Helping Private Landowners
I recently took a nighttime plane ride across a large section of Missouri and was amazed to see the lights of civilization everywhere. There were no vast expanses without lights as I expected in the Ozarks, Missouri River floodplain or the prairies of north and western Missouri. I realized how urbanized Missouri has become and how large farms continue to be carved into smaller ownerships.
As administrator of the Conservation Department's Private Land Services Division, I lead a group of hardworking and dedicated employees that help Missouri landowners interested in managing their lands for forest, fish and wildlife resources. Each property comes with its own unique blend of natural resources, conservation needs and landowner management objectives. Our challenge is to find ways to serve the diverse needs of an ever increasing number of landowners.
In the past, most of the landowners the Conservation Department assisted lived on and farmed their property. The fact that they were working the land was a plus when a Private Land Conservationist recommended planting wildlife food plots, converting pasture to native grasses or thinning young forest stands. Farmers know how to do the work and usually had the equipment. On the other hand, the priority of agricultural landowners is to make a living on the farm. Fish, forest and wildlife benefits often are of secondary importance.
A growing trend in Missouri (and nationwide) is the subdivision of agricultural farms into smaller tracts that are sold to what I call recreational landowners. I'm part of this trend. My husband and I recently purchased 120 acres in Shelby County that was part of a much larger farm. Like a lot of these new landowners, our highest priority is to create a place for my family to hunt and relax.
Working with recreational landowners offers a different challenge. For them, conservation benefits are most important, but they often don't have farming experience or equipment to do the job.
Fortunately, we have developed programs and assistance that can benefit both agricultural landowners and recreational landowners. Our Private Land Conservationists are located throughout Missouri to provide timely and professional technical assistance to all landowners on matters concerning fish, forests and wildlife. Many times we can help landowners directly through Conservation Department programs, or we steer landowners to programs administered by other agencies. A few examples provide a hint of the many programs and services we offer.
- Helping USDA deliver Farm Bill conservation programs that include forest, fish and wildlife management.
- Providing cost-share assistance to make conservation as affordable as possible.
- Training and maintaining a list of "conservation contractors" that can be hired to implement conservation practices.
- Helping Soil and Water Conservation Districts acquire farm equipment available for loan or rent to landowners.
- Assist landowner cooperatives that encourage equipment and labor sharing to put conservation on the ground.
Our division recently dedicated 10 more field staff to provide direct assistance to Missouri landowners. Why all this effort? The reason is simple. About 93 percent of Missouri's forests, pastures, crop fields, prairies, wetlands, streams, ponds, savannas and glades are privately owned.
Our director, John Hoskins, often says that "the success or failure of conservation in Missouri will be determined on privately owned land."
He is right on target. Private land conservation is critical to the overall health of Missouri's forest, fish and wildlife resources.
Lisa Allen, Private Land Services Division Administrator