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Published on: Oct. 17, 2011

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Greater Prairie-Chicken (Displaying Male)

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Great Depression. Our national trust of soil, water and wildlife were becoming similarly bankrupt. The existing Missouri Department of Game was largely a token gesture that had been weakened by powerful interests and left under funded. Many Missourians had a deep seated feeling that things could be better—that even though Missouri’s natural resources had been squandered through overuse, proper government regulation could help restore wildlife in Missouri. This ultimately set the stage for Missouri’s citizen-led effort to restore Missouri’s fish, forest and wildlife resources 75 years ago.

Missouri’s Citizen-led Efforts Take Root

On Sept. 10, 1935, nearly 100 sportsmen met at the Tiger Hotel in Columbia to discuss what could be done. They formed the Restoration and Conservation Federation of Missouri and devised a solution that was as simple as it was revolutionary. Columbia newspaper publisher E. Sydney Stephens, who became one of the leaders of the movement and later one of MDC’s first commissioners, summed things up, “If you get a law passed, what have you got?” he asked. “The next legislature could repeal or amend it, and the politicians take over. By the same token, if you attempt to get a constitutional amendment through the legislature, you won’t recognize it when it comes out. But if you write the basic authority exactly as you want it, put it on the ballot through the initiative and let the people vote it into the constitution—then you’ve got something permanent.”

So they drafted Amendment 4, aimed at creating an apolitical conservation agency. Sportsmen fanned out across the state and gathered signatures to put the proposal on the ballot. On Nov. 3, 1936, voters approved the measure by a margin of 71 to 29 percent—one of the largest margins by which any amendment to the state constitution had ever passed. The sportsmen’s vision had prevailed.

On July 1, 1937, the constitutional amendment creating the Missouri Conservation Commission took effect, creating an apolitical, science-based conservation agency with exclusive authority over forests, fish and wildlife. Over the next 75 years, the “Missouri plan” allowed the Show-Me State to build what is acknowledged as one of the nation’s top conservation programs. Today that Commission is more commonly referred to as the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC).

“Everything was new,” recalls MDC’s first chief of wildlife research, Bill Crawford, who retired after providing leadership in that role for 34 years. “It was an opportunistic time when we could find problems and

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