The Conservation Department is headed in a new direction, one that is yielding more outdoor recreation and renewable resources for the state. The shift is from buying land to making public land accessible.
"It's a logical progression, and one we always anticipated," said Conservation Department Director John Hoskins, "Twenty-five years ago, our top priority was making sure that people would always have conservation areas where they could enjoy nature. Now our challenge is to provide the knowledge, the facilities and skills they need to enjoy them."
The Conservation Department purchased a lot of land in the years immediately after voters approved the one-eighth of 1 percent sales tax for conservation. Buying lake and stream accesses, natural areas, wetlands, forests and prairies preserved the state's ecological diversity while providing recreational opportunities statewide. During those years, the agency spent as much as 42 percent of its annual budget on land. By 2001, however, the figure had dropped to about 1 percent.
Instead, the Conservation Department now is developing facilities to help Missourians enjoy conservation areas. These facilities include hiking trails, urban nature centers, community lakes and handicapped-accessible facilities.
The Conservation Department also offers services to help beginning outdoors people acquire the knowledge and skills needed to enjoy conservation lands. These services include outdoor skills workshops where people can learn about everything from hunting and fishing to canoeing, bird watching and nature photography.
To protect wildlife resources, the Conservation Department increased the number of conservation agents. Once, one agent often had to cover two counties. Today, 47 counties have two or more agents.
Adequate protection and non-political, science-based management have produced many success stories. Missouri's annual wild turkey harvest--more than 72,000 in 2001--leads the nation. Missouri deer hunters harvest more than 200,000 white-tailed deer each year. Bald eagles, ospreys, giant Canada geese and furbearers are among the Conservation Department's other success stories. The agency now is turning its attention and resources to bobwhite quail restoration.
Caring for the state's forests also is the Conservation Department's responsibility. The amount of timber on conservation areas increased by 75 board feet per acre per year from 1975 to 1988. Each year, the George O. White State Forest Nursery ships more than 5 million tree seedlings for use on public and private land.
"I occasionally am asked what the Conservation Department is going to do with its sales tax money now that we aren't buying much land, as if our job is done," Hoskins said. "Buying the land was just the beginning of the job. It's kind of like buying a farm. Now we have to work the land. The challenge now is to give taxpayers the return that they deserve on their conservation investment."
Hoskins said maintaining productivity and providing access to well-managed conservation land will require all the Conservation Department's current resources.
"Missouri's conservation program has good financial support compared to many other states, but it's important to appreciate that our conservation expenditures are modest in comparison to other state agencies' budgets," Hoskins explained. "The Conservation Department's entire annual budget--including sales tax money, permit sales revenues and federal aid--is less than 1 percent of the state's annual budget. That's a bargain to keep up the best state conservation program in the nation."
Conservation Department fisheries biologists got a surprise last year while conducting an annual survey of sturgeon populations on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. While netting fish near Jefferson City in December 2002, they caught a shovelnose sturgeon that carried a tag attached to the fish when it was first caught near St. Louis in 1979.
Depending on species, sturgeons can live from 40 to more than 100 years. Like most long-lived species, they take many years to reach sexual maturity. This hasn't been a problem throughout most of their 150-million-year history, but heavy commercial harvesting can have a dramatic impact on the population of spawning age sturgeon. The average age of shovelnose sturgeon taken in samples by the Conservation Department from the Mississippi River this year was just nine years.
If the size, number and age of sturgeons in Missouri's two great rivers continue to decline, the Conservation Department may consider more restrictive fishing regulations to protect shovelnose sturgeon, as well as its endangered relative, pallid sturgeon, and the threatened lake sturgeon.
Visitors to Greene County's Ozark Empire Fair will preview the excitement coming to Missouri during the Lewis & Clark bicentennial. The Conservation Department's "Corps of Rediscovery" will be on hand with a complete, 28-foot dugout canoe. It will also be working to shape an 11,000-pound cottonwood log into another dugout canoe that will be available for outings on the Missouri River. The project focuses attention on Missouri's namesake river during the celebration of the Corps of Discovery's 2004-2006 journey to the West Coast and back.
Dugout crew members in early 19th century clothing and accouterments will demonstrate dugout canoe building and other pioneer crafts. They will also talk about how the Missouri River has changed in the two centuries since Lewis and Clark's men and Sacajawea struggled against the river's shifting currents. Other fair offerings include wild-game cooking demonstrations.
The Ozark Empire Fair runs from July 25 through Aug. 3. The fairgrounds are on Norton Street, one-half mile northeast of the junction of Missouri Highway 13 and I-44. More information is available online.
