Conservation Lands

By | May 20, 2010
From Missouri Conservationist: Mar 2002

By 1976 conservation in Missouri had gone about as far as it could go-even though it needed to go further. Missouri's economy and population were expanding with predictably dire consequences for natural habitats. Land values were escalating dramatically, while revenues from fishing and hunting permits were barely keeping up with or falling slightly behind existing program costs. There was no money available for land purchases.

If the Conservation Department was ever going to protect unique environments for public recreational use or for their natural values, it needed to act quickly.

Acquiring public land was one of the highest priorities of the Design for Conservation. Because about 93 percent of Missouri's 44.6 million acres is privately owned, private land management will always have the most impact on the well-being of wildlife, but conservation necessarily runs second to profit on most private lands. Public land, on the other hand, can be intensively managed for the exclusive benefit of wildlife. Waterfowl areas provide a good example. Few farmers would flood potentially productive acres to provide nesting and resting areas for ducks and geese, but the Conservation Department has acquired and maintains wetland areas throughout the state.

Private lands also restrict enjoyment to a few. Landowners may take for granted their ability to walk through fields and woods and along streams, but Missouri's increasing urban population places high value on having places to enjoy and appreciate the outdoors.

The original Design for Conservation argued that a state as rich in resources as Missouri should not be "poor" in public land ownership. Many other states continue to outrank Missouri in public land ownership. Although one would expect Missouri to fall behind larger but thinly populated western states, Michigan, Minnesota, Virginia and Tennessee were mentioned as being ahead of Missouri either in amount of public land per capita or percentage of total area.

The promise of the "Conservation Lands" portion of Design was to obtain more public land for the citizens of the state. The Conservation Department would either purchase suitable property from willing landowners or would negotiate easement rights to allow public access. Both conservation and outdoor recreation guided land acquisition efforts. The purchases would benefit both game and non-game species. Design stressed the need for access to streams and lakes and constructing hatcheries to improve the fisheries in all state waters.

One of the arguments against state ownership of land is that counties lose tax revenue because the state does not pay taxes on land it owns. Design promised that the Conservation Department would compensate local governments for the loss in tax base. It wasn't long after Design passed that the Conservation Department began paying PILT (Payments In Lieu of Taxes) money annually to counties. Total payments have exceeded $9 million.

Over the last quarter century, the Conservation Department took advantage of many opportunities to purchase land for wildlife habitat or for public recreation. Design for Conservation foresaw the future and called for an eventual shift in emphasis from acquiring property to improving facilities and access on conservation lands, and managing them for maximum benefit to people and wildlife.

Upland Wildlife


  • To increase and develop the amount of land for public hunting opportunity and nature enjoyment by expanding existing areas and their facilities and acquiring additional ones, either by outright purchase or by lease or easement from willing landowners. The objective is to have a minimum of 2,000 acres of such land in counties where public lands are scarce or non-existent and at least 8,000 acres of public wildlife areas near major metropolitan centers: Kansas City, St. Louis and Springfield. Proposed is 121,000 acres for acquisition, development and operation, consisting of 96,000 acres of additional public areas and 25,000 acres of expansion of existing areas.

Keeping the Promises of Design:

  • Since passage of the Conservation Sales Tax Amendment in 1976, the Conservation Department has purchased nearly 450,000 acres of land. That amount represents about 60 percent of the 768,400 acres the Conservation Department now owns.
  • The Conservation Department maintains land management projects on more than 500,000 acres of land owned or leased by the Department.
  • Thanks to acquisitions, additions and improvements made possible by Design, St. Louis area residents now have many public areas to enjoy. Some of the larger conservation areas in the St. Louis area include Weldon Spring (7,356 acres); August A. Busch (6,987 acres), Forest 44 (958 acres), Rockwoods Range (1,388 acres), Rockwoods Reservation (1,843) and Columbia Bottom (4,318 acres).
  • Kansas City area residents have the benefit of James A. Reed (2,603 acres), Amarugia Highlands (1,041 acres), Burr Oak Woods (1,071) and Jim Bridger Urban (320) conservation areas. Thousands more acres of conservation land are available within a short drive of Kansas City.
  • Springfield residents can visit Bois d'Arc (2,892 acres), Rocky Barrens (191 acres), Pleasant Hope (1,106 acres) and Compton Hollow (840 acres) conservation areas, or they can enjoy an outing at 820-acre Fellows Lake, which is leased by the Conservation Department.
  • Only about 90,000 acres of the 15 million acres of native tallgrass prairie that once covered Missouri remain. More than 90 conservation areas in Missouri are listed as having acreage in prairie or as containing land that is being restored to prairie.

