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Deer, Turkey Harvests Increase, Boost State Economy

Hunters checked more turkeys this fall than in 2010 and topped the 2010 November deer-harvest figure, too. The harvest upticks are evidence of healthy game populations that yield big financial benefits for Missouri.

Hunters checked 7,077 turkeys during the fall turkey season, a 19-percent increase from 2010. The increase confirmed that dryer weather last year enabled turkeys to recoup some of the losses suffered during the record flooding and cold springs of 2007-2010. Counts of young turkeys earlier in the year showed the best turkey nest success in a decade.

Hunters faced tough conditions early in the November firearms deer hunt, finishing the opening weekend with 10,000 fewer deer than in 2010. But they went on to check an impressive 190,089 deer by the end of the 11-day season, bettering the previous year’s figure by nearly 1,900 deer. Deer hunters also increased the number of antlered deer harvested during the November hunt. In 2003, antlered deer made up 37 percent of the November firearms deer harvest. Last year, 40 percent of the harvest consisted of antlered deer. This year, the figure was 43 percent. This increase began with implementation of the fourpoint rule for antlered deer in 2004.

The four-point rule, now in effect in all or parts of 69 counties, allows hunters to shoot an antlered buck only if it has at least four points on one side. The rule shifts extra harvest pressure onto does, making hunting a more effective tool for managing deer numbers. Increasing the number of mature bucks is a nice bonus for hunters.

Maintaining a stable, healthy deer herd benefits all Missourians, whether they hunt or not. Local businesses, such as motels, gas stations, meat processors and restaurants, benefit from deer hunters heading to the woods. All told, hunters from out of state spend approximately $700 million on their sport. That spending generates more than $1 billion in business activity and supports 11,000 Missouri jobs.

Bennett Spring Fishing Platform

Last September, the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation (MCHF) announced a fundraising effort to improve fishing and visitor access at a popular spot at Bennett Spring State Park. In a little more than three months, MCHF raised $38,000 to improve the site just upstream from the park’s scenic Fishing Bridge. The new platform will replace a deteriorating, unsightly concrete-covered bank with a 72-foot fishing and viewing platform. MCHF continues working to secure additional funds for the project. Donors of $1,000 or more receive framed prints of the 1995 Missouri Trout Stamp signed and numbered by wildlife artist Chuck Witcher. A permanent plaque at the structure will recognize donors at two levels, $1,000 and $5,000 and above. Donations can be mailed to MCHF, PO Box 366, Jefferson City, MO. 65102-0366. Please reference Bennett Spring with your donation.

First Atlatl Deer Harvest

Luke Boenker made history on Nov. 12, 2011, using a piece of history.

Boenker, of Maryland Heights, became the first Missourian in modern times to harvest a deer with an atlatl, a primitive spear-throwing device dating back 400,000 years. He used an atlatl he made himself to “shoot” a four-point buck from a distance of 15 yards. He was hunting from a tree stand on private property in the vicinity of Clayton and Clarkson roads.

“It was the ultimate feeling,” said Boenker.

The atlatl predates the bow and arrow. It is used to throw 4- to 6-foot-long, spear-like projectiles known as darts. It consists of a wooden shaft approximately 1.5 feet long with a socket or knock at the rear to engage the dart. Boenker made his atlatl of Osage orange wood. He assembled the dart using a 7-foot ash shaft and a broadhead tip. The atlatl serves as an extension of the human arm, increasing the speed of thrown projectiles to nearly 100 mph. It became a legal method for taking deer in Missouri during the 2010 firearms deer season. Atlatls may be used during all but the muzzleloader portion of the firearms deer season. Boenker, 54, has been hunting deer with firearms and archery equipment since age 16, but only took up the atlatl three months before his historic hunt, because he “wanted to do something different.”

Scott Rorebeck of Trenton missed making history by one day. He shot a deer with an atlatl Nov. 13 in Grundy County.

For more information, visit the link listed below.

Ozark Hellbenders, a Missouri First

The Missouri Department of Conservation and the Saint Louis Zoo’s Ron Goellner Center for Hellbender Conservation announced that Ozark hellbenders have been bred in captivity—a first for either of the two subspecies of hellbender. This decade-long collaboration has yielded 63 baby hellbenders.

