Meeting the Changing Needs of Wildlife

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Published on: Aug. 20, 2013

Missouri has unique methods for managing and regulating our state’s forest, fish, and wildlife resources; however, the guiding principal behind those methods extends across all 50 states and Canada — it’s called the public trust doctrine.

The essence of the doctrine is that certain natural resources are so valuable to the public that they cannot be privately owned and controlled. They are to be held in trust by government for the benefit of present and future generations.

In 1842, a U.S. Supreme Court decision supported and reinforced the public trust doctrine. The findings of the court in the Martin v. Waddell case have helped guide the management and regulation of wildlife resources, both aquatic and terrestrial, of our nation.

Empowering the Conservation Commission

In the early 1930s, during the dust bowl years, Missouri’s landscape was significantly different than it is today. Our Ozark hills were severely overharvested. Our streams were choked with gravel and sedimentation. White-tailed deer and wild turkeys were few and far between. Furbearers, an important economic resource, were heavily harvested and difficult to locate. Our state’s natural resources had been over-exploited, with no thought given to what it would look like in the future. But some Missourians had a different vision for the natural resources of our state, and they set out to make that vision a reality.

In 1936, Missouri citizens established a new method to manage their forest, fish, and wildlife resources, one that is as unique today as it was when it was conceived. Through a statewide ballot initiative the citizens of Missouri gave the Department of Conservation a mandate by passing a constitutional amendment that provided significant authority to the Conservation Commission. The amendment states, “The control, management, restoration, conservation and regulation of the bird, fish, game, forestry and all wildlife resources of the state…shall be vested in a conservation commission….”

Using the public trust doctrine and the authority provided to the Conservation Commission by Missouri citizens, the Department works to fulfill its mission “To protect and manage the forest, fish, and wildlife resources of the state to facilitate and provide opportunity for all citizens to use, enjoy, and learn about these resources.”

Missourians Value Nature

The passage of the constitutional amendment was a reflection of how important the wildlife and natural resources of our state were to Missouri’s citizens. That value has not diminished these past 75 years. In 2011-12, more than 2.2

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