When people ask what I do for a living and I tell them I’m an urban forester for the Missouri Department of Conservation, I often get perplexed looks. They are obviously asking themselves, “Isn’t that an oxymoron?”
Actually, it’s not. The Department is committed to the management of forest, fish and wildlife in all of our communities—both rural and urban.
In the Central Region, the following programs are just some of the ways that the Department is involved with supporting our local communities.
Many towns in the Central Region have taken advantage of MDC’s community forestry cost-share program. Funded by MDC, TRIM (Tree Resource Improvement and Maintenance) provides financial assistance for a variety of community forestry-related projects on public property.
TRIM helps fund the development of educational materials, tree inventories, community forestry training, removal of hazardous trees, tree planting and much more. Each applicant can receive up to $10,000. Last year, the Central Region received approximately $51,500 for projects in Columbia, Rocheport, Fayette, Boonville, Centralia, Marshall and Sturgeon.
Fayette’s experience is a good example of how funds have been used. After a major storm swept through the town, staff at the elementary school thought it best to have their playground trees trimmed.
A company was hired to do the work, and rather than selectively removing dead and damaged branches, all the ash trees in the playground were topped. That got the negative attention of many town folk who knew that topping is harmful to trees. A letter was even run in the local paper on how it was a shame that such a practice was conducted at a learning institution.
The school staff was able to turn lemons into lemonade by applying for a TRIM grant. They were given funding to plant hard maple trees in the playground to replace the topped trees, which will be removed once the maples become established. Teachers also taught students about proper tree care.
On the other hand, Centralia requested TRIM funding to maintain trees rather than replace them.
Centralia is blessed with many over-mature ash trees and some are declining. Centralia Tree Board members conducted a hazard tree assessment on part of the publicly owned street and park trees, then applied to have some trees removed and others pruned.
The Tree Board is using the publicly owned trees as an example of how to prune correctly. They were granted funding both for tree removal and tree pruning and to purchase space in their local paper to insert anti-tree topping advertisements.
Community forestry planning and technical assistance
The Saline County Commission has also tapped into a tree management resource offered by the Department of Conservation.
At the Saline County Courthouse, the Department’s Forestry Division designed a tree management plan for the courthouse grounds. It included information on which trees to prune and how to do so, which trees should be removed, what kind of trees to plant and where to plant them.
The Department’s services have also been used at correctional facilities in Marshall and Columbia, on the Marshall Habilitation Center campus, downtown in Jefferson City, at a cemetery in Montgomery City and in right-of-way areas in Hermann.
These services would also be beneficial for other public institutions—such as fire and police stations, public schools, libraries, city halls and parks—wherever a commitment to actively care for trees is demonstrated.
Smokey Bear Materials
Want some Smokey Bear materials for a local event? The Department has those, too. Local forestry offices in the Central Region keep a limisted supply of fire prevention materials to distribute to small groups. If you are organizing an event and would like Smokey Bear supplies, simply contact your local forester.
Fire Department Support
Protecting forests from damaging wildfires is one aspect of the Department of Conservation’s mission to preserve and protect Missouri’s forests. Luckily, there are strong rural volunteer fire departments throughout the state, and they and the Department work together on wildfire suppression.
In the past year, the Conservation Department has distributed $60,000 to rural fire departments in the Central Region. Twenty-eight fire departments from Argyle to Westphalia, and from Brumley to Vichy, used these funds to purchase equipment such as backpack blowers, hoses and personal protective equipment.
Another way the Department supports fire departments is through the Federal Excess Property Program (FEPP). FEPP is federal equipment on loan to state foresters for use in rural and wildland fire protection programs. The Department uses FEPP to loan equipment such as pumper trucks, generators and tools to fire departments.
Besides all the pumps, hoses and tanks, fire departments in the Central Region have a total of $2.8 million worth of big-ticket items—including 120 vehicles—on loan from the Department.
The Community Assistance Program (CAP) helps provide close-to-home fishing opportunities in communities throughout the state.
In this program, the Missouri Department of Conservation enters into agreements with local governments, schools and businesses to provide fisheries management at existing lakes and ponds. They also provide most of the funding to develop and maintain facilities for anglers and boaters at lake and stream accesses. Facilities may include boat ramps, fishing and courtesy docks, privies, roads and parking lots. The cost of these facilities ranges from $10,000 to $500,000. In return, the partners assist with development of the facilities, allow free public use of the area and provide routine maintenance.
In the Central Region, the Department has entered into CAP agreements with eight local partners and provided management and facilities at 22 lakes (670 acres) and one Missouri River access. These include Binder Lake, McKay Park Lake and Noren Access (Missouri River) in Jefferson City; Cosmo-Bethel Park Lake, Stephens Lake and Twin Lakes in Columbia; Marshall Habilitation Center Lake in Marshall; Lakeview Park Lake in Mexico and more.
In a typical year, the Department stocks more than 5,000 channel catfish in the Central Region CAP lakes.
Winter Trout Program
Do the chilly months of winter have you itching to get outdoors and try something new? What about winter trout fishing? The Central Region partners with Jefferson City and Columbia to offer two opportunities to do just that.
Many anglers favor trout because they are particularly feisty on the end of a line and tasty as well. However, trout need cool, oxygenated water to survive. Winter and early spring is the only time that most of the lakes in Missouri can support them.
The Missouri Department of Conservation teams with Columbia and Jefferson City to stock 2,400 trout that weigh up to 6 pounds in McKay Park Lake and Cosmo-Bethel in November. The trout, which are active and much easier to catch in the winter than other Missouri fishes, can be caught and released until February 1, after which they can be caught and kept.
If it gets cold enough for the lake to freeze sufficiently, Columbia even allows ice fishing. In 2003, the frosty winter froze many lakes. As many as 40 anglers (including me and my two year-old son) could be found dropping lines into holes in the ice at Cosmo-Bethel Lake!
Rod and Reel Loan Program
Tired of watching your kids play video games? Want to spark their interest in the great outdoors? The Missouri Department of Conservation helps introduce kids to fishing by loaning them a rod and reel. Organized groups with adult supervision can borrow rods and reels for a fishing outing. Even tackle and bait are supplied. MDC will help with first-time events if adult supervisors have no fishing experience. Groups usually use local public lakes.
The Department sometimes stocks local lakes with extra fish (hybrid sunfish and channel catfish) prior to planned events. Also, youngsters that catch their very first fish can get a First Fish Award. Last year in the Central Region, the rod and reel loan program helped more than 1,400 kids go fishing!
Outreach and Education
Outdoor classroom grants
The Missouri Department of Conservation and the Conservation Heritage Foundation have teamed up to fund outdoor classrooms at Missouri’s schools to create outdoor learning areas and enhance habitat. Up to $1,000 can be awarded to schools to do such things as plant trees and wildflowers, put up bird feeders, or build ponds or benches. Since 2001, twenty-one grants have been awarded in the Central Region.
Want up-to-date, local information on conservation issues? How about a radio call-in show, featuring conservation agents and other Department staff? You’ve got it.
Every week for the past 10 years, the Missouri Department of Conservation has conducted a live radio program with local conservation agents and their guests. For one hour each Saturday starting at 6 a.m., residents in Cole and Boone Counties can tune in and learn about conservation in their own backyards. The program is aired on 1240 AM in Jefferson City and 1400 AM in Columbia.
The Missouri Department of Conservation is involved in many projects in the Central Region. Questions about these and other community-based programs can be directed to the Missouri Department of Conservation Central Regional Office at (573) 884-6861.