JEFFERSON CITY–“I don’t remember ever not wanting to be outdoors,” says Jennifer Battson, the new Wildlife Division chief for the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC).
Battson, 40, assumed her new responsibilities Sept. 1. She had been interim Wildlife Division chief since Aug. 1. In a way, her career began on two Osage County farms: her paternal grandparent’s farm near Westphalia and her maternal grandparent’s farm near Rich Fountain. These were family farms where uncles, aunts, and cousins pitched in to keep things running.
“Even when we were very young, there was an expectation for us kids to do what we could to help with the garden, cattle, chickens, and hogs,” says Battson. “We spent so much time outdoors working that it seemed only natural to be outdoors playing. Our free time was spent exploring the woods and fishing on each of my grandparents’ farms. My love and curiosity for the outdoors sprang from winter firewood cutting and summer fishing trips.”
Battson recalls that her hours outdoors sparked a particular interest in trees. Even at 8 or 9 years old, she wondered about how they grew and why they were different on the hills where she cut firewood and near the creek where she fished.
“I sensed how important trees were – for the shade they gave us when we were fishing and the heat they gave us in the winter and the homes and food they provide for wildlife.”
Her fascination with trees led Battson to earn a bachelor’s degree in forestry from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Between college and being hired by MDC, she worked as a forest technician for the USDA Forest Service on the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania and as a geographic information systems (GIS) technician for the Missouri Department of Transportation.
Her 16-year MDC career has included jobs as an assistant resource forester, a management forester, a GIS specialist, an information technology trainee, a private land conservationist, a forestry programs specialist, a wildlife regional supervisor, and a wildlife management chief.
Battson says her immediate goals for the Wildlife Division include devising strategies for improving the division’s ability to conserve and restore wildlife habitat and game and non-game wildlife species for public benefit. She plans to develop a public use, marketing, and outreach program to inspire citizen interest and motivate urban and rural Missourians to care and develop a deeper understanding of wildlife and their habitats.
“We always work toward those goals,” she says, “but right now it is particularly critical to assess the current threats and opportunities and align the division staff to better deal with them.”
She says she is excited about engaging the public and encouraging Missourians to take advantage of the full range of recreational opportunities available at conservation areas, including hunting, fishing, nature photography, and picking blackberries and mushrooms.
Battson is a Fellow of the National Conservation Leadership Institute (NCLI). She was the 2005 recipient of the Conservation Federation of Missouri’s Professional Conservationist of the Year Award. Her favorite outdoor activities include frogging with her kids and exploring areas on farms or conservation areas where she has never been before. She and her family recently set a goal to visit every Natural Area in Missouri. She also enjoys hunting wild turkey but doesn’t get to do that as often as she would like.
Battson succeeded DeeCee Darrow, who led the Wildlife Division from December 2007 until her retirement Aug. 1.