The Seven-Year Night

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Published on: Sep. 2, 2006

Last revision: Nov. 29, 2010

the using were paying none of the upkeep.

The Leopold team concluded there was an obligation to provide and manage areas for everyone, but no money to do it. So, a conservation program for the future needed to find a funding source and then develop a program that offered something for everyone. It sounded like pie in the sky.

But there still were pioneers of the 1930s petition campaign that had given Missouri conservation its constitutional protection. There was also a new breed of younger, but no less dedicated conservationists. They believed that Missourians had faith in the program they’d created in the Depression days and would support a giant leap forward.

Where we wanted to be

Director Carl Noren recognized that conservation in Missouri was stalled without additional funding. Every division and section wanted to do far more but had no money or staff to do it. The education program was small. A Natural History Division didn’t even exist. Compared to other outdoor states, Missouri was public land-poor.

Conservation agents literally qualified for food stamps. Missouri, with a history of cherishing conservation, dating to the 1936 constitutional amendment, was running way behind.

But you can’t just ask people to trust you with their money. You have to tell them where the money will go. That’s where the dreamers became planners. My boss, Jim Keefe, was among the handful of thinkers and wordsmiths. He’d been editor of the Conservationist since 1957, and his monthly column was the essence of the Department’s direction and philosophy.

The September 1971 issue of the Conservationist contained the text of the Leopold Report and the Department’s proposals in response. We called it “Challenge and Response.” The Leopold study provided guidelines, which were that people, especially urban people, needed places to go and Missouri didn’t have enough public land.

The dreamers, as inventive as they were, ran smack into hardheaded realists among citizen conservationists. “Yes,” they said. “all well and good, but we want dollar signs attached to these ideas.”

The result was The Citizens’ Committee for Conservation, an invaluable group that provided the feedback necessary to learn not just what the Leopold study experts thought the Department should be doing, but also what the people of Missouri thought should be done. We put figures to the ideas and called it the Design for Conservation. But it all depended on money.

Funding the Design

The first try was in 1972, a petition for a soft drink tax.

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