Vantage Point

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Observing by Watching

Yogi Berra, St. Louis' native son, is as famous for his pearls of wisdom and wit as he is for his Hall of Fame baseball career with the New York Yankees. Yogi was right on when he quipped, "You can observe a lot by watching."

Department of Conservation leaders understand the importance of listening, watching and learning before making decisions or taking actions to manage our state's fish, forest and wildlife resources.

Effective management of today's white-tailed deer population is a challenge of paramount importance in Missouri, and many people are calling for decisive action. In some areas of our state, farmers and homeowners complain that deer numbers are so high that the animals are damaging crops, orchards and ornamental plants. And yet, in other places, both landowners and hunters want more deer.

Through most of the 20th century, deer management focused on controlling the harvest of deer by hunters, transplanting deer to new ranges and preventing illegal kills. Today, deer hunting and watching are hugely popular in Missouri. The expenditures of more than a half million Missouri hunters generate about $800 million in economic activity each autumn. Surveys tell us that a majority of Missouri citizens highly value the opportunity to watch and hunt white-tailed deer.

We are entering a new era of deer management in Missouri. Although Yogi Berra never used the words "new paradigm," he did declare, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it!" Yogi's point is that, when facing a critical decision, be bold and confident in your action.

Missouri's deer management program has reached "the fork in the road." After obtaining input from many stakeholders, we are taking action. In the weeks and months to come, details about changes in the 2004 deer hunting seasons and the reasons for them will be shared widely through the Conservationist, news releases, and our website <www.missouriconservation.org>.

Successful deer management requires understanding, cooperation and collaboration among Department leaders and biologists, landowners, civic and business leaders, hunters and all citizens. Changing the approach to deer management requires that conservation professionals be true to science, but remain flexible and open to the ideas of others.

Between February and April, the Department of Conservation hosted 23 public meetings across the state to hear what citizens had to say about deer and deer management. Attendance was strong at all the meetings. From Hannibal to Springfield, Maryville to Cape Girardeau, Kirksville to West Plains, and St. Louis to Kansas City, Missourians spoke their minds, and we listened. People agreed, people disagreed, and lots of ideas were exchanged. The meetings truly were an exercise in town hall democracy.

I attended some of the meetings to see what I could observe by watching. I saw that wildlife management and conservation of natural resources are personally important to Missourians. I observed that Missouri citizens are honest and sincere, and that they care a lot about deer and deer hunting. They have good ideas, and they are willing to be part of an effort that will both reduce deer damage and make Missouri deer hunting even better than it is now.

When the details of the changes in deer management emerge, you'll find that the Conservation Department really has observed a lot by watching.

John D. Hoskins, Director

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