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Protecting Resources in a Drought

The farm rain gauge measured two-tenths of an inch for the month of July, and we were happy to have that. Missouri has been hit by one of the nation’s worst droughts and the lack of rain continues to take a toll on citizens and our state’s natural resources. Our goal in this time of drought is to protect habitat and property from wildfire and to provide increased technical assistance and education to partners and landowners to sustain the health of our forests, fish and wildlife.

The combination of very dry conditions and heavy fuel loads has increased wildfire activity across most of the state. For the last five years the Department has recorded an average of 1,379 acres burned by wildfire in May, June and July. This year the number for these three months jumped to nearly 14,000 acres with more than 900 wildfires reported statewide.

To help prevent wildfire, the Department partners with nearly 800 volunteer fire departments. Each year the Department provides training to firefighters and awards grants to rural fire departments for firefighting equipment and supplies. In addition, through the federal excess equipment program, the Department currently has assisted in obtaining more than $70 million in equipment, such as trucks, pumps and rakes, for volunteer fire stations.

Currently, all Department field staff are on high alert for fire. This means they have equipment close at hand, are ready to be mobilized and are reporting daily fire activities. A burn ban is in place on all Conservation areas. In addition, 754 Department employees are trained in basic fire suppression, 350 have advanced fire training, and 200 hold national fire qualifications. They are equipped with fire dozers and haulers, outfitted trucks, backpack blowers and other tools needed to fight wildfire.

During the current drought, fire isn’t the only threat to our resources; drought conditions affect the overall health of our plants and animals. We are adapting management priorities to accommodate the extreme weather, and are collaborating with partners to address citizens’ increased need for support.

Department staff are investigating fish kills on public waters and assisting partners with efforts to limit the extent and duration of the die-offs in public impoundments. They are also working with landowners to prevent low-oxygen fish kills through pond maintenance and watershed management.

Department hatcheries are using less water and adjusting production in response to reduced water availability and associated water quality issues. Recent capital improvement projects, such as renovated fish raceways, production facilities and aeration systems, at several Department hatcheries have enhanced fish production while also helping fish survive during the extreme heat and low water levels, especially at cold-water hatcheries where spring flows are critically low.

Other drought-related efforts include providing guidance to the U.S. Department of Agriculture during the temporary release of federal conservation program acres for emergency haying and grazing. Staff are also monitoring wildlife and fisheries resources for possible disease and mortality issues associated with the drought, working with landowners to care for stressed trees and to diversify vegetative cover with native plants and grasses so that they are better able to withstand extreme temperatures in the future.

The drought of 2012 may go down in the books as one of the nation’s worst. Rural volunteer fire departments and Conservation staff have done an outstanding job of containing and putting out wildfires. Enough cannot be said about Missourians’ commitment to the state’s natural resources, even during times of severe drought. A sincere thank you goes to all fire departments, volunteer firefighters and citizens working to keep our homes and lands safe from wildfire.

Your Conservation Department is committed to helping you through this challenging period and maintaining healthy forests, fish and wildlife. If you require further information or management assistance, please contact your regional office

Robert L. Ziehmer, director

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