Conservation by the Numbers

By Tom Cwynar | December 2, 2000
From Missouri Conservationist: Dec 2000

MISSOURI could well be called "The Conservation State." Our forests are magnificent; deer, turkey and small game are abundant; and our rivers and lakes are fish-full. These resources can be enjoyed by all, for almost every Missourian is within easy reach of public lands where they can hunt, fish, camp or hike.

Our "natural" wealth has not come about naturally. Maintaining outdoor resources and recreation in the face of population growth, urban sprawl and increased demand for marketable products requires careful management and protection of our fish, forests and wildlife.

Conservation is a work in progress. Its goals and methods need to be frequently reassessed and adjusted. Further, the work of conservation goes far beyond the efforts of the Conservation Department. The federal government is heavily involved, as are local governments, clubs and associations.

Ultimately, conservation depends on individuals concerned enough about the state of their state's natural resources to vote, to act, to care.

The condition of Missouri near the beginning of the last century vividly reminds us what our state would be like without conservation effort and commitment. Back then, market forces and a combination of human need and greed stripped the land of trees and wildlife. As a result, Missouri had become resource poor.

It's been nearly a century since the Walmsley Law, the state's first comprehensive fish and game law, jump-started Missouri's conservation and preservation efforts. Nearly a quarter of a century has passed since voters approved Missouri's Design for Conservation. These milestones give us a good opportunity to take a statistical snapshot of our state's lands, resources and people-all essential components of conservation in Missouri.

Missouri Lands

Missouri public lands are under the stewardship of federal, state and local governments. Federal lands include those owned by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the U.S. National Park Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Forest Service.

Major state landowners include the state's departments of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Public land in Missouri, which includes highways, roads and lakes, totals just over 3 million acres-about 7 percent of the state. Mark Twain National Forest contains nearly half of this amount. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers administers about 750,000 acres. The Department of Natural Resources' state parks amount to about 125,000 acres, and the National Wildlife Refuge System includes about 45,000 acres.

The Conservation Department owns 768,400 acres, or about 2 percent of the state's total land area. In addition, the Department has entered into management partnerships or lease agreements on another 196,921 acres. These arrangements include community fishing lakes and lands bordering large reservoirs, such as Truman Lake.

Nearly 60 percent, 446,000 acres, of the land owned by the Conservation Department was purchased following passage of the Conservation Sales Tax in 1976.

Since 1980, the Conservation Department has been compensating local governments for their loss of tax base for state-owned lands by making Payments in Lieu of Taxes. In 1980, nearly $76,000 in PILT money was paid to 72 counties. During 1999, payments to 112 counties totaled $639,000.

The Conservation Department's land holdings have also increased thanks to generous donations by Missourians who wished to protect and make available for public use the natural values of their land. Since the Conservation Department was established, it has received 366 donations that included land. The value of these land donations is more than $25 million.

Nearly 53 percent of Conservation Department lands are forested. Fishing lakes/ponds, the second largest category, make up about 19.5 percent of the total acreage. Wetlands, a vital but rapidly disappearing component of Missouri's landscape, represent about 4.4 percent of the area under the stewardship of the Conservation Department.

The best remaining examples of natural communities and geologic features, such as prairies, springs and woodlands, are protected in the Missouri Natural Areas System, which has grown to over 180 areas, comprising more than 50,000 acres.

To improve the natural values of the 93 percent of the state that is privately owned, the Conservation Department recently established the Private Land Services Division. The new division formed regional teams of specialists that are available to help private landowners manage their forests, create or preserve wildlife habitat, build or revive ponds and protect stream banks.

Representatives of the new division provide landowners with information about cost-share programs, grants, technical assistance and other help available to improve natural values on private land.

Missouri Resources

The natural wealth of our state includes forests, prairies, lakes and streams, as well as the creatures they support. The Conservation Department manages the populations of many popular game and fish species. It also protects and provides habitat for non-game species and actively works for the benefit of endangered species.

The Conservation Department operates warm-water hatcheries whose combined output exceeds 3 to 5 million fingerling to adult-size fish, including bass, catfish, paddlefish, walleye and many other species. The fish are stocked into the 846 public lakes managed by the Conservation Department.

The recently-completed Lost Valley Fish Hatchery, one of the largest public hatcheries in the nation, is expected to boost fish-stocking efforts. This warm-water hatchery is the largest project ever constructed with Sport Fish Restoration funds administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Construction costs totaled $18.4 million, of which 74 percent was reimbursed to the Conservation Department from the federal aid program.

In addition, the Department operates five cold-water hatcheries that provide trout for the state's four trout parks, as well as for 16 stream areas and for put-and-take fishing opportunities in 13 St. Louis urban lakes and four Kansas City urban lakes. The Department stocks more than 1.5 million trout in these waters each year.

