What’s past,” William Shakespeare famously wrote in The Tempest, “is prologue.” Shakespeare was right—what’s past is but a prelude of more important things to come. The Department’s 75th anniversary is a fitting time for Missourians to reflect on more than seven decades of successful citizen-led conservation efforts. The hard work of multiple generations has brought back a number of fish and wildlife species to abundance; restored healthy forests; greatly improved access to hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreational opportunities; and created a Department that is a national leader in forest, fish and wildlife conservation.
The Spirit of Conservation
Missouri citizens have taken unique and proactive steps to support and enhance conservation. What we now consider “business as usual” was quite groundbreaking in its early days. Back in 1936, Missourians rallied to create a Conservation Commission through a state constitutional amendment. This gave Missouri the nation’s first apolitical, citizen-led, conservation agency with a management approach based on technical research. Then in 1976, citizens voted again to dedicate funding for the long-term work of conservation through a one-eighth of one percent sales tax, known as the Design for Conservation.
“These were truly visionary concepts,” says MDC Director Robert L. Ziehmer. “Thankfully, these citizenled actions created a solid foundation for conservation. We continue to reap many benefits from abundant forest, fish and wildlife resources today.”
Despite the numerous conservation successes that can be credited to Missouri’s unique citizen-led conservation model, many of the same challenges that faced early conservationists decades ago persist today. Citizen involvement remains vital to ensure that healthy lands and waters continue to support the complex web of life in an ever-changing environment. But the future is bright. The Show-Me State is uniquely poised to lead in a future that will be full of new opportunities and challenges.
Missourians will face new conservation issues and trends head-on with the Department’s time-tested, science-based approach to conservation coupled with active resource management. One common theme in forest, fish and wildlife management is “change is the only constant.” Just as an unkempt field may eventually become choked with weeds, so too might a prairie ultimately grow up in saplings; a forest suffer from diminished habitat diversity; and altered waterways fail to meet the spawning and brood-rearing needs of fish and other aquatic organisms.
The Department’s active resource management of the state’s more than 900 conservation areas, as well as the numerous technical and cost-share programs available to private landowners, are ways for the Department to continue evolving the science of conservation in realtime, as new methods and approaches to forest, fish and wildlife management are refined.
“Future conservation success will only be as good as the information we use to make our management decisions,” says Dennis Figg, MDC wildlife programs supervisor. “Good conservation is a result of both science-based information and citizen participation. As the human population grows, the Missouri landscape continues to change and the challenge of sustaining fish and wildlife is increasingly difficult. Science-based conservation continues to benefit the state’s forest, fish and wildlife resources through the continued involvement of the public, landowners and our partners.”
A Changing Missouri
When the Department began in 1937, the state’s population was mostly rural. Now, the majority of Missourians live in cities and suburbs. As many of today’s Missourians become more removed from the seasonal harvesting of food and fuel from the outdoors, conservation can take on a different meaning for them. This demographic shift presents a tremendous opportunity for Missourians to improve their local forest, fish and wildlife resources at the community level. MDC provides information, technical support, funding and recognition programs to help Missouri’s communities learn about and conserve wildlife habitat, and enjoy the benefits of “green infrastructure.” For more information on community conservation opportunities, visit mdc.mo.gov/node/3118. To keep Missourians connected to the outdoors, the Department provides close-to-home outdoor experiences at nature centers, conservation areas, shooting ranges, and through outdoor skill programs. For more information on MDC facilities and Discover Nature programs, visit mdc.mo.gov/node/3116.
The changing face of Missouri’s rural landowners also marks a turning point for Missouri’s forests, fish and wildlife. “Many of Missouri’s landowners will be transferring management or ownership of their property to a younger generation in the next decade,” says MDC Deputy Director Tom Draper. “A strong conservation ethic in this younger generation of landowners is the key for conservation to continue to work in Missouri.”
Because more than 90 percent of Missouri is privately owned, ultimately the success of conservation depends on the strong partnership between citizens, landowners and the Department. The Department partners with numerous state and federal agencies and conservation groups to provide technical and financial assistance to landowners interested in improving habitat on their farms. Each year the Department provides timely and responsive service to more than 70,000 urban and rural landowners, including more than 6,000 on-the-farm visits to help landowners achieve their natural resource goals—often in cooperation with their neighbors.
