conservation,” says MDC Director Robert L. Ziehmer. “Part of delivering excellent public service is to listen and understand what Missourians say about conservation programs and services. The challenge is gathering public opinion in a way that is scientifically sound and unbiased.”
Last year, these efforts included a survey of firearms deer hunters, a landowner and deer survey, a survey of small-game hunters, a survey of spring turkey hunters, 16 waterfowl season meetings, a timber price survey, and visitor surveys at Springfield and Powder Valley Conservation Nature Centers. This information helps guide decisions about regulations and resource management.
“Surveys tell us that 91 percent of Missourians are interested in Missouri’s fish, forests and wildlife. And that a majority of Missourians feel the Department of Conservation is doing a good or excellent job of providing services to them, their families, community and the state,” Ziehmer says.
In the early days of the Department’s existence, regulations may have only focused on the need to protect species by designating open or closed hunting and fishing seasons. Today, developing regulations to support fish and wildlife management is vastly more complicated. The process for adding or changing regulations in the Missouri Wildlife Code begins with evaluating the science- based needs for the change in addition to obtaining feedback from the public.
“In the case of deer management, we must consider not only what is good for deer, but also the social carrying capacity—what number of deer people will tolerate, which is a much lower number than the biological carrying capacity,” says Jason Sumners, MDC deer biologist.
“We also take into account changing attitudes. Each year, the Department measures deer hunter attitudes and tracks trends. All of these surveys and scientific measures allow us to make well-informed decisions. Collecting long-term data and modeling that information is what allowed us to develop and implement the 4-point antler restriction regulation we now have in place,” says Sumners.
The Promise Continues
The promise to work with Missourians, and for Missourians, for wildlife restoration and conservation continues today. In 2011 and 2012, elk were released in a defined restoration zone in Carter, Shannon and Reynolds counties. Wild elk, formerly abundant in the state, had not been seen in Missouri since 1865.
Science-based conservation is also helping biologists study black bear populations, hatcheries staff improve state fisheries, landowners create better habitat for quail and prairie chickens, and is giving a number of state and federally endangered species a fighting chance. Many other conservation success stories are also grounded in the science created, honed and implemented by numerous Department biologists over many decades.
What began 75 years ago as a “grand experiment” in conservation has evolved into today’s Department—a national leader in fish, forest and wildlife management and conservation—with management decisions guided by sound science. That science balances the needs of Missouri’s people with the needs of the state’s fish, forests and wildlife.
“Nationwide, the Missouri Department of Conservation is looked up to because we have led the way for so long,” says Glenn Chambers, retired MDC biologist and filmmaker. “And we’ve done a good job of delivering what we’ve promised. That goes a long way with keeping the public with you.”