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Published on: Jan. 31, 2011

of Shannon, Carter and Reynolds counties.

Sustaining and Restoring Species

Preventing plants and animals from becoming extirpated and restoring some species back to Missouri are both important tasks with broad public support. The recovery of the bald eagle is one of the most successful and well-known stories. Bald eagles declined because of indiscriminate killing and environmental issues. While they remained common in Alaska, nesting populations were extirpated from much of the lower 48 states, including Missouri. Environmental regulation in the 1960s that improved water quality and removed dangerous chemicals from the environment, as well as law enforcement directed at people who killed eagles illegally, were both part of the solution. Restoration by Department staff, with support from the public, recovered this bird in Missouri. Eagles were nesting again in the 1980s and by the 1990s recovery was evident in Missouri. Today there are more than 150 active eagle nests in Missouri alone, and thousands of nests in the Midwest.

Not every species will recover as dramatically, and public support will often not be as high as for bald eagles. But Missourians are preventing other species from becoming extirpated, mostly through habitat restoration and directed management at specific places. One example is the prairie fringed orchid. There is little information about the abundance of this native orchid on the historic landscape, but a high percentage of the few tiny remaining prairie remnants in north Missouri still support a few plants. These scattered occurrences suggest that prairie fringed orchids were quite common across the tallgrass prairie landscape. The same changes on the land that contributed to the decline of prairie-chickens also affected plants, such as prairie fringed orchids, and fish, such as Topeka shiners.

Restoration of native species and their habitats remains an important task for fish and wildlife agencies, but the conservation objective may not be to return these species to former abundance, but to support them in smaller numbers in a few locations. Grasslands have changed. It seems unlikely that greater prairie-chickens or prairie fringed orchids will be restored to former abundance throughout their range, but it may be possible to keep small populations in priority places. Prairie streams have changed, but with our help Topeka shiners should persist in some of the remaining high quality streams in north Missouri.

Our Management Mission

The Department of Conservation emerged during an era of land abuse and declining fish and wildlife populations. Concerned citizens demanded a recovery of lands and waters that would again produce abundant fish and wildlife populations. Much of the land has indeed recovered, but that does not mean that all of the moving parts have returned, or returned in numbers that are sustainable. Not every plant and animal has a place to live and most lands and waters no longer have native species in abundance.

It is not accurate to say there is no place for native plants and animals on the modern landscape, but it is accurate to point out that the challenge to conserve wildlife diversity is huge. The conservation goal may not be to return them to their former glory, but to keep healthy populations in the best possible places. Fish and wildlife agencies of the future have to balance the ecological needs of fish and wildlife with the human-managed landscape and the concerns of people. Former abundance is not assurance of future abundance.

Habitat conservation is the best way to prevent species from declining so far that they become endangered and perhaps extirpated from Missouri. Habitat conservation does not ensure that every species will be abundant in the future, but it does provide a home for the diversity of life in Missouri. In turn, this diversity ensures healthier and more resilient habitats in a dynamically changing world.

  • Endangered is the official status of a species whose prospects for survival within the state are in immediate jeopardy.
  • Extirpated means the species formerly occurred in Missouri, but is not now known to exist within the state. Extirpated species still occur somewhere in their natural range outside of Missouri.
  • Extinct means the species no longer lives anywhere. The species has died out.

Conserving Plants, Animals and Their Habitats

Goal: The Conservation Department will work to increase the number of high-quality Missouri natural communities, including wetlands, prairies, forests, woodlands, cliffs, streams, grasslands, savannas, glades and caves.

What Missourians Tell Us

More than three-quarters of Missourians agree that “The Missouri Department of Conservation should make an effort to restore animals that once lived here or are currently very rare in Missouri” (79 percent) and that the Department “should conserve and restore rare and endangered plants” (79 percent).

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