The Genesis of Conservation in Missouri
a proposed constitutional amendment. In 1976, Missouri voters approved Amendment 1, establishing the permanent conservation sales tax.
Results of the sales tax are visible in every county today. Visitors from other states are amazed at the number of road signs marking conservation areas, boating accesses and community lakes.
The Conservation Federation functions as a watchdog to ensure the vitality of conservation in Missouri. It has internal committees to advise government agencies and represent conservation interests in the Missouri Legislature and Congress. Federation committees offer advice and, when necessary, flex conservation's political muscle. In 2004, when the Legislature considered revoting the conservation sales tax, Federation members packed a hearing room and convinced lawmakers it was a misguided idea.
Over the years, the Conservation Federation also has spawned some of the world's most innovative and successful citizen-action programs.
Most impressive about the Conservation Federation is that it has accomplished so much with so little. A paid staff of three serves the group's 30,000 members from a modest office near the State Capitol.
The Federation's strength resides in the passion and dedication of its members. As in 1935, today's Federation members are average citizens. They include blue-collar workers and professionals, industrialists and farmers, Democrats and Republicans, young and old. Differences aside, they all love nature, and they all love Missouri. They have always put aside philosophical disagreements to protect Missouri's natural heritage. People join the Federation to help conservation. Over time they develop friendships that make the group an extended family.
"When I sit in committee meetings, I am always impressed by the respect that people of very opposite backgrounds show for others' ideas and good intentions," said David Murphy, executive director of the Conservation Federation. "This is a unique place of synergy, where service to conservation is the most important thing."
CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES
Despite its successes, the Federation has some serious challenges. One is name recognition.
"When most people hear about the Conservation Federation, they think we are the Conservation Department, " Murphy said. "They don't realize that we are separate. That lack of recognition makes it hard to recruit members, and without members we can't do anything."
While 30,000 may sound like a lot of members, it really isn't when you consider the conservation challenges facing Missouri. It is even smaller compared to the number of Missourians who hunt, fish or enjoy other wildlife-based activities. Missouri has more than 400,000 deer hunters and more than 1 million anglers. Millions more hike, camp, feed birds and enjoy other nature-related activities.
"Imagine what we could do if even half those people joined us," Murphy said.
If someone tells you that times are tough, and that we can't afford the world's best conservation program, think back to the depths of the Great Depression. Things were much tougher then, but 75 visionaries decided that the nation's best conservation program was an investment that Missouri most needed.
- Missouri Stream Team - After Missouri voters rejected the Natural Streams Act in 1989, the Conservation Federation launched this voluntary, citizen-based effort to achieve the same goals. The program now boasts 2,600 chapters with more than 50,000 individual members. Stream Teams conduct stream cleanups, monitor water quality and conduct other stewardship work on thousands of miles of creeks and rivers.
- Operation Game Thief - This Federation program operates a toll-free hotline where people can call to report poachers, and provides cash rewards for arrests.
- Project Forest Arson - This initiative allows citizens to call toll-free and report firebugs who destroy wildlife habitat, commercially valuable timber and private property.
- Share the Harvest - The Federation administers this program, which channeled 88 tons of venison from concerned hunters to needy Missourians last year alone.
- The Conservation Leadership Corps - This new initiative aims to mentor the next generation of citizen conservationists to carry on the Federation's proud tradition.
The Federation also helps develop and maintain the Ozark Trail and the Katy Trail, and it has lobbied for the federal State Wildlife Grants program, which in 2004 channeled $73 million of federal money into state conservation programs.