The new moon made the summer night pitch black. Despite the darkness, the night was alive with the sounds of cicadas and other insects, whip-poor-wills and hoot owls. Probably the most memorable sound of the night was the sudden, unnerving and loud braying of an upset mule. It was one of those nights made for frog gigging. My buddy Webb, his Uncle Dan and I headed to the local farm ponds to try our luck. While the gigging was good, the opportunity to be with good friends made it one of my more memorable outdoor adventures. Uncle Dan had the wisdom and insight of a local landowner. He lived his entire life in the area so he knew his fellow landowners.
Uncle Dan reminds me of those special landowners that I have had the privilege to work with during my career. These landowners have been connected with the land and understand the balance of making a living from the land while providing for critical habitat for wild creatures. It is not an easy task to make a living feeding a hungry world while protecting soil, water and wildlife. However, these landowners found a way to get it done.
Each generation of landowners has their own set of challenges. The Dust Bowl years and our state’s history of exploitation of forest resources in southern Missouri are examples of past challenges to and abuse of natural resources. Leo Drey recognized what was at stake and began acquiring forestland in the Ozarks. This was an important step in the recovery of a significant Missouri natural resource. Today, Leo Drey and the L-A-D Foundation are internationally recognized for their management of forestland that not only sustains forest resources but provides critical habitats for wildlife and protects significant water features.
Today, Missouri landowners are not without challenges. This year’s drought brings home how tenuous a landowner’s existence can be given the vagaries of weather. Landowners in a six-county area of north Missouri face the important challenge of managing the culturally, socially and economically important white-tailed deer herd given the recent discovery of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in the area. This is a critical challenge that will take a long-term, dedicated approach to keep Missouri’s white-tailed deer herd as healthy and vibrant for the future as it is today. Department staff are actively engaged in developing short- and long-term management strategies that will engage landowners, sportsmen and citizens alike to address this important challenge. In addition to active management strategies, communication efforts are being developed to keep Missourians up-to-date on developments that will address this important conservation effort. Managing for and containing CWD will take a sustained effort from everyone involved for the foreseeable future.
The past 75 years of conservation in Missouri has been an arduous journey led by Missouri citizens. Conservation challenges have not disappeared and the next 75 years promise to be as challenging as the last 75 years. Management of CWD, allocation of water resources, invasive species and growing human populations that demand much from natural resources are just a few of the challenges we will face.
Landowners like Uncle Dan understood that a healthy natural landscape with all the important pieces in place was imperative, not only for themselves but future generations as well. The good news is Missouri landowners, sportsmen and citizens have always stepped up to those conservation challenges and found the way forward that sustained our state’s important natural resources. There has not been full agreement on conservation approaches during the past 75 years, nor will there be for the next 75 years. While disagreement on approach will occur, I have great faith in the collective wisdom of Missourians. I look forward to working with citizens as we address important conservation issues.
Tom Draper, deputy director
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