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By Jim Low

Blue Catfish Open-Houses

Three open houses this month will give anglers a chance to learn about blue catfish regulation changes being considered for Truman Reservoir and Lake of the Ozarks.

The open-house format will allow participants to ask questions of MDC staff and express their ideas about the potential changes. The changes would affect blue catfish at the two lakes and their tributaries, including the no-boating zone below Truman Dam.

Since the early 1990s, anglers and MDC biologists have had concerns about the declining number of larger blue catfish being caught from Truman Reservoir. In a survey, more than a third of Truman Reservoir anglers said they think the quality of catfishing has declined. Similar concerns have emerged more recently at Lake of the Ozarks. A reward tag study at Truman Reservoir during 2004–2009 confirmed anglers’ concerns, showing that blue catfish 24 inches and larger were being harvested at an extremely high rate.

Both lakes contain adequate to excessive numbers of smaller blue catfish, but the high harvest of intermediate sized fish, 24 inches and larger, isn’t allowing blues to grow to the larger sizes desired by many anglers. The potential regulations are designed to increase harvest on smaller blue catfish by doubling the daily limit from five to 10, while still protecting the most vulnerable sizes of blue catfish. Blue catfish can easily grow up to 60 pounds with the potential to exceed 100 pounds.

In response to these facts, MDC developed potential regulation changes to address the problem and presented those ideas during 2010 at stakeholder meetings held in Camdenton, Clinton and Warsaw. Most public comments at that time favored implementing the potential changes. Taking into account suggestions received at the stakeholder meetings, MDC modified the previous proposal designed to reverse the decline and increase the number of larger blue catfish while still permitting substantial catfish harvest.

The regulations being considered call for increasing the daily limit from five to 10 blue catfish, implementing a protected slot-length limit and setting a daily limit of one or two blue catfish above the upper end of the slot.

The open houses will be held:

  • Aug. 21 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Midcounty Fire Protection District meeting room, 184 N. Business Rt. 5, Camdenton.
  • Aug. 23 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the First Baptist Church Gymnasium, 209 E. Jefferson St., Clinton.
  • Aug. 25 from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Warsaw. Lincoln EMS Station, 1206 Medic Dr., Warsaw Participants can come and go any time and express their ideas about the potential regulations at the open houses. They also can take comment cards and send them in later or express their preferences at mdc.mo.gov/node/18097/ submission/17932.

Grow Native! Moves to Prairie Foundation

Grow Native! has a new home. Launched in 2002 by the Missouri departments of Conservation and Agriculture, Grow Native! has done much to promote the use of locally adapted plants for landscaping. However, Grow Native! needed more freedom to work with commercial enterprises and found the right fit with the Missouri Prairie Foundation.

Grow Native! is dedicated to promoting the use of native plant varieties. Missouri Prairie Foundation’s mission is conserving the diverse plant and animal communities of Missouri’s native prairies. These closely related missions make them natural partners.

Since its formation in 1966, Missouri Prairie Foundation has built a membership of 1,400. It has protected more than 3,000 acres of prairie and supports prairie research and an active outreach program that includes a newsletter, workshops, prairie tours and grassland wildlife advocacy programs.

Missouri Prairie Foundation President Stan Parrish said his group is delighted to welcome Grow Native!

“We are a hands-on organization with numerous volunteers who are enthusiastic about protecting original landscapes and about native plant gardening,” says Parrish. “We’re eager to get started.”

The Grow Native! website, grownative.org, continues to offer information about developing native-plant landscape plans and about farm and business opportunities related to native plants. The site even has a “plant picker” to help select the right plant for your particular needs.

Missouri Prairie Foundation also hopes to work with county and city governments and other local organizations to organize nativeplant sales and landscaping projects.

For more information, contact grownative@ moprairie.com.

2012 Tree Farmer of the Year

John Heckmann, owner of Bear Valley Tree Farm near Hermann, is Missouri’s Tree Farmer of the Year. Wildlife, wood products and recreation are Heckmann’s top considerations in managing his family’s 800-acre farm. His management plan focuses on creating more browse, cover and acorn production to benefit wildlife. It calls for selective tree thinning to improve forest health and stimulate understory plant growth. The plan also calls for glade restoration through the removal of invasive cedars and maples and prescribed burning to encourage native grasses and forbs for wildlife food and cover.

With MDC help, Heckmann got cost-share help through the federal Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program and the Environmental Quality Incentive Program. He also entered a conservation-easement agreement with the National Wild Turkey Federation to protect the farm from development or poor wildlife management. The easement provides a perpetual plan that will help guide Heckmann’s children when they inherit the farm.

