Turning People On To Conservation
In 2002, a diverse group of Missouri Conservation Department staff from across the state reviewed all Department programs and identified the most important ones for future Missouri conservation efforts. One of the top priorities was “turning people on to conservation in Missouri.”
It’s a long-held belief that conservation education and outreach efforts are critically important to Missouri’s natural resources, and to any successful conservation effort. To most people, the quality and availability of these programs speak for themselves, while others demand measures for all we do. However, some of life’s most important lessons don’t translate into numbers. What is the value of instilling a conservation ethic in the mind of a child? How can we really know if our programs were the ones that made the difference?
My first recollection of the Conservation Department’s education efforts was a 1960s visit to my high school in Van Buren by Virgil Davis, a conservation education consultant who lived in the Ozarks. He made a lasting impression. To this day, I remember his ecology lesson about the food chain. Mr. Davis made the concept seem real as he related it to wildlife and the natural world around us.
About the same time, my biology teacher took our class on a field trip to Peck Ranch Conservation Area, where staff demonstrated their technique for trapping, moving and restoring wild turkeys. They also taught a classroom program on wildlife management principles. The Department didn’t have a way to measure the effect of these educational efforts, but I remember the lessons well.
The thing that came through clearly in both experiences was the Department employees’ sincerity, commitment and passion for conservation. This is as true now of our employees as it was then.
Since Missourians passed the Design for Conservation sales tax in 1976, the Conservation Department has worked hard to provide more outdoor education and interpretive opportunities for Missourians who live in urban areas. The four nature centers (near St. Louis, Springfield, Jefferson City and Kansas City) and the new Discovery Educational Center, dedicated in Kansas City in 2002, host more than 800,000 visitors each year. The Department has also established many conservation areas and facilities that are within easy reach of urban residents. These include Rockwoods Reservation, Columbia Bottom and Forest 44 conservation areas near St. Louis; Burr Oak Wood Nature Center, Jim Bridger Conservation Area and Parma Woods Range near Kansas City; and Little Sac Woods, Bois D’Arc and Rocky Barrens conservation areas near Springfield. They all provide opportunities to enjoy and learn about the outdoors.
The Department’s commitment of personnel to this effort is strong throughout the state. Today we employ 55 people, whose primary responsibilities are conservation education and outreach through direct contact with children, teachers and citizens.
A tremendous team of volunteers also support education and interpretation programs at the nature centers and other conservation areas. Volunteers include teenagers, as well as those past 70. I encourage more Missourians to join in these volunteer efforts.
Equally important are the citizens who take responsibility in their local communities to make personal conservation connections. What is your outdoor passion—are you a birder, an angler, a hunter or a hiker? Most importantly, have you shared your outdoor interest with anyone else—a friend, a child? Watching my little boys learn to fish in their grandpa’s pond when they were toddlers is a cherished memory of mine. The experience was as much fun for me as it was for them.
Missouri faces a number of conservation challenges today. Perhaps our greatest success will be not in solving one of today’s problems, but rather in passing on an appreciation of the natural world so future Missourians accept the call to conservation. Engaging a young, diverse and rapidly urbanizing society is perhaps the greatest of our conservation challenges. And where will we find the measure of that success? We’ll see it in the hearts and minds of the conservation leaders of tomorrow.
John Hoskins, Director