The point was classic. Head motionless, ears cocked, right front leg lifted and locked, and the stub of the tail sticking straight out. The bronze eyes were staring intently at the patch of brushy cover hiding the birds and the only movement of Belle the Weimaraner was the occasional ripple of excitement that quivered through her body. Another day afield with a companion who lived to run, point, and retrieve. Belle and I had many adventures during those fall days that provide unlimited outdoor experiences and those early summer mornings when we would leave at daybreak for a sunrise run to greet the day. For 14-plus years, Belle played an integral part in many of my outdoor adventures and those of an active family that has lived in several places in this great state.
In July of this year, those days ended and Belle’s ashes were spread across one of her favorite fields where she loved to hunt, run, and roam with me. As with any loss, it causes one to reflect upon the past and wonder about the future. In Missouri, natural resources abound. We are blessed with clean water and air, vibrant forests, lush grasslands, open fields, and productive farmlands. This is no accident. Missourians are committed to protecting and perpetuating these natural resources, and they understand that to conserve them, constant vigilance is required. The loss of Belle spurred me to think about what we would miss. What if we did not have clean water and abundant forest, fish and wildlife resources? What if Missouri’s deer herd was no longer what it is today, but more like the early 20th century when deer were hard to find and came very close to disappearing from our landscape? How much poorer would Missouri’s quality of life be?
Department staff and a group of interested stakeholders are working together to find common ground to ensure a healthy deer herd exists in Missouri’s future. Finding Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in Missouri’s deer herd has served as a call to action. Citizens with a variety of interests, including landowners, sportsmen, captive deer breeders, hunting preserve owners, and governmental bodies, are engaged in a dialog to ensure Missouri’s deer herd remains strong for future generations.
The dialog has been frank and passionate at all ends of the spectrum. Interested parties do not agree on approaches to sustain each segment of Missouri’s deer herd. Entangled in the discussion are the concepts of free enterprise, private property rights, over-regulation by government agencies, and fear of a cultural heritage resource that may not be in the same condition for Missourians to experience in future years.
Wrestling with difficult conservation issues is embedded in Missouri’s rich conservation legacy. As we celebrate 75 years of conservation action, I am confident that this group of concerned citizens can find common ground on appropriate measures that will sustain Missouri’s deer herd. While many appear frustrated with the Department’s efforts to protect Missouri’s deer herd, I am hopeful that, in the spirit of Missouri’s conservation past, all interested parties will stay at the table to find reasonable solutions.
Though Belle is gone, the memories of our many adventures remain and, at some point, another rambunctious Weimaraner will join the Draper household. Reflection and loss remind me of the importance of having a healthy deer herd on the landscape and provides the impetus to identify ways to ensure continued conservation success. As chairman of the Department’s Regulations Committee, I pledge to remain engaged in this important dialog. Together, we will identify suitable solutions to sustain Missouri’s deer herd for future generations.
Tom Draper, deputy director
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