Other fisheries projects include sampling stream and lake fish populations and angler harvest, installing or maintaining fish habitat, testing fish for contaminants and helping landowners improve fishing in their private ponds and lakes. The effort on private lakes includes stocking more than 800 private impoundments yearly with fingerling largemouth bass, bluegill and channel catfish.

The Conservation Department manages about 450,000 acres of forest. On average, slightly more than 1 percent of this total is harvested for sawtimber each year. Less than half of the 1 percent is subjected to clearcut harvesting. The remainder is harvested by intermediate cut, uneven-aged management or shelterwood, or is harvested for firewood.

Forest management on private lands involves providing technical advice and assistance to landowners. Conservation Department foresters monitor forest health and recommend tree plantings. They also provide advice on forest improvement, forest products marketing and use, and improving wildlife habitat.

During fiscal year 1999-2000, Conservation Department foresters contacted 3,205 landowners, prepared 112 Forest Stewardship plans that covered 19,805 acres and seeded or planted trees on 2,279 acres.

In addition, the George O. White State Forest Nursery provided 4.78 million seedlings for planting to about 12,500 individual landowners during the 1999-2000 tree ordering season. The demand for tree seedlings has generally increased in the more than 50 years the nursery has operated. The number of seedlings distributed last year, for example, was 10 percent higher than the year before. Free seedlings are provided to youth groups and schools and to the Missouri Department of Transportation for roadside plantings.

Managing Missouri's forests requires protecting them from insects and diseases. A plant diagnostic laboratory and an entomology laboratory, both located in Columbia, provide foresters and landowners forest health information. During the last fiscal year, the diagnostic laboratory and regional offices logged approximately 4,000 assists to landowners.

For more than two decades, the Conservation Department has cooperated with federal agencies and other state agencies to detect gypsy moth infestations. More than 12,000 gypsy moth traps are placed and monitored in Missouri each year.

The Conservation Department also inventories Missouri's forests. Crews survey tree species, volume, growth, mortality and health on 20 percent of selected plots every year, resulting in a complete inventory every five years. The Missouri Ozark Forest Ecosystem Project involves research on Ozark forests that will span a century.

A few high-profile wildlife species serve as indicators of the success of Missouri's management programs. White-tailed deer, whose numbers had declined to an estimated 400 animals in 1925, are abundant throughout the state. Missouri's deer herd is currently estimated to number 875,000 animals.

Hunters purchase about one-half million firearms deer permits each year, and nearly 40 percent of those are filled. In 1976, hunters purchased about 232,000 firearms permits, but less than 18 percent of those resulted in a deer being harvested.

Wild turkey provide another success story. Missouri hunters typically take more than 60,000 birds each year. The harvest has steadily increased from 7,853 birds in 1976.

Small game populations have been steady or in slight decline in recent years. Squirrels seem to be doing well, but quail show a notable reduction. Quail populations are estimated based on an annual count taken from 112 30-mile routes driven by conservation agents throughout the state.

With few exceptions, quail numbers are decreasing. During 1999, agents spotted 3.8 quail per route driven. In 2000, they spotted 5.0. These numbers are far below the 1983-1999 average of 9.1 birds spotted per route.

Rabbits also are experiencing a decline. They are counted over 112 20-mile routes. The 1988-1999 average was 1.8 rabbits spotted per route, but only an average of 1.3 rabbits per route was spotted in 2000, slightly down from 1999 average of 1.5 per route.

The Conservation Department has achieved success in its efforts to restore otter, bald eagles and peregrine falcons. Between 1982 and 1992, the Department released 845 otters at 43 sites in 35 counties. Otter numbers are currently estimated at between 11,000 and 18,000. According to biologists, the population allows for an annual harvest of about 2,500 animals.

The number of bald eagles nesting in Missouri has risen steadily from 1984, when no eagles nested here. In the most recent year, biologists counted 48 nests, which together fledged between 95 and 101 eaglets.

The Conservation Department led the movement to restore peregrines to the state. Experts believe peregrine falcons will find big city skyscrapers as acceptable as steep cliffs, the peregrines' preferred habitat. A pair of nesting peregrines now live in Kansas City, and three pair have been confirmed in St. Louis. These nesting birds are considered to be the vanguard of a complete recovery, for they will bear young that are also expected to nest here.

Since 1974, the Conservation Department maintains a Missouri Species of Conservation Concern Checklist, which identifies plants and animals whose populations are threatened or vulnerable. The list now includes 939 species, including the federally endangered Hine's emerald dragonfly, which was recently discovered in Missouri.

Missouri People

Changing demographics and changing lifestyles may be contributing to a lack of growth or, in some cases, a slow decline in hunting and fishing permit sales during the latter part of the century.