Natural Areas and Rare and Endangered Species


  • To acquire natural areas or preserve them on existing Department lands. Natural areas are ecological communities representing Missouri's natural heritage of plants and animals. Each element of this storehouse of natural diversity is a potentially great resource. Continually we find valuable applications of previously unused species, from new medicines to biological pest control. Each species plays a unique ecological role in the stability, function and natural restorative powers of ecosystems.
  • To cooperate with The Nature Conservancy and similar organizations in developing ecological inventories, status of natural areas and evaluation of these areas, and perhaps using the Conservancy's sophisticated system developed for the State Heritage Program.
  • Keeping the Promises of Design:
  • The Conservation Department created the Natural History Division to focus on Missouri native species and natural communities, with special emphasis on those that are rare or endangered.
  • The Missouri Natural Heritage Program was created in 1981 in cooperation with The Nature Conservancy to identify species and natural communities of special concern, to help establish protection priorities and to aid in environmental reviews.
  • Natural History biologists serve in all 10 regions of the state, helping integrate the natural history goals of the Design for Conservation at the regional and field level.
  • After 15 years of work, inventories of natural communities, special geologic features, and plants and animals of conservation concern were completed on public and private land in every county of the state.
  • The Missouri Natural Areas System includes 180 areas containing 56,000 acres. The goal of the natural areas system is to designate, manage and restore high quality examples of every existing type of natural community.
  • The Conservation Department teamed with The Nature Conservancy to protect 80,000 acres of ecologically significant lands in the watersheds of the Current, Jacks Fork and Eleven Point rivers. The Nature Conservancy kept 5,700 acres of the former Kerr-McGee lands. The remainder was incorporated into conservation areas.
  • The Conservation Department now manages more than 200 caves on conservation areas and employs a cave ecologist to inventory cave resources on public lands and to help cave owners and cave recreationists.

State Forests


  • To acquire five forests, each of 2,000 to 3,000 acres, in western and northern Missouri where such public areas are rare.
  • To add five state forests, each of 1,000 to 2,000 acres, within 50 miles or less of urban centers, managed primarily for nature study and interpretation, forest-related recreation and as demonstration areas, rather than for timber.
  • To add 12,000 acres to existing state forests to enhance their public value. Additions might include fields, stream frontage, overlooks or other natural or scenic features, or connecting parcels for better road and trail access development.
  • To acquire 10,000 acres in special tracts with unusual opportunity for reclamation, conservation or preservation. Old coal, barite or clay strip mines exist which can be reclaimed and developed. Flood plain forests, including islands, bluffs, glades and other non-commercial sites would be sought. Within urban areas, small critical watersheds, wildlife or scenic open spaces such as bluffs, ledge rock areas and flood plains would be acquired and protected.
  • Perhaps as much as 300,000 acres would be leased for public management and use, or cost sharing would be available to private landowners who carry out approved forest management practices.

Keeping the Promises of Design:

  • Nearly 66 percent of conservation lands are forested. In all, the Conservation Department manages about 580,000 acres of forest for wildlife habitat, water quality and recreation.
  • The Conservation Department has acquired 22 conservation areas, totaling nearly 68,000 acres, within 50 miles of the state's seven urban centers.
  • Sales tax revenues helped purchase Donaldson Point, Gayoso Bend, Allred Lake and Wilhelmina conservation areas to protect remnant bottomland hardwood forests.
  • A number of tracts with significant forest cover were purchased in north and west Missouri, including Poosey, Union Ridge, Baltimore Bend, Mule Shoe, Riverbreaks and Mineral Hills conservation areas.
  • The Conservation Department has enrolled 534,000 acres of state forest land in the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, which ensures principles and standards that promote improved forest management and harvesting.

Stream Access


  • To acquire about 480 tracts, 5-10 acres in size, on floatable streams. Such access sites would provide controlled public fishing and other water-related recreation opportunities throughout the state, and would assure future availability of stream resources. Development would include necessary roads, parking areas, boat ramps and sanitary facilities.
  • To acquire land rights on areas bordering non-floatable streams. Such frontage would provide for nature hiking, wading, bank fishing, natural stream preservation and protection of rare or endangered fish, wildlife and flora as appropriate. Lands could be acquired either by purchase or by easement. Larger blocks of frontage, especially along the larger streams, might be acquired for multiple use areas. Development would be appropriate to the site and its intended use.

Keeping the Promises of Design:

  • Since 1977, the Conservation Department has added 290 developed river and stream accesses to add to the 109 existing before Design for Conservation.
  • Many conservation areas have stream or river frontage that allow public access to a waterway but do not have concrete ramps, or parking areas and docks.
  • Every county in the state has at least one stream area.
  • Through Community Assistance Projects or Corporate and Agency Partnership program, the Conservation Department has been able to provide 25 additional accesses in communities on city or county river frontage or on lands belonging to other resource agencies.

