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The origin of a species?

You might think that all the animals living in Missouri would have been discovered by now, but deep beneath the rolling hills of Perry County resides a fish that escaped all notice until just a few years ago.

It's not as surprising as it sounds. The grotto sculpin lives in underground streams. In 1991, a group of cave explorers known as the Little Egypt Grotto brought a puzzling fish to light. It resembles a common fish of surface streams, the banded sculpin (Cottus carolinae). There are some significant differences, however. Grotto sculpins' eyes have very few rods and cones, the structures that detect light. Some of the fish don't even have lenses in their eyes. This would be a crippling handicap for surface dwelling fish, but for a species that has existed underground for thousands of years, sight isn't useful.

Grotto sculpins' bodies are shaped differently than those of banded sculpins. They have almost no color in their skin, and their fins are different from their sighted cousins.

Genetic testing is under way to determine whether the grotto sculpin is different enough from the banded sculpin to deserve its own scientific name.

The grotto sculpin is valuable as an environmental indicator. Its presence indicates that the caves where they live have clean water. As long as they thrive, southeast Missourians can rest assured that groundwater supplies in the area are healthy.

Land use around sinkholes has a profound impact on ground water quality and sculpin health. Sinkholes function like arteries to cave streams and groundwater sources. This makes sinkhole pollution control imperative. Establishing a buffer of trees and other plants around a sinkhole can reduce soil erosion and filter out herbicide and pesticide runoff. While this may take a small portion of a farm field out of production, the alternative will be the loss of a lot of quality topsoil over the years.

Perry County has more than 650 caves, giving it the highest concentration of caves in the state. In addition, the caves in Perry County contain the state's richest diversity of cave life.

—A. J. Hendershott

Tree farmers to meet at Lake of the Ozarks

Private forest management will be the focus of the 23rd annual Tree Farm Conference Feb. 22 at the Country Club Hotel at Lake of the Ozarks. Those who pre-register for the event will take an educational field trip Feb. 21.

Workshop topics will include red oak borer, forest farming, a farm bill update and cost-share assistance for forest landowners. The $45 registration fee includes lunch. For more information, contact Julie Rhoads, University of Missouri, 203 ABNR Building, Columbia, MO 65211, (573) 882-3234, <RhoadsJ@missouri.edu>.

Habitat Hints: Wildlife-friendly tree harvests

Cutting down trees is bad for wildlife, right? Not necessarily. Birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians need a variety of habitat types found in forests of different ages and types. When done properly, harvesting timber can improve the health, as well as increase the economic value of forests.

Cutting down cedar trees to fashion brush piles around the edges of large wooded tracts, for example, allows more desirable trees to sprout. In the short term, this means more food and escape cover for rabbits, quail and other ground-nesting wildlife. In the long run, it encourages the growth of oaks, walnuts and other trees that are valuable for their wood and nuts.

Removing all the trees from plots of one to five acres within larger forested areas creates thick patches of shrubby growth that ruffed grouse, warblers, towhees, field sparrows and other songbirds need to raise their young. When done under the supervision of a trained forester, such "even-age" forest management can also be profitable for the landowner.

Cutting selected trees from a crowded stand for firewood warms more than your family room. It improves the health and growth of remaining trees and increases production of acorns, a staple food that keeps deer, turkeys, squirrels and other wildlife warm throughout the winter.For more information about wildlife-friendly forest management, call the nearest Conservation Department regional office and ask to speak with a forester. You also can request the booklet "Forest Management for Missouri Landowners," available from: Distribution Center, Missouri Department of Conservation, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180.

MoDOT has a conservation idea you can take to the bank

Everyone knows what banks do. They hold money for people who don't need it right away. They also provide depositors with a little extra money in interest. Depositors can draw out their money as they need it.

The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) recently applied this concept to its operations in a way that benefits wildlife and gives taxpayers a nice return on their money. Here's how it works.

When MoDOT builds highways or other projects, it sometimes has to fill in marshes, swamps or other wetland habitat that waterfowl and other wildlife need to survive. When this happens, federal law requires MoDOT to replace the lost habitat acre-for-acre by creating wetlands somewhere else.

When done in small parcels, building wetlands is expensive—up to $20,000 per acre. It's much more economical—as little as $3,000 per acre—to develop large wetland tracts.

Working with the Conservation Department, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other government agencies, MoDOT is developing a 147-acre wetland in Stoddard County. It doesn't need the wetlands right now, so it will deposit the acreage in a "wetland mitigation bank" administered by Minton Agriculture for the Keith M. Minton and Betty L. Minton trusts.

In the future, when MoDOT fills in an acre of wetland in southeast Missouri, instead of building an acre of wetland to replace it at high cost, the agency will simply "withdraw" an acre from the bank. The "interest" for taxpayers is the savings realized by avoiding the high cost of building small-acreage wetlands. At up to $17,000 per acre, the wetland bank could save the state nearly $2.5 million.

Feds boost pallid sturgeon numbers

In an effort to restore an endangered species to the Missouri River, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) released hundreds of 9-inch pallid sturgeon into the river at Franklin Island Conservation Area near Boonville last fall. The fish came from the FWS hatchery at Neosho.

