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Conservation in a Representative Democracy

Missouri's modern conservation movement began in 1936, when 71 percent of the voters approved Constitutional Amendment 4, which established the Missouri Conservation Commission and the Department of Conservation. The campaign theme for the election was "Take Conservation Out of Politics." The election effort was motivated by the need for a stable conservation program insulated from partisan politics that could lead in the recovery of our state's depleted fish, forest and wildlife resources.

I still remember my 9th-grade civics teacher, Mr. Hilterbrand, lecturing, "Our representative democracy requires all citizens to be involved in the political system." That lesson has proven itself true many times throughout my career. All elected officials at every level of government--local, state and national--depend upon citizen input. In essence, it's the job of elected officials to learn what the public needs or wants and to represent their interests.

The Conservation Department is insulated from partisan politics, but this agency is not separate from state government. For its entire existence, the Department has faced the challenge of remaining true to its constitutional mandate while balancing the need to be responsive to the public and to the people they elect to represent them.

During the past 16 years, I've had the opportunity to work with members of the Missouri General Assembly on many conservation issues and Department programs. In addition, Conservation Department staff regularly appear before the House and Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Appropriations committees.

Along the way, I've found that most legislators have a sincere interest in conservation and our natural resources. Many are hunters, anglers, hikers or floaters, or they simply appreciate the value and beauty of nature and wildlife. During the recent session of the Missouri General Assembly, for example, 97 members of the Legislature came together to form the Sportsmen's Caucus. This bi-partisan group is co-chaired by Representative Mark Hampton of Texas County and Senator Chuck Gross of St. Charles County. Legislators work hard to represent their constituents and have a tough job balancing broad and diverse issues.

Missouri's Conservation Commission, appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate, faces similar challenges. Members of the commission typically come from different regions of the state and bring diverse experiences and backgrounds to the job of setting overall policy for the Conservation Department. Commission members value public input, and any citizen can put forth a topic for discussion at commission meetings. Conservation Department Director John Hoskins also regularly meets with citizen groups and elected officials around the state.

Conservation Department employees are making greater efforts to actively listen to people who write, call or visit, to respect citizens' views, and to act in the best interest of all Missourians. The Conservation Department frequently conducts public meetings throughout the state. It has established regional advisory councils of private landowners. It participates in local conservation and civic organizations. All of these initiatives are designed to increase the opportunities for Conservation Department staff to interact with Missouri citizens.

Hunting and fishing regulations, although based on biology, are open to public comment and input.

Providing public service is essential at the Conservation Department. We understand that balancing the strong demands for the many uses of conservation lands and for our state's fish, forest and wildlife resources is a job that demands cooperation. Missouri's unique conservation program and political system allow us to be successful if we all participate and work together.

In this period of resurging national patriotism, we're reminded that our democracy depends upon an active citizenry, responsive public agencies and dedicated legislators. The Conservation Department remains committed to serving the public and facilitating their participation in resource management activities. In this sense, conservation is still part of representative democracy.

Gerald Ross, Assistant Director

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