About 100 conservation enthusiasts took part in the March 11 groundbreaking for the Cape Girardeau Conservation Campus. The campus is adjacent to the Conservation Department's southeast regional office.
A coalition of local businesses, governments, chambers of commerce, teachers, college professors, hunters, anglers and Conservation Department staff worked long and hard to develop the facility. The 20,000-square-foot conservation campus will showcase southeast Missouri's biological diversity for an expected 150,000 visitors annually. It will help visitors understand the region's forests, streams, rivers and savannas, plus the area's historical, cultural and ecological heritage. Peckham & Wright Architects of Columbia designed the campus.
What are Missouri's fish, forests and wildlife worth? Consider the following facts:
More than 2 million Missourians age 16 and older enjoy hunting, fishing and other wildlife-related recreation each year. They spend more than 11 million days fishing, 6 million days hunting and 10 million days watching wildlife annually.
People turn to the outdoors to escape the stress of life, and our hunger for authentic contact with nature is constant. Decade after decade, we come back to the state's forests, fish and wildlife for the rewards and spiritual renewal they offer.
On July 10, Runge Conservation Nature Center in Jefferson City celebrates 10 years of bringing the conservation message to the citizens of Jefferson City and beyond.
You are invited to join the nature center staff, Smokey Bear and Bubba the Frog from 6 to 9 p.m. that day to celebrate. The event will feature a Critter Rock concert, Glenn Chambers' captive otters and other activities, plus birthday cake and ice cream.
For more information, call (573) 526-5544.
The Conservation Commission suspended, revoked or denied the hunting and fishing privileges of 1,016 people during the first four months of this year.
Thirty-two people forfeited their hunting or fishing privileges for periods ranging from one year to life because of repeated violations of the Wildlife Code of Missouri. Seven lost privileges for one to two years because they inflicted injuries on other people in firearms-related hunting accidents.
Failure to comply with child-support laws cost another 154 people their hunting and fishing privileges. These can be reinstated after the Missouri Department of Social Services determines that the people involved are in compliance.
The Conservation Commission also revoked or denied hunting and fishing privileges to 823 people--mostly out-of-state residents--under the terms of the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact. Under this 17-state agreement, participating states honor one another's suspensions and revocations. If you lose your privileges in one compact state, you lose the same privileges in the other 17 states too. Member states are Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.
Most ponds lose some water due to leaks, and it's not uncommon for water levels in ponds to fall in the summer or during times of drought. But if your pond is always low, you might have a problem that needs attention.
The most common cause of pond leaks is tree roots penetrating the dam. Cutting large trees isn't wise, since decaying roots leave fissures through which water can escape. Instead, leave larger trees in place and prevent the problem from getting worse by cutting all trees less than 4 inches in diameter. Repeat the procedure periodically to prevent new trees from growing.
Improper dam construction is the other major cause of leaks. Usually the problem is too little clay in the dam, making it too porous. The surest cure is rebuilding the dam. However, leaks sometimes can be stopped by applying bentonite, a special clay that expands to 15 times its dry volume when wet, sealing holes.
Bentonite is used in well drilling and is available from drilling supply companies or farm co-ops. It can be used several different ways, which are outlined in "The Problem of Leaky Ponds." This and other "Aquaguide" publications are available on request from Conservation Department regional offices.
Information about designing and maintaining ponds to prevent leakage can be found in the "Missouri Pond Handbook." Single copies are free on request from the Conservation Department Distribution Center, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180, phone (573) 522-4115, ext. 3630, or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Hunters with mobility impairments will get a special shot at dove hunting Sept. 7 at Ten Mile Pond Conservation Area, where the Conservation Department and the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) will sponsor a special event for hunters with disabilities. Ten Mile Pond CA is in Mississippi County.
The Conservation Department will reserve hunting areas for the exclusive use of these hunters. NWTF volunteers will serve as guides, helping hunters get to and from the field and retrieving downed birds.
Participants will need to arrive at Ten Mile Pond CA headquarters by 5:30 a.m. and must leave the fields by 1 p.m. They must possess small-game and migratory bird hunting permits and hunter education certification cards. For reservations, call L.L. Neal, (573) 334-4942, or Tim Hendershott, (573) 335-9350.
Lauren Borduin of Columbia is the grand prize winner in the Missouri Stream Team's "My Favorite Stream" essay contest. Her winning entry was a poem:
When there was no trash
To pollute the creek flowing here
People lived on its banks
The creek brought them life
And was their partner
They respected its gifts
And it gave freely to them
But now the creek is dying, as
I watch a fish
Floating on the surface
Near an abandoned tire
From a car
Like the one that drives
Over the bridge
Under which the creek runs
The creek is suffering
Yet we seem deaf
To its plight
The creek has a purpose
And so do I
The creek needs a voice
Could that voice be mine?