The first hellbender hatched on Nov. 15, 2011, and approximately 120 additional eggs are expected to hatch. The eggs are maintained in climate- and water quality-controlled trays behind the scenes in the Zoo’s Herpetarium. For 45 to 60 days after emerging, the tiny larvae will retain their yolk sack for nutrients and move very little as they continue their development.

As the larvae continue to grow, they will develop legs and eventually lose their external gills by the time they reach 1.5 to 2 years of age. At sexual maturity, at 5 to 8 years of age, adult lengths can approach two feet. Both parents are wild bred: the male has been at the Zoo for the past two years and the female arrived this past September.

Rivers in south-central Missouri and adjacent Arkansas once supported up to 8,000 Ozark hellbenders. Today, fewer than 600 exist in the world—so few that the amphibian was added in October 2011 to the federal endangered species list. Due to these drastic declines, captive propagation became a priority in the long-term recovery of the species. Once the captive-bred larvae are 3 to 8 years old, they can then be released into their natural habitat—the Ozark aquatic ecosystem.

Also known by the colloquial names of “snot otter” and “old lasagna sides,” the adult hellbender is one of the largest species of salamanders in North America, with its closest relatives being the giant salamanders of China and Japan, which can reach 5 feet in length.

With skin that is brown with black splotches, the Ozark hellbender has a slippery, flattened body that moves easily through water and can squeeze under rocks on the bottom of streams. Requiring cool, clean running water, the Ozark hellbender is also an important barometer of the overall health of that ecosystem—an aquatic “canary in a coal mine.”

“We have a 15- to 20-year window to reverse this decline,” added Missouri Department of Conservation Herpetologist Jeff Briggler, who cites a number of reasons for that decline from loss of habitat to pollution to disease to illegal capture and overseas sale of the hellbender for pets. “We don’t want the animal disappearing on our watch.”

Eagle Days Coming Up

Missouri’s winter eagle watching is spectacular as large numbers of our national symbol congregate along rivers, lakes and wetlands. You can discover nature at Eagle Days this month and next at the following MDC-sponsored events, which include guides with spotting scopes to view wild eagles, indoor programs featuring live eagles, exhibits, activities, videos and refreshments.

  • Smithville Lake Little Platte Park Course Complex, Smithville, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 7 and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 8. For more information call 816-532-0174.
  • Old Chain of Rock Bridge, St. Louis, off Riverview Drive south of I-270, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Jan. 14 and 15. For more information, call 314-877-1309.
  • Springfield Conservation Nature Center, Springfield, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 21 and 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. Jan. 22. For more information call 417-888-4237.
  • Lock & Dam 24 and Apple Shed Theater with driving tour at Ted Shanks Conservation Area, Clarksville, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 28 and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Jan. 29. For more information call 660-785-2420.
  • Schell City Community Center and Schell Osage Conservation Area, Schell City, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 4. For more information call 417-876-5226.

For an Eagle Days brochure, visit the link listed below.

Forest Nursery Still Taking Orders

It isn’t too late to place tree and shrub seedling orders for spring delivery. The George O. White State Forest Nursery at Licking still has dozens of species of native trees and shrubs, plus seedling bundles for special purposes.

The 75th Anniversary Bundle consists of two seedlings of 10 species, including flowering dogwood, bald cypress, black walnut, white fringetree, red oak, white oak and shortleaf pine.

Another special deal this year is the extra large nut-tree bundle with 30 trees all more than 30 inches tall. Species in the bundle are pecan, walnut and butternut. Besides the special bundle, the nursery has extra-large seedlings of nine species – red oak, bur oak, pin oak, shumard oak, black walnut, pecan, tulip poplar, butternut and bald cypress.

Two of last year’s most popular bundles are back again. The Nut Tree Bundle has five each of five nut producing species. The Wild Edibles Bundle includes five each of 10 species that produce edible berries.

In all, the nursery has more than 70 species of trees and shrubs to help Missourians create wildlife habitat. Most bundles consist of 25 seedlings and cost $8. Prices for the seven special bundles offered this year vary. For prices and ordering information, visit online, or call 573-674-3229. The nursery accepts orders through April. However, many bundles and individual tree and shrub species will sell out before then. Orders are shipped starting in February.

