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The Seven-Year Night

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Published on: Sep. 2, 2006

Last revision: Nov. 29, 2010

It was the longest night of my life. It lasted seven years. In the small hours of the morning, when even the best news doesn’t seem that great, we waited for final election results. Talk had dwindled to a minimum, mostly discouraged.

“I thought we’d lost it,” said Ed Stegner, who then was the executive secretary of the Conservation Federation of Missouri. He was one of the many who had given their heart and soul to the 1976 Conservation Sales Tax Campaign that began in 1969.

For me, passage of the Design for Conservation (the name of the program that the tax would pay for) was the end of the toughest halfdozen years of what would be more than 20 years with the Department of Conservation.

The pressure began almost the day I started working at the Conservation Department in 1969. I had joined what then was the Information Section.“Have you heard about the Leopold Report?” asked fellow writer and editor Mark Sullivan. “You’d better bone up on it—you’ll be involved.”

That was an understatement. In the next halfdecade, along with many others in and outside of the Department, the campaign to realize a new conservation program would become almost an obsession with us. It was not a job; it was a calling.

Where we were

The Department had been studied for a year by three consultants, with the fee paid by the Edward K. Love Foundation of St. Louis. The consultants were Starker Leopold, Irving Fox and Charley Callison.

Starker Leopold was the son of Aldo Leopold, often considered the greatest philosopher/conservationist ever. Starker had deep ties to the Department. He’d been a graduate wildlife student in Missouri and had done turkey research on Caney Mountain Conservation Area. Irving Fox was a water resources expert from Wisconsin. The third team member, Charley Callison, was the executive vice president of the National Audubon Society and one of Missouri’s own. They looked at what the Department was doing in fish, wildlife and forestry conservation—and, more importantly, what it should be doing.

The trio concluded that while the Department had done an exemplary job of providing for hunters and anglers, it had neglected the majority of Missourians who didn’t hunt or fish. It was, the study concluded, a lack of money, not a lack of desire. And the flip side was that hunting and fishing areas were being used for many activities other than those two things, but the people doing

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