre Trash" anti-litter campaign.
Another way to demonstrate concern for a stream or lake access area is through our Adopt-an-Access program. Many people find it personally satisfying to care for a public place or a unique natural feature. The mere fact that others are voluntarily taking responsibility for a public area often is enough to deter would-be criminals from committing misdeeds there.
Conservation agents work hard to enforce the provisions of the Missouri Wildlife Code. They also are fully committed to outdoor education and to helping people understand the reasons behind the laws that protect our natural resources. There cannot ever be enough conservation agents to monitor all our resources or prevent every crime. The only way to achieve full protection of our valuable public areas and natural features is for citizens to recognize that they all have a stake in Missouri's outdoors.
Conservation agents stand ready to join with conservation-minded citizens and groups to protect the quality of our natural resources and our outdoor experiences. The Protection Division slogan, "Protecting Our Heritage, Mentoring Our Future," defines the goal, but we cannot do it alone. Success depends on our ability to work cooperatively with citizens like you.
Working together, we can get the job done.
John Hoskins, Protection Division Administrator & Director-designate