A Strategy for Conservation Success

By Tom Cwynar | February 2, 2001
From Missouri Conservationist: Feb 2001

Strategic planning is tedious work. It's not nearly as interesting as counting bugs in leaf litter, checking anglers on a stream or flying over snow-covered conservation areas to census deer populations. But planning is critical. It points us in a certain direction. It tells us where to put our efforts, thoughts and funds. Perhaps most important, it articulates a philosophy that can guide each and every Conservation Department employee.

We've had plans before. During the campaign for the sales tax amendment that appeared on the state ballot in 1976, the Conservation Department developed a long-term plan that detailed its approach to the task of conservation in Missouri. When voters chose to tax themselves to protect and improve wildlife populations and increase outdoor recreational opportunities, Design for Conservation was launched.

"Design," as it came to be known, detailed our priorities for more than a decade. At the time, the Conservation Department was relatively land-poor. Design emphasized acquiring critical habitat before rising real estate prices put it forever out of reach.

A series of five-year plans followed Design for Conservation. The 1990-94 plan focused on improving the management and facilities on existing lands. The 1996-2000 plan stressed citizen involvement and private land issues, as well as improving water resources.

The latest strategic plan is the most flexible yet. It covers a variety of conservation concerns, but its most descriptive quality is that the plan is upgradeable and updatable. You might say the plan plans to be responsive to the unforeseen but inevitable changes in people and their attitudes and the environment.

Forming a plan for a large, diverse government agency like the Conservation Department forces you to look both backward and forward. Understanding where you've been and how you've come to where you are helps you determine the proper direction to proceed.

The planning process had to start with the mission of the Conservation Department. Our overall mission is the core mandate from which all Conservation Department activity proceeds.

Our Mission:

"To protect and manage the fish, forest, and wildlife resources of the state; to serve the public and facilitate their participation in resource management activities; and to provide opportunity for all citizens to use, enjoy, and learn about fish, forest, and wildlife resources."

The key words in this statement are the verbs: protect, manage, serve, facilitate and provide. They guide our work. They keep us focused and active. They make it our duty to engage hunters, anglers and landowners. They urge us to build river accesses, to plant trees and to create wildlife food plots.

At its inception, the new plan consists of eight strategic goals. The goals are meant to provide general guidance and direction for the Conservation Department and its employees.

All eight goals are accompanied by a set of strategic issues, desired results and performance measures. The strategic issues are elements that we have identified as crucial to improving our ability to protect wildlife and habitat while providing service to the people of Missouri.

Desired results included in the plan answer the question, "What do we want to achieve?" Each desired result or set of results also includes a list of performance measures to help us measure or verify our progress.

Taken together, goals, strategic issues, desired results and performance measures provide a clear road map. The strategic plan isn't intended to be a comprehensive listing of everything we do. Instead, it focuses on current issues and areas of emphasis.

Goal 1:

Continuously Improve our Business Management Systems

It may seem obvious, but improving the way we manage ourselves will keep us from becoming entrenched, stale or mediocre. The underlying philosophy of the first goal is that a diverse, satisfied, well-trained and well-equipped base of employees will help us generate innovative approaches to how we deal with conservation issues.

In the coming years, the Conservation Department plans to achieve a work force that more accurately mirrors the makeup of the state's residents with respect to gender, race and disabilities. Not only will this initiative provide opportunity to women, minorities and the disabled to learn about resource management and conservation recreation, but the resulting "representative" workforce would be in a better position to understand the desires and expectations of all the people in the state.

The Conservation Department helps support the Natural Resources Career Camp, which provides minority high school students exposure to the outdoors through conservation-related activities. The two-week camp allows students to interact with and learn from natural resource professionals. Hopefully, some of the participants will eventually embark on a career in environmental conservation.

Improving the business of conservation also depends on improving the skills of Department employees. The recently instituted Academy for Leadership Excellence requires that all employees receive training in management, supervision, and teamwork. In a sense, no one graduates from the program. Instead, employees must complete all the courses within a certain time frame. There will be no "grandfathering," which can lead to staleness. Instead, every conservation employee, no matter how experienced, will be a freshly-trained leader.

Goal 2:

Preserve and Restore the State's Biodiversity

The fate of Missouri's diverse array of plants, animals and natural communities could be said to be in the hands of its human residents. Population growth, along with the development that accompanies it, is a primary threat to the wildlife we value.