Lake Development


  • To construct and operate 33 small lakes (50-200 acres) to improve the distribution of public lakes throughout the state.
  • To construct and operate 10 large (150 to 300-acre) multiple-use lakes, located near major trafficways to serve metropolitan areas. All lakes would be developed to assure enjoyment of all types of aquatic wildlife compatible with public use.
  • Keeping the Promises of Design:
  • From 1976 to the present, the Conservation Department built or opened access to 530 lakes on 143 public areas in 83 counties.
  • Community Assistance Projects opened up or improved for fishing more than 124 lakes in 64 Missouri municipalities, adding or improving boat ramps and disabled user facilities.
  • Through the Corporate and Agency Partnership Program, the Conservation Department has been able to improve and make available to anglers an additional 70 lakes at 28 areas owned by cooperatives or state and federal agencies.
  • The Conservation Department manages the fisheries in the state's 13 major reservoirs.
  • Under Design for Conservation, the Department has acquired seven access sites on Lake of the Ozarks. (Two are as yet undeveloped.)

Springs and Spring Branches


  • To acquire by negotiation with cooperating landowners 30 miles of spring-fed streams. This would permit management of these streams for optimum recreational potential.
  • Keeping the Promises of Design:
  • Acquisitions since Design for Conservation now protect critical coldwater habitats along Capps Creek, Barren Fork and other springs and spring branches.
  • Wire Road Conservation Area both protects and provides public access to 2.5 miles of Crane Creek.
  • The Conservation Department acquired Althea Spring on the North Fork of the White River and Blue Springs Creek, a tributary of the Meramec, to provide public trout fishing opportunities.

Hatchery Operation


  • To construct and operate two warm water hatcheries, including 200 acres of ponds, hatchery buildings and other necessary structures.
  • To construct and operate two cold water hatcheries, including hatchery buildings, rearing pools and other necessary structures.
  • To construct and operate a combination experimental hatchery and fish disease diagnostic center for hatching and rearing experimental fish as well as providing diagnostic services.

Keeping the Promises of Design:

  • The Conservation Department completely renovated Chesapeake Hatchery, a holdover from the old Civilian Conservation Corps days, improving its production capabilities and efficiency.
  • The recently completed Lost Valley Hatchery, near Truman Lake in Warsaw, is the largest warmwater hatchery in the state. It produces catfish, walleye, bluegill, bass, sunfish and a host of other species for Missouri waters.
  • The Conservation Department operates five coldwater hatcheries that supply 1.5 million trout each year for the state's four trout parks, as well as for 16 stream areas and for put-and-take winter fishing opportunities in 13 St. Louis urban lakes and four Kansas City urban lakes.
  • Hatchery innovations and research have resulted in fast-growing channel catfish that are ready to stock in one year, more efficient trout rearing techniques and the ability to culture and rear endangered mussels, sturgeon, paddlefish and Niangua darters.
  • Hatcheries provide fingerling largemouth bass, bluegill and catfish for more than 800 private impoundments each year.
  • Many of the 846 lakes managed by the Conservation Department are regularly stocked with walleye, paddlefish, muskie and a variety of other species produced by Department warmwater hatcheries.

Wetland Wildlife


  • To purchase, develop and operate five new wetland areas geographically located to provide all Missourians-and especially the Kansas City-St. Louis metropolitan areas-with readily accessible areas, and to develop these areas for nature enjoyment and hunting and fishing.

Keeping the Promises of Design:

  • Four Rivers Conservation Area recently doubled its wetland acreage with the addition of August A. Busch Jr. Memorial Wetlands. The area now includes 13,732 acres and is managed for waterfowl and wetland species.
  • Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area (4,269 acres) in Boone County has drawn international attention for its innovative use of recycled waste water to increase wetland habitat.
  • The Conservation Department owns and manages several major wetlands in the state, including those at Bob Brown (3,302 acres), Grand Pass (5,096 acres), Settle's Ford (6,578 acres), Ten Mile Pond (3,793 acres) and Otter Slough (4,863 acres) conservation areas.
  • Direct habitat management for wildlife is being conducted on more than 45,000 acres of wetlands.


  • Update: State forests used to be distinct from wildlife areas and natural areas. Most conservation properties now are called conservation areas.
  • Update: Conservation Department acquisitions are subject to finding willing sellers. The Conservation Department has identified segments of streams where it would like to provide public accesses and acts to purchase suitable properties when they become available.
  • Update: Gaining public ownership of large lake basins has proven more difficult than envisioned. Where it proved impossible to construct new lakes, the Conservation Department focused its efforts on providing access to and improving the fishing in existing lakes.
  • Update: Conservation Department hatcheries have provided uncountable millions of fish for public and private waters. Hatcheries are improved or built with the help of Federal Aid to Sportfish Restoration funding, which in many cases provides up to 75 percent of the costs.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Tom Cwynar
Managing Editor - Bryan Hendricks
Art Editor - Dickson Stauffer
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