Pallid sturgeon once were found throughout the Missouri and Mississippi river systems. The species has suffered steep population declines due to human wrought changes in the rivers. Today, the species is struggling to survive in rivers that have been altered for flood control, navigation and other purposes

Since 1993, the Conservation Department and the FWS have stocked more than 10,000 pallid sturgeon in the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, but stocking the endangered fish isn't enough to allow the species to recover. To thrive, pallid sturgeon and other fish need shallow backwater areas, sand bars and side channels. FWS and the Conservation Department are cooperating with other agencies to restore such habitat at Big Muddy National Wildlife Refuge and conservation areas along the river.

Equally important is the restoration of more natural seasonal flows, with higher water levels in the spring and reduced flows in the late summer. The pallid sturgeon and other fish and wildlife are adapted to these natural seasonal flow changes.

RV show sets up camp in St. Louis

The America's Center in downtown St. Louis will become a big campground when the St. Louis RV Camping and Travel Show comes to town Jan. 16-19. The show will feature nearly 400 recreational vehicles, resorts, campgrounds and camping products.

Hawks, owls and an eagle from the World Bird Sanctuary will appear at the event, along with snakes and amphibians from the St. Louis Herpetological Society.

The show will be open from noon through 10 p.m. Jan. 16, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Jan. 17, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Jan. 18 and 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Jan. 19. Admission is $7 for adults, $3 for children 6 to 12 and free for those under 5. Admission will be $4 for adults 60 and older on senior citizens day Jan. 17. For more information, call (314) 355-1236.

Book finds wildlife's funny side

Fans of Betty Chmielniak Grace's offbeat wildlife humor will be happy to learn that 200 of her favorite cartoons have been collected in the book "Outside Jokes." Grace's cartoons, which appear each month in the News & Almanac section of the Conservationist, take a slightly off-kilter look at life through the eyes of deer, frogs, vultures and other wildlife.

The book is available for $8, plus tax, at conservation nature centers in St. Louis, Springfield, Kansas City and Jefferson City. It's also available at the Kansas City Discovery Center and the Conservation Department's St. Joseph office or through the Conservation Department's e-commerce site, or call toll-free (877) 521-8632.

Fall turkey and youth deer harvests up

Missourians ages15 and younger bagged 7,580 deer during the second youth deer hunting segment of firearms deer season Nov. 2-3. That's 1,303 more than last year, and they did it without a single reported hunting accident.

Hunters who went afield during the fall turkey season Oct. 14-27 bagged 14,487 birds. That is up from last fall's harvest of 13,554.

Living with geese the topic of workshops

Missourians with problem geese can learn how to avoid and reduce conflicts between giant Canada geese and people at workshops in the St. Louis area in February and March.

GeesePeace St. Louis, a nonprofit group that promotes non-lethal solutions to nuisance-goose problems, is offering seven workshops. Topics will include landscaping, trained dogs, chemical repellents and no-feeding policies. The group will conduct workshops in Ballwin (Feb. 5 and March 2), Florissant (Feb. 8), St. Louis (Feb. 15 and 19), and Kirkwood (Feb. 23 and 27).

The Conservation Department has underwritten the workshops, allowing GeesePeace to offer them at no cost to participants. For more information, contact GeesePeace, P.O. Box 38846, St. Louis, MO 63138, (314) 567-2081, or visit the organization's website.

Become a Master Wildlifer via satellite

University Outreach and Extension, in cooperation with Clemson University, is offering Missourians a chance to take an intensive course in wildlife management.

The Master Wildlifer Program will be offered from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. each Tuesday from Feb. 4 through March 18. Instruction about managing wildlife on private land will be beamed from Clemson University to Missouri and other remote sites via satellite. Participants will learn basic wildlife management concepts, how to manage for white-tailed deer, eastern wild turkey, bobwhite quail, cottontail rabbits, mourning doves, waterfowl and wildlife diversity. Also on the syllabus are managing wetland and aquatic resources, and how to develop recreational opportunities on your land.

For more information, contact University Outreach and Extension in one of the following counties where the training will occur: Atchison, Adair, Buchanan, Boone, Butler, Cape Girardeau, Clay, Douglas, Franklin, Greene, Henry, Howell, Jasper, Lincoln, Livingston, Marion, Morgan, New Madrid, Osage, Phelps, St. Charles, Ste. Genevieve, Texas, Vernon, Warren and Webster. Or contact Robert Pierce at piercer@missouri.edu or Karen Decker at (573) 882 3436.

Bowhunting festival set

The United Bowhunters of Missouri's annual gathering will take place Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 at the Jefferson City Ramada Inn. Attractions include raffles, live and silent auctions of hunting equipment, displays of wildlife art and taxidermy and appearances by singing bowhunter Jim Bowman and Bowhunter Magazine Editor M. R. James.

For more information, call Dennis Harper, (816) 468-1758; Mike McDonald, (636) 742-4947; or Larry Evans, (573) 265-8569. You also can get information online, or write to UBM, P.O. Box 10587, Gladstone, MO 64118.

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