Preserving or restoring the state's biodiversity addresses what is essentially the Conservation Department's core mission. The relative health and abundance of fish and wildlife populations indicates the overall health of the natural environment that the Department exists to protect.

Dealing with Missouri's more than 5,000 species of plants, 20,000 animal species and 200 recognized natural communities on a statewide basis from a central location is impossible.

To make the task of protecting the state's resources manageable, the Conservation Department has distributed teams that include representatives from the wildlife, fisheries, natural history and private land services divisions, among others, to offices around the state.

The 10 regional teams approach resource planning and restoration and management of native plants and animal communities on a local or landscape scale. What's good for the Bootheel, for example, will no longer have to suffice for management options in the Chillicothe area, or vice-versa.

Habitat work is crucial to protecting populations of any species. If animals don't have places to live, they will disappear.

To ensure that Missouri continues to have representatives of all natural communities, the new strategic plan calls for the Conservation Department to complete Missouri's Natural Areas System. The 176 natural areas currently in the system are relatively undisturbed native habitats that range in size from one to several thousand acres.

These areas serve as reservoirs of living wild species, as baseline research centers and as models for natural community management. More natural communities and native landscapes will be identified and added to the system, and management on existing areas will focus on controlling exotic species and providing for public use.

Efforts at Hughes Mountain Natural Area provide an example both of working to protect and restore habitat and of enhancing existing natural areas. Karen Kramer, the Department's natural areas coordinator, said managers at Hughes Mountain regularly conduct prescribed burns to restore wildflower diversity to woodlands and igneous glades. They also wage a constant "cutting" battle against invading cedar.

The Conservation Department maintains a trail that goes to the top of the mountain so that visitors can enjoy the area.

"It's one of our most unique sites," Kramer said. "The rocks there are 6-sided, miniature pillars and the knoll, or top of the mountain, is like a moonscape."

What We Believe:

The strategic plan includes a set of beliefs that define the Conservation Department's approach to dealing with the people and resources of this state. The following beliefs are similar to a core philosophy that underlies every interaction and transaction of the Department.

All citizens are important and we value their trust, regardless of their point of view: All Missouri citizens deserve respect. Our job is to listen, understand and personally deliver programs and services in a manner that promotes relationships built on trust.

Excellent public service in a manner that benefits fish, forests and wildlife resources and encourages citizens to be active participants and conservationists.

Fairness, objectivity, sound science, integrity and responsibility are what we expect of ourselves: Our decisions and behavior will be based on fairness, objectivity, and the best scientific information; we will act with the highest degree of integrity and ethical consideration.

Employees are the Department's most important resource: All employees deserve a safe, high-quality work environment that promotes opportunities for professional and personal growth, teamwork and individual respect.

Goal 3:

Inform and Educate the Public about Conservation

When people "connect" with nature, they place a higher value on restoring and protecting our wildlife and wildlife habitat. Without extensive outreach on our part, we believe many urban residents could lose touch with nature. This would both impoverish their lives and pose a "threat of disinterest" to the natural communities that exist outside our cities.

To keep people connected to nature, the Conservation Department is expanding its conservation programs. Information about conservation and actual contact with nature may come to our larger cities by land or water, thanks to new mobile nature centers that are being planned.

Our efforts in schools are likely to pay the highest dividends. Nearly a quarter million students will receive the Woolyworm, Tadpole or Crawdad conservation newsletters this year, and about 10,000 teachers receive The Resource, a new environmental education newsletter. The Conservation Department also conducts Project WILD and Project Learning Tree workshops, which help teachers incorporate wildlife habitat and forests into their curricula.

The Conservation Department is training teachers for pilot projects in which conservation and the environment will be used as a unifying theme to teach mathematics, social studies, science, fine arts, communication arts and physical education.

Missouri residents will continue to be able to obtain conservation information from the Conservationist, the "Missouri Outdoors" television program, numerous free publications and an ever-expanding amount of material on the Conservation Department's Website at mdc.mo.gov.

Goal 4:

Help Landowners Manage Their Land for Sustainable Resources

During its long history, the Conservation Department has worked with landowners to improve wildlife habitat on private lands. Last year, however, the Department organized a separate Private Land Services Division to more efficiently provide Missouri's 300,000 private landowners with information, technical assistance and cost-sharing funds.

The new division reflects a more active desire to form partnerships with landowners than at any other time in our history.

