Living Landscapes

By Dennis Figg | October 2, 2005
From Missouri Conservationist: Oct 2005

I once listened to a speaker talk about “living landscapes,” and I liked that. The land is living. The soils support plants, the plants produce animals. We live, work and play in a land that is very much alive.

It’s easy to be aware of the species we know and like, such as eastern bluebirds, purple coneflowers and white-tailed deer. People harbor them, encourage their favorite species and, when necessary, protect them.

The living landscape, however, contains many more species. Most of these escape our notice. They include the plants and insects that form the food chain of our most likeable animals, as well as species, like the bluestripe darter, that we seldom encounter because they only inhabit wild places.

All living things exist in an utterly complex relationship that includes terrestrial and aquatic, familiar and unfamiliar, and large and small plants and animals.

Missouri is a biological wonderland. We have 212 species of native fish in the state, and more than 400 species of birds, 167 of which live and breed in the state.

In addition to our many species of crayfish, lizards, snakes, salamanders, bats, frogs and toads, we have hundreds of species of butterflies, thousands of species of moths and tens of thousands of invertebrate animals, such as snails, earthworms, spiders and beetles.

Plants make this complex web of life possible. More than 2,770 species of plants grow in Missouri. A little more than 2,000 of them are native to the state. We all like oak trees, but did you know that there are more than 21 different species of oak trees in Missouri? We also have 35 species of native orchids.

The web of life is so complex, it’s nearly impossible even to name all the parts, much less to trace the relationships among all the species.

All Wildlife Conservation

All Wildlife Conservation is about conserving all plants and animals, and the natural systems they depend upon.

This approach of looking at entire natural communities differs from traditional fish and wildlife management, which focuses on single species. Focused management may be necessary to produce an abundance of a species like deer or turkey, but it’s too narrow an approach for the diversity we have in Missouri.

The same goes for endangered species management. This approach is best considered emergency conservation that is necessary to prevent the extinction of a species.

All Wildlife Conservation is inclusive and comprehensive. It’s about nurturing the conditions that nurture the parts—all the parts.

People ask if All Wildlife Conservation includes zebra swallowtail butterflies. Sure it does. To keep zebra swallowtails in Missouri we need healthy, rich forests of oak trees with an understory of paw paw shrubs. Why paw paws? Because they are the host plants for the zebra swallowtail caterpillar. Do we need caterpillars? Sure we do. A lot of birds and other animals depend on caterpillars for food. If we want bluebirds, then we must have insects. If we want quail, then we must have insects and plant seeds. If we want plant seeds, then we need insect pollinators. That means we also have to conserve wasps and bees.

Our domesticated landscapes support only a tiny percentage of Missouri’s plant and animal species. It’s not that these species hide from us, but that they live most successfully in places where we don’t live and seldom visit. Field sparrows nest in grasslands. Red shiners swim in creeks. Swamp rabbits perch on downed logs in swampy forests. Flying squirrels fight chickadees for tree holes in woodlands. Spotted salamanders breed in temporary pools of quiet water in forests.

Managing all these species individually is impossible. The best approach is to divide groups of plants and animals into the broad habitat groups in which they are found and then manage those habitats. We believe that healthy habitats allow all the species that live in them to thrive.

Finding Habitats

When we think of habitats, we often think of forests, woodlands, savannas, prairies, glades, cliffs, wetlands, caves, rivers or streams. However, we’ve found it is helpful to focus on the state’s four ecological regions. These regions have different geologic history, soils, topography and weather that have resulted in characteristic associations of plants and animals.

The four regions—the Central Dissected Till Plains, Osage Plains, Ozark Highlands, and Mississippi Alluvial Basin—extend into other states. It is because they all meet in Missouri that we have such high biodiversity.

Not all locations within these regions are suitable for managing for a variety of species. Much of our land has already been claimed for urban areas, living space, food production and transportation. Instead, All Wildlife Conservation calls for identifying and conserving representative habitats across the state in each of the four ecological sections. We think of these areas as conservation opportunities. They don’t require fixing the unfixable; we know that conservation action on these areas will almost certainly result in healthy habitats.

The management blueprint for each area will vary. Our efforts might be limited to monitoring the health of a natural community. In other cases, it might mean cleaning up streams, managing or restoring plant communities or guarding against invasive species.

Managing all wildlife may seem challenging, but the task is approachable when defined as encouraging and protecting only habitats in which all wildlife can thrive.

This issue contains an overview of our approach to wildlife management in the four regions. We discuss species and habitats and identify at least one conservation opportunity area within each region. We also identify partners whose conservation interests are shared by the Department. Partners, whether landowners, outdoor interest groups or government agencies, make conservation possible in Missouri.

We are deeply committed to conserving Missouri’s plant and animal communities. We believe our All Wildlife Conservation strategy will maintain the astounding diversity of species that occupy our living landscapes.

This All Wildlife Conservation issue of the Conservationist is reaching Missourians as we submit a Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy (CWCS) to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This strategy is our approach to a strong program that will conserve native plants, animals and the habitats they depend upon. The Strategy is a federal requirement that will allow Missourians to obtain additional federal funds called State Wildlife Grants.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - TomCwynar
Managing Editor - Nichole LeClair
Art Editor - 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