The numbers may reflect decreased opportunities for hunting and fishing due to changing land ownership patterns. Large-acreage family farms are increasingly being split up into smaller "hobby farms." The new owners of these properties tend to be new to the area or community and reluctant to allow strangers to hunt or fish on their land. Another trend is that large parcels of rural land are being purchased specifically for recreational use by families or groups of people.

People continue to enjoy hunting and fishing, however. Almost one in five Missourians list fishing as their favorite outdoor activity, and 30 percent of our state's residents consider themselves hunters. A huge majority of Missourians approve of hunting for food or as a social activity, and 57 percent of rural landowners either hunt or allow hunting on their land.

Conservation nature centers report steady or increasing numbers of visitors. The Springfield Conservation Nature Center, for example, records about 100,000 visitors a year, of whom about 30,000 take part in programs at the facility. In addition, more than 270,000 hikers use the facility's trails each year.

Missourians find the Missouri Conservationist to be their first source of conservation information. Conservationist subscriptions have shown a steady rise over the years. The magazine is now sent to more than 414,000 Missouri addresses. Out-of-state and international subscribers number over 14,000. The number of requests by schools and day-care centers for Outside In, the Conservationist's magazine for children, has risen steadily since it was first published in September 1994. More than 65,000 copies of Outside In are sent four times a year to 2,169 schools and day-care centers.

Requests for publications, films and videos have also increased. The Conservation Department responded by providing more conservation information in the form of books, brochures, calendars and other publications.

"Missouri Outdoors," the Conservation Department's half-hour, 13-week television series aired this year on 32 network affiliates and independent and cable stations. During the last fiscal year, the Department provided conservation-based public service announcements to 220 radio stations.

The Conservation Department's website,, doubled its volume over last year, serving up 5.4 million pages to more than one-half million visitors.

Kindergarten, first-grade and second-grade students throughout the state receive Woollyworm, Tadpole and Crawdad, respectively. These student newspapers help children understand conservation concepts. The Conservation Department also encourages kids to participate in outdoor pursuits by hosting numerous kids fishing fairs and holding youth-only hunts for deer and waterfowl on conservation areas.

Conservation's future seems exceptionally bright given the increasing number of volunteers willing to work on its behalf. The Stream Team program began in 1989, and there are now 1,662 Stream Teams in the state. The teams include more than 30,000 people who pick up litter, build fish habitat and stream improvement structures, and monitor pollution in adopted streams or sections of a streams.

Volunteers also help communicate the message of conservation at nature centers throughout the state. For example, during the last fiscal year volunteers logged 11,236 hours at Powder Valley Conservation Nature Center, which serves the St. Louis area.

Each year, about 1,600 volunteers teach nearly 1,100 hunter education classes during which new hunters and young hunters learn about firearms, hunting and hunting safety.

Also encouraging is the fact that we are recruiting new members into the ranks of outdoorspeople. The number of women who hunt with firearms has increased 15 percent within the last decade, and they now represent nearly 11 percent of the overall hunting population. The number of female anglers has also steadily increased.

The Conservation Department's "Becoming an Outdoors-Woman" program helps women learn outdoor skills. All 14 workshops-one each spring and fall since 1994-have been filled to their capacity of 110. "Beyond Becoming an Outdoors-Women" workshops have provided in-depth outdoor experiences and training to more than 500 women since the program began in 1997.

These pages only touch on the wealth of programs and activities that keep conservation working in Missouri. Researchers are counting mussels, monitoring wildlife diseases, surveying caves and keeping track of insects. They census anglers and hunters, search for rare plant species and perform a bevy of other studies too numerous to mention.

Also not noted here are the efforts of Conservation Department workers who feed fish at hatcheries, build boat ramps and access roads, maintain campgrounds and perform the work to support a large conservation organization and serve the public.

We've seen remarkable changes since 1976, when the Design for Conservation Plan was initiated by voters. Since that time, Conservation Department revenues have increased eight-fold, while the number of salaried employees has doubled. A higher percentage of the budget now goes toward community projects and landowner assistance.

The benefits of conservation are easy to tally. Our forests are increasing, our recreational opportunities have grown, our wildlife base has improved, and we have become one of the most respected wildlife agencies in the country.

Although we have taken a big step forward, the next step for conservation will involve a shift in attitude from the residents of the state funding a conservation organization to a populace that directly involves itself in the conservation of our natural wealth.

Portents of the future are showing up today in the increasing number of conservation volunteers, in the escalating demand for more outdoors-related information and in heightened interest among private landowners in joining forces with the Conservation Department to improve their land for wildlife.

The organization, programs and mechanisms are in place. We now move into a new century of conservation, in which the people will take a more active part in determining the fate of Missouri's natural resources.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Tom Cwynar
Managing Editor - Bryan Hendricks
Art Editor - Dickson Stauffer
Designer - Tracy Ritter
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Composition - Libby Bode Block
Circulation - Bertha Bainer