Missouri hunters donated a record 96,595 pounds of venison to local food banks last year, a 27 percent increase over the 2001 figure.
The donations were channeled through the Share the Harvest Program, a joint effort of the Conservation Federation of Missouri, Shelter Insurance Co. and the Conservation Department. Under the program, local groups organize collection efforts in cooperation with participating meat processors. The venison goes to food banks, which distribute it to needy Missourians.
The amount of meat donated through Share the Harvest has more than doubled since 2000, when hunters chipped in 46,090 pounds of venison. This year, 1,826 hunters donated an average of 53 pounds each to the program. To learn if your area has a Share the Harvest program or to create one, contact the nearest Conservation Department regional office.
Tissue samples from 6,300 deer killed by hunters last fall were tested for the brain-wasting disease. None tested positive for CWD.
The testing was the first round of a three-year CWD monitoring program. It included about 200 deer from each of 30 counties. In the next two years, another 12,000 deer from Missouri's remaining 84 counties will be tested. When complete, the program will provide a 95 percent chance of detecting CWD if it is present in the state.
"We appreciate the help of hunters who donated deer heads for testing," said Eric Kurzejeski, Resource Science Supervisor for the Missouri Department of Conservation. "Their cooperation will continue to be critical to the state's CWD monitoring program."
CWD belongs to a group of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, or TSEs. It shares certain characteristics with other TSEs, such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle, scrapie in sheep and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans. However, CWD is only known to affect elk and deer.
The World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes for Health have found no link between CWD and similar human diseases. All evidence to date indicates that CWD is not a threat to domesticated animals.
Dr. Howard Pue, public health veterinarian for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said, "I wouldn't change my lifestyle because of CWD."
For more information about CWD, visit the Conservation Department's website, or refer to the "Chronic Wasting Disease" article in the November 2002 issue of Missouri Conservationist.
Hazel Creek Lake, long known for its monster muskellunge, recently surfaced as one of the state's premier trophy crappie lakes, too.
In April, while conducting annual population surveys at the lake north of Kirksville, fisheries workers found a 4-pound, 14-ounce black crappie in their net. That's 6 ounces heavier than the state pole-and-line record that has stood since 1967.
The fish wasn't a loner. In the net with the potential state-record crappie were two others weighing 3 pounds, 14 ounces and 3 pounds, 3 ounces. In the spring of 2002, fisheries personnel caught another crappie weighing 4 pounds, 2 ounces, and in 2001, they netted six black crappies ranging from 16.3 inches long to 18.8 inches long.
Oddly, the lakes' white crappie population has been small and slow-growing in recent years, so you should expect to catch lots of little fish along with the lunker black crappie. Also, be advised that outboard motor use is prohibited on the 530-acre lake. For more information about Hazel Creek Lake, visit the MDC website.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants entries for a art contest to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) System. Original artwork in any medium except digital photography is eligible. Entries must show migratory birds or their habitat on national wildlife refuges along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.
Judges for the contest will be Conservationist photographer Jim Rathert and freelance artist Sarah Thompson. Winners will be on display at an open house Oct. 4 at Clarence Cannon NWR near Annada. For more information, call (573) 847-2333. Information about the NWR centennial is available at http://refuges.fws.gov/centennial.
"Trees of Missouri," a 400-page book with black-and-white illustrations, now is available at conservation nature centers statewide.
The book was written by retired Conservation Department botanist Don Kurz and illustrated by Paul Nelson, a botanist who retired from the Department of Natural Resources. It covers 204 native and ornamental tree species, along with tips on choosing trees for particular needs and how to plant and maintain them.
"Trees of Missouri" sells for $16.50 in soft cover or $21.50 in hard cover. For information about mail ordering, call toll-free (877) 521-8632.
Youngsters who bag their first deer or turkey in Missouri now can get recognition for the achievement from the Conservation Department. The First Deer and First Turkey awards are available to Missouri residents 15 and younger. Recognition consists of a certificate suitable for framing. To register, visit the Conservation Department Web site, www.mdc.mo.gov and click on key words "firstturkey" or "firstdeer" or contact the nearest Conservation Department office.
Editor - Tom Cwynar
Managing Editor - Bryan Hendricks
Art Editor - Dickson Stauffer
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Circulation - Laura Scheuler