Vantage Point

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From Missouri Conservationist: Jan 2004

Continuing the Voyage of Discovery

Two hundred years ago, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were preparing for an expedition into the recently acquired lands of the Louisiana Purchase. The primary mission of the Corps of Discovery was to explore the new territory, and to record what they found there. In other words, they were gathering information.

The Missouri Department of Conservation's Resource Science Division, established by Director John Hoskins in fall 2002, shares many of the same mandates given to Lewis and Clark by President Jefferson. The newly created division integrates parts of the former Natural History Division, the Forest, Fisheries and Wildlife Research sections, and the Geographic Information System group. This new division's mission is to provide the sciencebased information needed to conserve, appreciate and effectively manage the living resources of Missouri.

Like Lewis and Clark, we are exploring Missouri and recording what we find.

We're gathering information about a different environment than the one seen by the Corps of Discovery. Unfortunately, most of the habitat changes over the past 200 years are best described as losses. Nearly 90 percent of the wetlands existing at that time are now gone, and less than 1 percent of the native prairie remains. Most of our forest habitat has been insulated from periodic and invigorating disturbances of fire and flood.

Some of the 300 new plants and animals described by Lewis and Clark have nearly or completely disappeared. For example, the explorers recorded "a great number of parrot queets." The Carolina parakeet, the species they described, is now extinct.

Today, we closely monitor species of conservation concern and manage land on their behalf. Perhaps our efforts will save our state's imperiled species from the fate of the Carolina parakeet.

Knowledge acquired by the Resource Science Division today will be essential to ensure sound wildlife management and to prevent further loss of Missouri's diverse plants and animals. We need to understand how habitats and natural processes have changed so that we can preserve and enhance the natural resources that remain.

Our goal is to provide the kind of information necessary to support management of our fish, forest and wildlife resources. For example, the Resource Science Division plays an important role in recommending the seasons, bag limits, and hunting and fishing methods that keep our wildlife populations at desirable and sustainable levels.

We have better tools for information gathering than Lewis and Clark had. Our "journals" now are electronic. Our databases, models and predictive equations allow us to create "layers" of ecological and cultural information. Thanks to computers and communications equipment, resource managers have ready access to reliable, repeatable and documentable information.

As we read the journals of Lewis and Clark and learn from their landmark exploration, we might wonder how helpful the information we're gathering now will be for natural resource managers 200 years from now. The Resource Science Division operates under the belief that scientific information is always valuable. In Missouri, it is the foundation underlying all our present and future fish, forest and wildlife management.

Dale D. Humburg, Resource Science Division Administrator

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Tom Cwynar
Managing Editor - Bryan Hendricks
Art Director - Ara Clark
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Circulation - Laura Scheuler