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Ask the Ombudsman

Q: My friend and I were walking through a creek bottom after dark and noticed something glowing on the ground. A skidder had recently pushed a trail through the area, and the broken up pieces of rotting wood were glowing with a pale green light. I took a piece home and it glowed through the first night, more dimly the second night and had stopped glowing by the third night. Why did it glow, and why did it stop glowing?

A: What you observed is called foxfire, an example of the phenomenon of bioluminescence. That is the emission of light by the conversion of chemical energy to light energy. Most bioluminescent organisms are deep sea creatures but certain fungi, such as the wood-rotting fungus that you found, also give off light. Fireflies are our most commonly observed examples of bioluminescence. Another Missouri example is the poisonous mushroom called the jack o’ lantern, which has gills that emit a greenish-yellow glow when fresh. I expect that your wood fragment stopped glowing when the wood dried to the point that the rotting fungus within it became less active.

Q: I read that waterfowl lose all of their feathers at one time during molting. I’ve never observed any great amount of feathers around wetlands or any naked waterfowl. Why is that?

A: While many waterfowl do experience synchronous molting, they lose their feathers over a period of a few weeks rather than all at once. The birds never appear naked because the new feathers are coming in as the old ones are shed. The birds are rendered temporarily flightless, and more susceptible to predators, during the process because the new replacement wing feathers are at first too small to allow flight. There will be more feathers around lakes and ponds during the molting period but the feathers are more spread out than they would be if they were shed all at once. While adults of most duck species go through two molts each year, geese only molt once annually.

Ombudsman Tim Smith will respond to your questions, suggestions or complaints concerning Department of Conservation programs. Write him at PO Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180, call him at 573-522-4115, ext. 3848, or email him at Ombudsman@mdc.mo.gov.

cartoon 08-2012

Agent Notes

Some people think the only aspect of a conservation agent’s job is to enforce the Wildlife Code of Missouri. While law enforcement is an important part of what we do, there are many other facets of the job. One major aspect of our profession is community-oriented policing, which includes educating the citizens of Missouri through avenues such as hunter education classes and fishing clinics. These activities allow us to be seen as law enforcement officers and yet interact as a part of the community. Seventy-five years ago, conservation agents were known as game wardens in Missouri. In 1937, Director Irwin T. Bode coined the term conservation agent to show the agent’s job was not just law enforcement. We are expected to perform conservation education work as well.

I remember the first time I helped at a fishing clinic— a kindergartner was trying to learn how to cast a hook without catching himself. He was having a hard time with the concept of letting go of the button on the reel. I showed him the proper technique and, sure enough, he cast to the perfect spot and caught his very first fish.

School programs are an important outlet that we use for educating folks. I recently did several programs about the importance of snakes in Missouri. Most of the youngsters were hesitant about touching the snakes. Some even said their parents kill every snake. After educating them that snakes are important to the balance of nature and that they won’t bite you for fun, almost every kid wanted to come up and touch the snake and said they were going to tell their parents not to kill snakes.

While enforcing the Wildlife Code is a critical component of an agent’s duties, it is the story of a youth’s first deer or an adult learning to successfully pattern a shotgun that keeps us going out every day to protect the wildlife resources of Missouri.

Matt Markley is the conservation agent for Marion County. If you would like to contact the agent for your county, phone your regional conservation office.

Wingshooting Workshops

Free workshops to help hunters develop wingshooting skills start this month and continue through Oct. 20. These are hands-on events, including range time with expert shooting coaches and ammunition provided. Topics include choke and load selection for nontoxic ammunition, shooting skills, range estimation and shotgun patterning. Events are scheduled for:

  • Ashland, Sept. 22 at Charles W. Green State Wildlife Management Area, 573-884-6861
  • Bollinger County, Oct. 6 at Duck Creek Conservation Area, 573-290-5730
  • Green County, Oct. 20 at Andy Dalton Shooting Range, 417-742-4361
  • Hannibal, Oct. 6 at Salt River Gun Club, 660-785-2420
  • Howell County, Sept. 1 at White Ranch Conservation Area Shooting Range, 417-256-7161
  • Kansas City, Sept. 29 at Lake City Range, 816-249-3194
  • Kirksville, Sept. 29 at MDC Northeast Regional Office, 660-785-2420
  • St. Joseph, Oct. 13 at MDC Northwest Regional Office,816-271-3100
  • St. Louis, Aug. 14 and 16 at Jay Henges Range, 636-938-9548
  • St. Louis, Sept. 19 and 20 at Jay Henges Range, 636-938-9548
  • St. Louis, Sept. 28 and 30 at August A. Busch Conservation Area, 636-938-9548
  • Warrensburg, Sept. 22 at University of Central Missouri, 660-530-5500

New State-Record Black Oak

Doug Sikes, of Morley, officially owns the largest black oak in Missouri. MDC’s Forestry Division recently certified his tree as the record holder in the State Champion Tree Program, with a height of 75 feet, a spread of 105 feet and a trunk circumference of 246 inches.

Sikes purchased the property where the tree stands because he wanted his family to enjoy the sprawling black oak that dominates the field.

“The tree was the one main feature in the field,” says Sikes. “I just really wanted the opportunity to have it, enjoy it and protect it.”

The previous champion black oak stands on private property in Ripley County. It is 78 feet tall, measures 219 inches around the trunk and has a spread of 87 feet.

MDC encourages everyone to join in the search for champion trees. The owners and nominators of each champion receive mounted certificates. For more information on state-champion trees, visit mdc.mo.gov/node/4831.

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