The Tree Farm Program helps landowners manage woodlands for wildlife and timber production, and helps connect participating landowners with similar interests.

Elk Released

Missouri’s free-ranging elk herd got a boost in June with the release of 33 elk at Peck Ranch Conservation Area (CA) and another 14 on neighboring land owned by The Nature Conservancy in the elk-restoration zone. The goal with moving a small group of elk to The Nature Conservancy property is to establish another nucleus of elk within the center of the restoration zone.

MDC launched the elk-restoration program in 2011, when it brought 34 elk from Kentucky. This year’s releases bring Missouri’s free-ranging elk population to approximately 85. The elk brought from Kentucky this year were in better physical condition, thanks to experience gained last year. Mild weather and excellent care provided by MDC caretakers also contributed to a successful second year for the restoration program.

Hot, dry weather has reduced the movement of Missouri’s free-ranging elk. They have been using natural forage available in shady portions of the 221,000-acre elk-restoration zone in Shannon, Carter and Reynolds counties. A few of the elk even come back to the holding pens periodically. The 12,000-acre central refuge area of Peck Ranch CA was initially closed to the public to minimize disturbance of cow-calf pairs as they settled into their new surroundings. The elk viewing auto tour route reopened 1 July.

Missouri’s elk-restoration program has relied heavily on partnerships with other government agencies and citizen conservation groups. Major funding has come from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, whose volunteers have provided substantial assistance with labor to build holding pens at Peck Ranch CA. The Big Game Hunters Foundation also has donated funds for the project. More information about elk restoration in Missouri is available at mdc.mo.gov/node/9182.

Landowners Creating Elk Habitat

Ron and Sandy Morton probably don’t think of themselves as being linchpins in Missouri’s elk restoration program. Nevertheless, their efforts to create habitat that benefits elk—and a wide range of other wildlife—could make the difference between success and failure of Missouri’s latest conservation saga.

The Mortons are among 120 landowners from Reynolds, Shannon and Carter counties who have attended workshops to learn how to make their land more productive for deer and turkey and maybe even elk eventually. They were surprised what they learned.

“Everything they talked about, from glades to woodlands, we’ve got that on our property,” says Sandy. Ron called the event “very informative on what elk habitat is,” and said he hopes his children and grandchildren will get to see elk on their land one day.

The help of citizens like the Mortons is a critical part of Missouri’s elk-restoration effort.

Elk are grazing animals, with different habitat requirements than white-tailed deer. Elk can subsist on foods found in forested landscapes, but they need some open areas to thrive. The Ozarks landscape 200 years ago had much more open glades, savannas and grassy woodlands where elk grazed than exist there today.

In recent years, MDC and federal agencies with large Ozarks landholdings have worked to create landscapes more closely resembling presettlement conditions. This laid the foundation for elk restoration, but much remains to be done.

MDC shares the cost of some elk-friendly management practices on private land. So far, it has partnered with 26 landowners on 1,600 acres. MDC plans to continue offering elk-habitat workshops and cost-sharing arrangements for landowners in the elk-restoration zone.

Priority habitat practices include woodland restoration, prescribed burning and food plots designed for elk and other wildlife. That is in line with what’s been done on the property of Phil and Charlotte Moss, who also attended an elk habitat workshop. Their family has owned land in Shannon County since the 1940s. They already have a cost share agreement with the MDC.

“We’ve disked up an area and are working to turn it into a wildlife food plot area and we’re really looking forward to seeing more wildlife, hopefully elk, on our land,” says Phil.

The Moss and Morton families see benefits from Missouri’s new elk herd that go far beyond their personal interest in the project. “We see how the elk are increasing revenue through tourism,” says Ron Morton, adding that he and Sandy regularly meet visitors to the community who come just to get a glimpse of the elk at Peck Ranch CA.

“We’re glad to see elk coming to Missouri,” says Moss.

For more information about elk in Missouri, visit mdc.mo.gov/node/9182.

Grouse Study Enters Second Phase

Biologists have habitat data in hand and are diving into the task of analyzing it to determine whether further grouse-restoration efforts in east-central Missouri are justified.

MDC launched the habitat study last year in response to a request from the Quail and Upland Wildlife Federation to restock ruffed grouse in east-central Missouri. MDC transplanted more than 4,000 ruffed grouse from other Midwestern states to suitable habitat in the central Ozarks, north-central and east-central Missouri between the 1940s and the 1990s.

