The early November morning was as black as the coat of Bandit, the quivering black Labrador sitting between me and my hunting buddy. The prairie potholes were full of water and attracting migrating waterfowl, and we were on our way to one of our favorite duck-hunting spots.
The stars were bright in the moonless sky as we arranged our decoy spread. As we knelt in the cattails, dawn’s first light eased across the horizon and the fun began. Blue-winged teal were a flash and a blur at first light, followed by whizzing green heads, pintails, and shovelers. Ducks were coming and going in such a fashion that, if the ducks had been planes at an airport, it would have been an air traffic controller’s nightmare. The sound of ducks feeding and resting on the pothole was almost deafening.
I do not recall how many ducks were bagged that day, but this time with friends and a good dog in a spectacular setting is one of my great memories of outdoor adventure.
That hunt happened long ago, when I lived and worked in South Dakota, but my excitement is just as strong for waterfowl hunting on the many public and private wetlands in Missouri. Good waterfowl hunting opportunities are no accident — Missourians are committed to conserving their forest, fish, and wildlife resources.
Missourians helped develop the North American Waterfowl Plan, and the Department of Conservation provides technical assistance to private wetland owners. Our citizens and representatives are committed to maintaining wetland habitats here and in the breeding grounds to the north because they recognize that those habitats are key to the success of maintaining waterfowl, shorebirds, and other wetland species on the North American continent. For our landowners, sportsman, and citizens, sustaining Missouri’s wetlands is an important part of our state’s conservation ethic.
While Missouri has well-managed private and public wetlands, management of these wetlands is not without challenges. It’s a new century, and the management of water and water resources is becoming one of the most pressing conservation challenges for the country and our state. Given the drought in north-central Missouri, the availability of limitless water for wetland management has not been the case. In fact, wetland pumping from the Grand River for Fountain Grove Conservation Area had to be halted for a time so that important aquatic habitats and organisms were not irreparably harmed because of diminishing water flows.
There is a lesson here: We must better understand all the components of the natural system. This will allow us to find balance between competing uses and interests so that future generations can experience all components of Missouri’s forest, fish, and wildlife resources.
We are fortunate to have such a variety of flora and fauna arranged on a complex geography of unique habitats. This uniqueness provides almost unlimited opportunity to enjoy the outdoors. Our challenge as conservationists is how to best pass these resources and experiences on to the next generation of Missourians.
Tom Draper, deputy director
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