There are more fields of scientific study now than there were when I started my conservation career more than 30 years ago. One young field that has grown considerably in that time is conservation science.
The Department of Conservation has been practicing conservation science for more than 70 years. Two years after it was officially formed, the Conservation Commission openly stated: “The Commission cannot perform an intelligent job of enforcement, regulation or management without sound basic facts. Fact-finding and research are therefore essential before the Commission reaches any of its conclusions on important matters.”
Managing the fish, forest and wildlife resources of Missouri requires sound scientific information in the areas of biology with input from the public and users of these resources that is then balanced with enforcement practicalities and economic realism. The key word in this statement is balance. Part of that balance is understanding the complexities of annual and seasonal population dynamics, life history traits of almost 1,100 species of wildlife and more than 2,000 plants, and subtle habitat changes that affect all wildlife. On the social and public use spectrum, there is a need to balance conservation with the desires of the public, the requirements for federal funding of conservation programs and the opportunity to harvest fish, forest and wildlife. Conservation decisions must be tempered with common sense, incorporate concerns regarding regulation compliance and consider habitat and even climate changes as well as competing uses for limited resources.
The Department has outstanding employees covering many disciplines that work closely as a team to apply the best conservation science available. Many of the Department staff are respected nationally for their expertise. Conservation employees have a desire for continuous improvement in their work, a never-ending desire to better understand complex biological and social systems, and a dedication to the public and resources that resembles more of a lifestyle than a career. Communication with the public is done through scientific surveys, stakeholder meetings, focus groups, phone calls, letters and e-mails. These contacts help quantify public desires. As you might imagine, with this number of ideas and suggestions from our conservation public, it is difficult to sometimes see a clear decision path that satisfies everyone’s desires. Balance, once again, is key in the Department’s decision making.
Our Conservation Commission acts on the policy and management recommendations of employees to develop conservation plans and regulations. The intent is to balance the biological needs, social views, public desires and enforcement issues into sound conservation decisions. Conservation science is a complex and dynamic challenge. It requires strong leadership at all levels in the Department, continuous efforts to understand natural systems and the social values surrounding fish, forest and wildlife resources, active citizen involvement and support, provides transparency in our communication on conservation topics. This process helps ensure relevancy of the Department to all Missourians. I am proud to have been a small part of conservation science during my career with the Department.
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