“We’re seeing an increase in cooperative landscape scale conservation, where landowners are working with the Department and other agencies to implement wildlife habitat work over hundreds, if not thousands, of contiguous acres,” says Bill White, MDC private land services field chief. “You have a much better chance of success when you reach across the fence and come to an understanding with your neighbor about developing these ‘wild acres’ together with shared resources.”
Many of these cooperatives are united by a common goal, whether it is to manage for more quail, deer, turkey or elk, or to help bring back species on the brink, such as the prairie chicken.
“Landowners working together to improve habitat for quail or turkey also benefit a whole suite of other wildlife species. For example, grassland habitat for prairie chickens also provides much needed habitat for grassland songbirds, rabbits and quail,” White says.
Many other species, in a variety of habitats, also stand to benefit from landscape-scale and watershed conservation partnerships currently being formed throughout the state. These large-scale efforts to improve and conserve functioning habitats ultimately benefit the greatest number of fish and wildlife species possible. Contact your local MDC private land conservationist for information about incentives and cost-share programs, and to schedule a visit to evaluate and enhance wildlife habitat on your property. Find your contact at mdc.mo.gov/ node/4755 or call your regional office
Future Conservation Challenges
When one surveys the state’s abundant populations of small mammals, turkeys and deer, or hears that migratory waterfowl numbers are up, it almost invites a sense of congratulatory complacency because the hard work of restoration appears to be complete. Yet, for every restoration success story, there are other wildlife and fish species still struggling to rebound.
The Department remains dedicated to ensuring that healthy habitats and waterways continue to benefit all plant and animal species. “Challenges to conservation have not disappeared. The next 75 years promise to be more challenging than the last 75 years,” says Draper. “Management of plant and animal diseases, allocation of water resources and growing human populations that demand much from natural resources are just a few of the challenges we will face.”
Other future challenges include balancing the needs of both abundant and rare wildlife, degradation of our stream systems, habitat loss and fragmentation, and increased urbanization. One of the greatest trials will be managing aggressive, nonnative invasive species of insects, aquatic organisms and plants.
Invasive plants such as garlic mustard, Japanese honeysuckle, Japanese hop, purple loosestrife, sericea lespedeza, spotted knapweed and many others are displacing native plants, causing agricultural damage and reducing the biological diversity of Missouri’s outdoors.
“Successful control depends on prevention, early detection and rapid response,” says Draper. “Invasives can proliferate fairly quickly. Taking precautions to keep invasive plants from spreading is the best way to prevent them from establishing on your property.”
MDC has developed a series of fact sheets to help landowners identify and control several of the most invasive plant species that degrade their pastures and choke out native plants that have more nutritional value for domestic animals and wildlife. Download these factsheets and learn more about invasive species prevention and control at mdc.mo.gov/node/4086.
Aquatic invasives such as zebra mussels, rusty crayfish, didymo and Asian carp challenge the health of Missouri’s waterways. Learn how to prevent their spread at mdc.mo.gov/node/13536.
The Promise Continues
There is a challenge in conserving Missouri’s forest, fish and wildlife resources—a challenge that each generation has to choose to accept and ultimately lead. We owe that to those who came before us and, more importantly, to future generations. The Department remains committed to working with Missourians, and for Missourians, to achieve even more forest, fish and wildlife conservation success.
“Today, Missouri is known for world-class outdoor opportunities, and this is not by accident,” says Ziehmer. “Citizens in the state of Missouri have a passion for the outdoors like no other state across the nation. They took it upon themselves—they implemented steps that, today, place us as a national leader. I would encourage citizens to pause as we celebrate 75 years of conservation in the state and just reflect back, to recognize the success of conservation. It’s easy to see.”
Missouri’s natural resources, economic conditions and the needs and desires of its citizens are all changing. Looking forward, the Department will focus on five areas of responsibility:
- Ensure healthy and sustainable forest, fish and wildlife resources throughout the state.
- Manage lands held in public trust and associated infrastructure to ensure continued benefit to citizens and to forest, fish and wildlife resources.
- Provide opportunities for active citizen involvement in programs and services, and conservation education in both rural and urban areas.
- Engage partners at the individual, community, county, state and federal levels to enhance natural resources and effective delivery of conservation services.
- Ensure sound financial accountability and transparency in all areas of operation.
“Our state’s conservation success depends on continued citizen support,” Ziehmer says. “The Department must cultivate citizen interest, support and trust.”
The Future of Conservation is You
The future of Missouri’s outdoors begins with a question: What do you want the future to look like?
