I was filled with a mixture of excitement and hopeful anticipation. In the darkness, I eased the truck door shut, and my youngest daughter ensured we had all of our gear before heading afield. The day was Nov. 2, 2013 — the start of Missouri’s youth deer season weekend.
A strong northwest wind helped cover the noise we made walking to our hunting spot. The brisk morning combined with the musky smell of fallen leaves signaled fall had officially arrived. We stopped to gaze at the stars — the Little Dipper in the western sky seemed extra bright.
As we settled into our hunting spot, a coyote announced his nearby presence with a series of loud calls. Adequate hunting light was still several minutes away. We waited as nature’s morning slowly continued to develop around us. I hoped the day would provide more opportunities and adventures for my daughter to appreciate Missouri’s incredible wildlife resources. Our state’s healthy forests and diverse fish and wildlife resources enhance our quality of life and have a significant positive impact on Missouri’s economy. Conservation is a wise investment.
My mind drifted to conservation topics of the past week. Our research staff’s briefings on diverse activities had captured my attention. Aerial flights to monitor the waterfowl migration, surveys of hellbender nesting success in Ozark streams, statewide quail whistle count results, catfish sampling reports from the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, brood survival rates of prairie chickens, and elk habitat use within the restoration area serve to show the variety of efforts underway. The Department continues a management approach based on technical research, an essential component to Missouri’s continued long-term conservation success.
Research efforts for well-established, growing, and even possibly colonizing wildlife species are critical to making timely and wise management decisions. Examples of each of these three categories are wild turkeys, black bears, and mountain lions.
Missouri has a long history of conducting wild turkey research. As a top state in the nation for wild turkeys, research projects have provided important information on survival and harvest rates, as well as reproductive ecology, to help guide management decisions. This January, staff will initiate a multi-year effort to capture and place leg bands and radio transmitters on a few hundred wild turkeys, starting in the northeast region of Missouri. It has been several years since the last major turkey research study. This priority project will improve the understanding of current population dynamics. Project results will be used to update the wild turkey management plan to help ensure Missouri remains a national leader.
Black bears are becoming an increasingly significant wildlife resource in our state. Most historical records suggest Missouri’s black bear population was extirpated by the 1950s. Over the past decade, reports of bear sightings have become commonplace in southern Missouri. Research to identify bear range and population characteristics was initiated in 2010. To date, 63 bears have been captured, and 54 were fitted with radio collars. GPS-equipped collars measure bear movements and home ranges. We learned that male bears covered an average of 127 square miles and females 40 square miles annually. Initial research places the state population estimate under 500 adult animals. Black bear research is now directed at measuring survival and productivity of females so staff can forecast the growth of the state’s bear population.
Similar to other Midwestern states, Missouri continues to experience documented mountain lion sightings. DNA tests from collected hair samples show young male mountain lions are dispersing from western states, including South Dakota and Colorado. At this point, only males have been confirmed in Missouri; however, continued mountain lion dispersal from western states is anticipated. As a result, research is needed to help answer questions regarding mountain lions in Missouri. While the Department has no intentions of stocking mountain lions, research will allow staff to predict successful management approaches.
A gentle nudge from my daughter drew my attention back to the present. Deer had entered the field. It was a special moment watching them. Management efforts of Department staff, private landowners, and citizens, as well as building our knowledge base through research, have given Missouri world-class forest, fish, and wildlife — including our white-tailed deer herd. Research efforts are, and continue to be, an essential component of why Missouri is recognized as the national leader in forest, fish, and wildlife conservation.
Robert L. Ziehmer, director
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