Get Help Caring for Damaged Trees

Trees have had a rough go in Missouri over the past few years, with tornadoes, ice storms and even a derecho, a rare type of violent, straightline windstorm. Winter, when foliage is off trees, is a good time to assess damage and repair or remove weather-damaged trees.

Safety should always be the first consideration when undertaking such work. You also want to be sure you keep any salvageable trees, but you don’t want to waste effort and years of time on trees that are unlikely to recover fully.

You can find advice on these and other related matters in MDC’s Guide to Tree Care After Storms. The document walks you through such topics as proper pruning techniques, how to salvage downed timber for commercial use, how to choose a qualified arborist or tree harvester and how to plant and care for new trees.

Fuels for Schools

In October, six Missouri schools celebrated moves toward the use of renewable energy to heat their facilities. State Forester Lisa Allen and other state officials traveled across southern Missouri to hold ribbon-cutting ceremonies commemorating new heating systems built with funds from the Missouri Fuels for Schools program.

The schools received a total of $6 million in USDA Forest Service grants, which were funded through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA). Grant recipients were the Gainesville R-V School District, Mountain View- Birch Tree Liberty High School, Eminence R-I Elementary School, Southern Reynolds County R-II School District, Steelville R-III School District and Perry County School District 32.

Besides reducing heating costs and dependence on fossil fuels, Fuels for Schools helps keep Missouri forests healthy.

“Healthy woods require care to maintain their growth and productivity,” said Allen. “However, historically it has been difficult for Missouri’s woodland owners to economically thin young trees because the trees being cut and removed had little commercial value,” Allen explained. “It is our hope that woody biomass burning boilers like the ones installed by the Fuels for Schools program will create a market that will entice landowners to improve forested areas by thinning the trees. Such actions will also enhance wildlife habitat, potentially expand the forest products industry and support the local economy.”

For more information, visit the link listed below.

Whooping Crane Make Rare Visit

Becky Wylie of Neosho captured this image of a mature whooping crane, below, and its offspring Nov. 21, 2011 just north of her home town. She learned of the rare visit from the endangered birds after Jeff Richards discovered the birds while deer hunting and reported the sighting.

Conservation Education Consultant Jeff Cantrell hurried to the site and was amazed to find the cranes feeding in a crop field amid Canada geese and crows. He called the sighting “truly a heart-stirring moment.”

Fewer than 500 whooping cranes remain in the wild. Sightings of the birds, which have wingspans of more than 7 feet, are rare in Missouri. MDC recorded sightings of a single bird at Mingo and Squaw Creek national wildlife refuges in 1958, a pair in Jackson County in 1970 and another single bird at Stockton Lake in 1996. The most recent sighting was of a group of whooping cranes with a flock of sandhill cranes in Bates County in October 2010.

Wetland areas in southeastern Missouri are great places to see migrating birds at this time of year. To find the best spots, use MDC’s online Atlas Database.

Did You Know?

We work with you and for you to sustain healthy forests, fish and wildlife.

Conservation Agents

  • Conservation agents’ mission: to protect and conserve Missouri fish, forest and wildlife resources and to serve citizens through a coordinated program of resource law enforcement, education, information and one-on-one contacts.
  • More than 660,000 Missourians were contacted and 117,672 phone calls were answered last year by agents as part of their community relations efforts.
  • 6,528 radio and television programs, 3,034 newspaper articles and 1,297 public exhibits were produced last year by agents to educate and inform the public about conservation.
  • At 4,784 meetings with civic groups, schools and a wide variety of other organizations conservation agents represented MDC.
  • 187,525 hunters and anglers were contacted by conservation agents last year to ensure compliance and to provide regulation information.
  • 25,900 resource violations were noted, 3,218 warnings were written and 7,285 arrests were made last year from contacts with hunters and anglers.
  • 17,281 resource management contacts were made by agents last year. Those contacts included assisting landowners with wildlife nuisance and damage problems.
  • Hunter education: conservation agents work with MDC staff and approximately 1,400 volunteer instructors to coordinate hunter education courses in all 114 Missouri counties.
  • Share the Harvest: conservation agents and the Conservation Federation of Missouri coordinate the Share the Harvest program, in which hunters may donate deer meat to those in need through established charitable organizations. In 2010, approximately 5,731 hunters donated 305,643 pounds of venison to needy Missourians. Since the inception of the program, nearly 2.1 million pounds of deer meat have been donated to Missouri citizens.

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