“The future will be what Missourians want it to be— what citizens, landowners and the Department invest in now creates that future,” says Conservation Commission Chair Don Bedell. “All you have to do is look back and see the great conservation successes we have created together. Citizen input and participation has and will continue to play an important role in advancing our conservation legacy.”
The most significant thing we can do to ensure a bright future for conservation is to provide all Missourians with the opportunity to learn about and understand our natural world. Only then will the next generation be prepared to face tomorrow’s conservation challenges. Experience tells us that this effort starts with individuals, spreads to communities, and eventually influences society’s decision-making.
“Mentoring is one of the most effective ways to pass on an interest in the outdoors,” says Ziehmer. “The Department will continue to emphasize the importance of mentoring through a variety of programs. The Department has also developed educational units so that students can better understand the connections between conserving Missouri’s forests, fish and wildlife and the quality of their own lives.”
Recruitment, retention and education of hunters and anglers, as well as other outdoors enthusiasts, are critical for future wildlife management. “We are fortunate in Missouri to have one of the highest hunter and angler recruitment rates in the nation. That is a result of the actions of our citizens and conservation leaders,” says MDC Deputy Director Tim Ripperger. “Citizens and the Department have created a state like no other that encourages family participation in outdoor sports and time-honored traditions through dedicated funding, ease to begin hunting at any age, low-priced permits and continual habitat work.”
You can help connect other Missourians to the outdoors. Explore volunteer conservation, education and mentoring opportunities at mdc.mo.gov/node/4668, and visit:
- Stream Teams: mostreamteam.org
- Forestkeepers: forestkeepers.org
- Hunter Education: mdc.mo.gov/node/3722
- Nature and Interpretive Centers: mdc.mo.gov/node/4439
- Discover Nature Schools: mdc.mo.gov/node/9019
The challenges to continuing Missouri’s conservation legacy are great, the rewards even greater. Together, Missourians and the Department will continue to build on our conservation inheritance and share our outdoor heritage with new generations. This is the ultimate way to deepen our connection to the land, forests and waterways of the state, and forge a brighter future for the outdoors and for ourselves.
The Foundation of Missouri’s Economy and Quality of Life - Conservation makes Missouri a great place to live, work, hunt, fish and enjoy the outdoors.
Conservation Pays in Missouri.
Each year fish and wildlife recreation, and the forest products industry, contribute more than $11.4 billion to Missouri’s economy.
Conservation Pays its Way.
Forest, fish and wildlife recreation spending generates more than $382 million annually of state and local tax revenue. The amount of state sales tax revenue generated from fish and wildlife recreation and the forest products industry is about the same as the sales tax revenue received by MDC from the conservation sales tax. For every $8 spent on taxable items, one penny goes to conservation. The Department’s budget is less than 1 percent of the total state budget and the Department receives no state general revenue.
Conservation Pays for Jobs.
Fish and wildlife recreation and the forest products industry support more than 95,000 Missouri jobs.
Conservation Makes Missouri a Great Place to Hunt, Fish and Enjoy Nature.
Missouri is known for world-class outdoor adventures. More than one-quarter of tourism dollars in Missouri are spent on forest, fish and wildlife recreation. More than 600,000 people hunt in Missouri, 1.1 million fish, and 2.2 million view, feed or photograph wildlife. They spend more than $3 billion each year in Missouri.
Conservation Preserves Missouri’s Outdoor Heritage.
Missouri is ranked first in the nation for hunter recruitment. For every 100 hunters that stop hunting, 116 take up hunting. Missouri is ranked fifth in the nation for the number of resident hunters and eighth in the nation for the number of resident anglers.
Learn more about the economics of conservation at bit.ly/MGe8XS.
Missourians Care About Conservation
What Missourians Say About Conservation
- 93 percent report they are interested in Missouri’s forests, fish and wildlife.
- 73 percent agree that land should be acquired for forests, fish and wildlife conservation.
- Missourians are uniquely outdoor-oriented, with a majority of adults preferring outdoor recreational activities (56 percent) to reading or watching TV (34 percent), or structured sports (9 percent).
- 91 percent agree, “It is important for outdoor places to be protected even if you don’t plan to visit the area.”
- 79 percent agree that the Conservation Department should help restore animals that once lived, or are currently rare, in the state.
- More than three-quarters agree that the Conservation Department “should assist communities that want to include trees and green spaces in housing, business and shopping developments” (79 percent).
- 82 percent agree that the Conservation Department should help private landowners who want to restore native communities of plants and animals.
- 88 percent approve of hunting for food.