Ruffed grouse numbers have declined dramatically since then. They persist in very small numbers in the river-hills region of southern Boone, Callaway, Montgomery and Warren counties. Quail and Upland Wildlife Federation expressed interest in partnering with MDC to bring the river-hills populations back. Before investing resources in further restoration work, the Conservation Commission wanted to know if the area has enough suitable habitat to justify the effort. Last year, MDC partnered with the Missouri Resource Assessment Partnership and the USDA Forest Service to design a two-year study to answer this question.

The first year of the study used cutting-edge LIDAR (light detection and ranging) analysis of satellite data to reveal details of vegetative land cover. Habitat work on conservation areas and habitat partnerships on private land in the river-hills region have focused on providing early-successional habitats ruffed grouse need. LIDAR provides a cost-effective way to measure the results of such management practices as timber-stand improvement harvests and even aged timber harvests.

Resource Scientist Jason Isabelle says he and biologists from the USDA Forest Service will wade into the LIDAR data in the coming year.

“The maps created with LIDAR will give us a good idea of the density of forested habitats on a fine scale,” says Isabelle. “The land-cover map will allow us to differentiate between cover types, and then with the canopy-height map we will be able to dig even deeper. We know we’re going to be looking for deciduous forest and old-field habitat, but LIDAR is going to allow us to dig deeper still and get at woody stem densities, which are an important factor in determining the quality of grouse habitat. We have the data we need. Now it’s just a matter of working with it.”

He said MDC will work with the USDA Forest Service to predict how a restocked grouse population would respond to available habitat. They also will conduct landscape simulations to determine how continuing habitat work might affect the success of grouse restocking. Then it will be time to decide whether further restoration efforts should be undertaken.

New Hope for Prairie Chickens

Greater prairie chickens are strutting and booming at Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie again, offering hope for a species that has been missing from most of its historic range in Missouri for decades.

Since 2008, MDC has trapped 425 prairie chickens in Kansas and moved them to Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie, north of El Dorado Springs. With the completion of that effort in April, biologists began a period of hopeful monitoring of the newly established prairie chicken population.

“Hopeful is the right word,” says Grassland Bird Coordinator Max Alleger. “The question now is whether intensive management can provide enough grasslands to support prairie chickens in Missouri.”

The relocated birds carry leg bands and tiny radio transmitters that help biologists track their movements and reveal where they prefer to feed, nest and roost. Prairie chickens at

Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie used three courtship and mating sites this spring. This and the fact that some courting males and females were hatched on the area are encouraging signs that the population is increasing.

One surprise from the radio tracking is that prairie chickens move 20 to 30 miles across rivers, roads and wooded fencerows. They won’t feed or roost near tree lines but they will cross them on long journeys. One bird flew to Kansas and then returned. Another spent the winter in a crop field in northwestern Vernon County and then returned to Wah’Kon-Tah for spring. Prairie chickens also have moved to other prairie remnants or traditional booming grounds that have not had birds in recent years.

“It’s very important that all the habitat pieces are lined up right,” says Alleger. “Prairie chickens are a worthwhile species. We’re trying to do our level best to keep them in Missouri.”

Did You Know? Missourians care about conserving wildlife

Hellbenders

  • Ozark and eastern hellbenders are large aquatic salamanders that prefer shallow, swift-flowing streams and rivers.
  • State endangered species—both subspecies are listed on the state endangered species list, and the Ozark hellbender is listed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.
  • What caused their decline? Factors likely contributing to their decline include habitat alteration and degradation, water quality degradation, predation, illegal harvest and disease.
  • Taking action—MDC’s Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery in Branson, and the Ron Goellner Center for Hellbender Conservation, WildCare Institute, St. Louis Zoo are devoted to long-term reproduction efforts of the species. Both of these facilities are hatching eggs collected from the wild to headstart young for release and to breed the species in captivity.
  • MDC’s Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery has hatched more than 2,700 eastern and Ozark hellbenders. Currently, the hatchery is rearing about 780 larval and 80 juvenile eastern hellbenders to be released in the future.
  • The St. Louis Zoo is rearing nearly 1,550 larval and juvenile Ozark hellbenders.
  • The world’s first captive breeding of the Ozark hellbender occurred in the autumn of 2011 at the St. Louis Zoo and resulted in more than 150 larval Ozark hellbenders. This achievement will not only buy time to further address the decline of the species, but could save the species long-term.
  • To learn more about hellbenders in Missouri, visit mdc.mo.gov/node/982.
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