If a majority of landowners in the state managed their property with an eye to leaving a little bit for wildlife habitat, we would see a great change in Missouri's landscape. Thanks to satellite imagery, we will even be able to track the changes.

Most landowners would like to increase wildlife habitat, but aren't sure how. Private land conservationists have been posted throughout the state to help local landowners. These experts can provide technical assistance and valuable information about the many programs, grants and cost-sharing arrangements that are available.

Already these private land conservationists have helped farmers and livestock producers riprap eroding stream banks, build dikes, fence stream banks and install solar-powered watering systems.

This initiative was only recently launched, but the number of landowners seeking assistance and the number of acres enrolled in cooperative projects is growing daily. Among its many benefits, the program should help reverse the overall decline in quail and rabbit numbers.

Private land conservationists also can help make your woodlands more productive and profitable. Missouri's forests are increasing slightly, but they must be managed properly to keep them in peak condition. A private land conservationist can help you achieve whatever you want from your forest, whether your goal is income, recreation or wildlife habitat.

Goal 5:

Public Land that Invites Public Use

The Conservation Department does not hoard the land it owns and manages. It preserves habitats and natural communities for the public good and for public use. Conservation areas are great for camping, boating, fishing, hiking, family picnics and myriad other wholesome outdoor activities.

Design, construction and development accounts for nearly a fifth of the Conservation Department's budget each year. Much of this money is spent on boat accesses, fishing platforms, pond and lake renovations, trails, roads, privies and parking lots for conservation areas.

At the recently purchased Columbia Bottom Conservation Area near St. Louis, for example, the Conservation Department is creating an urban conservation area containing a mosaic of shallow wetlands, bottomland forests, bottomland prairies and cropland.

The area is already open to hikers and bicyclists, but a self-guided auto tour, a boat access, a viewing site of the confluence of Missouri's two mighty rivers, and a combination headquarters and visitor center are also being planned.

On the other side of the state, the August A. Busch, Jr. Memorial Wetlands at Four Rivers Conservation Area is being developed primarily for wetland species. A large-scale construction project completed in 1996 restored more than 2,000 acres of this area to productive wetlands. Developments include a pump station, a reservoir and a system of levees and water control structures that allow control of water levels in separate marshes.

An additional 3,200 acres of forested and open wetlands are being developed. Although the area primarily attracts hunters, an access road and an observation overlook allow nature enthusiasts to see some of the waterfowl that flock to the wetlands.

Throughout the state, conservation area regulations are being standardized and simplified so that people can easily understand them. In addition, conservation agents will increase patrols of conservation areas to increase safety and reduce unlawful use and vandalism.

Key Assumptions:

In Developing its new strategic plan, the Conservation Department relied on some core beliefs about the resources and the people of the state and about the work of the Department. Although people and the environment constantly change the ability of the Conservation Department to achieve its mission and fulfill its mandates rests on the following assumptions.

Missourians value fish, forests, wildlife habitats and natural communities. They believe in and support the fundamental premise of conservation.

Missouri's human population will continue to grow and spread across the land, increasing the struggle to protect and restore natural resources.

There is a need for more and better information and knowledge about fish, forests and wildlife, and about the people who use and enjoy these resources.

Serious strides in conservation of natural resources must involve partnerships, cooperation and collaboration of public and private interests.

Private property rights are sacrosanct to Missourians and must be held in high regard by the Conservation Department.

The Conservation Department's budget will remain stable for the foreseeable future.

Goal 6:

Integration of Conservation Principles and Urban Lifestyles

Increased urbanization is one of the biggest challenges to conservation in Missouri. Not only does urbanization gobble up habitat, but the people who live in urban areas have fewer opportunities to experience and understand natural environments.

Conservation for an urban resident often means something radically different from what conservation means to a rancher or a farmer. To better serve the people who live in St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield and other densely populated areas, the Conservation Department intends to step up its urban outreach programs.

The coming years will see an increase in conservation programs at nature centers and at conservation areas near urban centers. You can also expect to see an increase in outdoor education programs that teach women, children and families the kinds of skills, such as hunting, shooting, canoeing and camping, they require to enjoy the outdoors.

The success of the Becoming an Outdoors-Woman program proves the need for more skills training programs. All 14 workshops held since 1994 have been filled. In some cases, women who have spent their entire lives in an urban setting were "turned on" to skeet shooting, fly tying and kayaking. In every case, the participants claimed the program opened up a new vistas for them.

Conservation Department youth hunting programs and youth fishing fairs are having the same effect. They give city youths a chance to choose an outdoor lifestyle.

If people have to travel long distances to enjoy outdoor experiences, their interest in the outdoors will likely wane. That's why we need more outdoor resources close to urban areas. Today, for example, nearly 1 million anglers that live in the St. Louis region have only about 1,200 acres of ponds and lakes in which they can fish. The strategic plan calls for increasing the numbers and acreage of public fishing lakes in the St. Louis and Kansas City metropolitan areas and constructing new big river and stream accesses so urban anglers can take advantage of these often overlooked resources.

The Department is also deeply concerned about the effect urban sprawl is having on our natural resources. We all want a state in which environmentally sound, planned urban growth is the norm. The Conservation Department will increase its efforts to have more open space included in urban areas in the form of public lands and greenways.

Goal 7:

Effective Conservation Partnerships

Partnering with other resource agencies allows the Conservation Department to multiply the benefits of the work we can do on behalf of wildlife and natural communities. Sharing resources and creativity also creates positive synergy that ultimately better serves the public interest.

The Conservation Department has had a long, fruitful partnership with the Conservation Federation of Missouri, which represents hundreds of the state's outdoor-oriented organizations, ranging from cycling clubs to fur trappers.

The relatively new Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation offers the possibility of generating new funds from non-traditional sources to help our overall conservation effort. The Foundation provides a method for many public and private organizations to donate funds for specific projects and programs. The Conservation Department will also be seeking funds from corporate sponsors. The money they might spend on one television commercial, for example, could build a river access or a wildlife viewing tower that would benefit both the sponsor and the people of the state.

Upon passage of the Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA), the Department would set into motion additional cost-sharing opportunities for communities to provide conservation-related education and recreation programs close to home. The funds also could help reverse the downward trend we've seen in many bird species by allowing the Conservation Department to acquire and protect more prairie and wetlands.

The Conservation Department recognizes that many interest groups and non-governmental organizations participate directly or indirectly in fish, forest and wildlife conservation. We invite such groups to Conservation Focus meetings to explore with them all opportunities for working together and sharing resources.

Our Vision:

Conservation Department employees are asked to keep a vision or goal in front of them as they work on behalf of wildlife and natural habitats. This vision is included in the strategic plan.

To have healthy, sustainable plant and animal communities throughout Missouri for future generations to use and enjoy, and that fish, forest, and wildlife resources are in appreciably better condition tomorrow than they are today

That all Missourians understand the relationship and value of plant and animal communities to social and economic well-being.

That citizens and government agencies work together to protect, sustain, enhance, restore or create sustainable plant and animal communities of local, state, and national significance.

Goal 8:

Retain Public Support and Recruit New Participants

Although hunters and anglers provide the foundation of support for conservation in the state, surveys show that camping, hiking, canoeing, wildlife-viewing and other types of non-consumptive recreation are of growing importance to Missourians. We want to create or maintain diverse recreational opportunities in each region of the state. We hope to accomplish this by managing Conservation Department lands for a variety of uses and by teaching people the skills necessary to take part in wholesome outdoor activities.

In Missouri, angler numbers have remained strong, while hunter numbers have been declining slightly, but steadily, in recent years. The strategic plan addresses the decline in participation in small game hunting and calls for a return of hunter numbers to 1987 levels.

Why don't more people hunt? The most compelling reasons, surveys show, are lack of opportunity, lack of time, lack of success and lack of knowledge.

Increasing hunter numbers will involve providing access to public and private lands, especially those within driving distances of our large cities. It will also involve providing more wildlife habitat so that game populations can increase and teaching people, particularly urban dwellers, how to hunt and how to handle firearms safely. To ensure that the tradition of hunting is passed on to future generations, the Conservation Department will increase training and opportunities for youthful hunters.

New youth waterfowl and turkey hunts and managed deer hunts are designed to recruit new hunters by providing them with the opportunity to harvest game before the "crush" and competition of the regular season puts them at a disadvantage.

The strategic plan also calls for increasing angler numbers, particularly by recruiting teens and young adults. Surveys have shown that if people don't start fishing early in life, they stand a good chance of never becoming anglers. As with hunting, Conservation Department efforts will be devoted to increasing interest, knowledge and opportunities.

Conservation is not a matter of a year or a decade. It must sustain itself through generations. Missouri can remain the conservation state only by continually recruiting a new base of support for protecting our treasured forest, fish and wildlife 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