Partnerships: The Cornerstone of Conservation

By Brett Dufur | December 13, 2011
From Missouri Conservationist: Jan 2012

Teamwork often begins with a handshake: friends helping friends and neighbors helping neighbors. That same spirit is at the heart of Missouri’s conservation community, which includes thousands of individuals making a difference for Missouri’s fish, forest and wildlife in their own unique way.

Conservation partnerships create a sum that is greater than its parts. Working together leverages the limited resources available to benefit the most wildlife species and habitat. Partnerships are vitally important for conservation to work in Missouri, because the Conservation Department is relatively small compared to other state agencies. MDC’s entire budget is less than 1 percent of the entire state government budget. No money from the state’s general revenue goes to the Department. Partnerships are able to extend the reach of conservation work into areas that would otherwise be impossible.

“The management of Missouri’s fish, forests and wildlife involves partnerships with citizens, organizations and other agencies,” says MDC Director Robert L. Ziehmer. “We value citizen involvement, which truly serves as the backbone of Missouri’s conservation successes.”

Two Important Partners: The Federation and the Foundation

Two important partnerships in conserving fish, forest and wildlife resources are the Conservation Federation of Missouri and the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation. These groups enhance the work of conservationists throughout the state. Other important partnerships involving volunteers, state and federal agencies, and other conservation organizations are highlighted throughout this article.

Conservation Federation of Missouri

Up until the early 1900s, natural resources were thought of as something that might eventually disappear. Early fish and wildlife management approaches attempted to stretch out dwindling resources, rather than to improve wildlife populations and create habitat. Then, in the early 1900s, President Theodore Roosevelt recognized “conservation through wise use” as a public responsibility, and recognized science as a tool for fulfilling that responsibility.

A new era of conservation-minded leaders, sportsmen and citizens were beginning to form a strategy to bring back wildlife. On Sept. 10, 1935, nearly 100 forward thinking Missourians gathered at Columbia’s Tiger Hotel to discuss the sad state of Missouri’s fish, forests and wildlife. They formed the Conservation Federation of Missouri and launched a movement to revolutionize natural resource management.

They worked tirelessly to put a proposal for a new science-based Conservation Commission on the ballot. On Nov. 3, 1936, voters approved the measure by one of the largest margins by which any amendment to the state constitution had ever passed.

On July 1, 1937, the constitutional amendment creating the Missouri Conservation Commission took effect, and with it the Department of Conservation (MDC) was formed. This new Department had constitutional authority for the management of Missouri’s forests, fish and wildlife. Over the next 75 years, the “Missouri plan” allowed the Show-Me State to build what is acknowledged as one of the nation’s top conservation programs.

But the Conservation Federation of Missouri didn’t stop there. From the original 100, its ranks have grown to tens of thousands. The Federation became known as “the strong right arm of conservation.”

“That engagement of citizens in conservation is what it’s all about. The bottom line of one of President Roosevelt’s most succinct comments is that, ‘Wildlife and its habitat cannot speak, so we must, and we will,’ ” says Dave Murphy, executive director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri.

Today, the Federation continues to actively lead and support conservation efforts in Missouri and throughout the nation. It is the state’s oldest and largest privatecitizen conservation organization, with more than 90,000 individuals and 80 affiliated groups.

Since its successful early efforts, the Federation has undertaken many other battles to ensure that Missouri remains the nation’s conservation leader. In 1976, it spearheaded a successful citizen initiative for the oneeighth of 1 percent conservation sales tax. This dedicated sales tax provides stable funding for the long-term efforts required for the conservation of fish, forests and wildlife.

“The wildlife of our state belongs to every citizen. This really has been underscored by the passage of the Design for Conservation sales tax in 1976 that formally made every citizen of our state an owner/operator, not only of wildlife but of conservation,” Murphy says. “And we have the many benefits of that, economically and otherwise. But we also have a responsibility for caring for it, and understanding it, and making sure that it continues in the future.”

To ensure that conservation remains a reality in Missouri, the Federation continues to operate as a watchdog. The Federation’s members work to enhance the future of their favorite outdoor traditions through internal committees that advise government agencies and represent conservation interests in the Missouri Legislature and Congress. But the Federation isn’t all about lobbying and constitutional amendments.

Over the years, the Federation has helped to develop and coordinate some of the most innovative and successful citizen-action programs in the world, including Missouri Stream Teams, Operation Game Thief, Project Forest Arson, Share the Harvest and the annual Conservation Leadership Corps. These opportunities have allowed Missourians to get involved in conservation and have served as models for other states.

Like the 100 sportsmen who came together back in 1935 to define conservation, today’s Federation members are average citizens. Yet, they have the satisfaction of making conservation history.

Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation

Even with the work done by the Conservation Department, the Conservation Federation of Missouri and many other groups, the opportunities to conserve fish, forests and wildlife are never-ending. The resources needed to meet those challenges, however, are not. Conservation takes funding, and funding is always a challenge. That’s where the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation steps in—to help fund many conservation and conservation-related outdoor recreation projects that might not happen otherwise.

“The conservation community in Missouri is well coordinated. This allows the most habitat and species to benefit from their work,” says Rick Thom, executive vice president of the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation, “and allows the conservation community to leverage the relatively small amount of funds available to conserve nature in Missouri.”

The Foundation is separate from MDC, but supports its mission. “By working with MDC staff who have identified areas of greatest conservation priority, we fund projects that address immediate conservation and outdoor-recreation needs,” Thom says.

“Missourians are fortunate to have the conservation sales tax to help fund worthy projects and activities,” says Thom, “but sales tax revenues cannot always keep pace with needs. This is why the Foundation was created— to provide an additional stream of revenue for conservation, and to provide donors with an easy way to contribute to conservation projects and initiatives that are important to them.”

One of the Foundation’s first projects was to raise $3.6 million to aid in the construction of the Anita B. Gorman Conservation Discovery Center in Kansas City. Today, the nature center hosts more than 31,500 students and visitors annually.

The Foundation has partnered with other conservation groups to fund many other projects, as diverse as the outdoors. With the help of several sizeable donations and the Foundation’s Stream Stewardship Trust Fund, the Foundation helped invest more than $2 million to protect land in the 8,365-acre watershed of LaBarque Creek in Jefferson County. This remarkable stream supports an astonishing 44 fish species. In addition, the surrounding area provides outdoor recreation opportunities and wildlife habitat only a short distance from St. Louis.

In another project, the Foundation granted $55,500 to help The Nature Conservancy, the Central Hardwoods Joint Venture and MDC acquire 80 acres of important bird habitat along the Current River, one of North America’s most biologically diverse streams.

The Foundation is also a partner of the Avian Conservation Alliance, which includes seven Missouri Audubon chapters and MDC. Partnerships, like migratory birds, can span continents. By working together, these partnerships ensure that “our birds” return each spring. Current projects focus on habitat protection, restoration and bird monitoring in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula near Cancun, and in Central America.

The Foundation is funded by sales of Conservation Heritage license plates, private and public grants, and individual donations. In addition, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, when enforcing the Clean Water Act, can assess fines to developers who damage Missouri streams. Those fees can be deposited into the Foundation’s Stream Stewardship Trust Fund for stream protection and restoration projects.

Founded in 1997, the Foundation has provided more than $12 million for conservation and outdoor recreation. In 2011, it funded 24 projects totaling more than $108,000. Missourians who want to support conservation but don’t know where to start can choose from a number of categories set up by the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation. To invest in your conservation legacy, direct donations to activities or programs you find meaningful.

“The Foundation provides a way for people to protect the places they love or to promote an activity, such as fishing, that has provided a lifetime of fulfillment,” says Anita B. Gorman, former Conservation Commissioner.

To learn more about the Foundation, visit the links listed below or call 1-800-227-1488.

Missourians Care About Conservation

Like most investments, the steps on the road to conserving Missouri’s forest, fish and wildlife resources are small and numerous, slowly building over many years or decades. Yet, Missourians have not lost sight of the long-term returns that conservation efforts will yield for generations to come.

All Missourians Contribute to Conservation Success

The teamwork of tens of thousands of Missourians to improve Missouri’s natural resources is remarkable. Volunteers donated more than 273,000 hours last year in MDC sponsored conservation efforts. Dedicated Missourians donated their time through conservation nature centers, shooting ranges, hunter and bowhunter education, protection, Master Naturalists and Stream Teams. MDC also works with more than 24,000 landowners in the state through a variety of programs to improve their property to benefit wildlife. Every Missouri hunter and angler is also an important partner in conservation. For more than 75 years, hunting and fishing license revenues have been vital to restore habitat, purchase public lands, and bring back Missouri’s fish and wildlife. When a person purchases a hunting or fishing license, they are investing those dollars in conservation for the benefit of all Missourians and future generations.

And in the end, every Missourian is a partner in conservation thanks to the conservation sales tax, which allocates 1 penny to conservation efforts for every $8 of taxable items purchased. This dedicated sales tax provides consistent funding for the long-term efforts required for the conservation of fish, forests and wildlife.

Organizations Partner for Conservation Success

Some of MDC’s partners work on continental-scale conservation, like Ducks Unlimited, the U .S. North American Bird Conservation Initiative and Partners in Flight. Other partners, such as Joint Ventures and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, take a more regional approach. Some MDC partners work on specific groups of species or specific habitats, such as Audubon Society, Quail Forever, Trout Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and The Nature Conservancy, to name but a few. Still other partners focus specifically on conserving habitat for Missouri fish and wildlife, such as the Missouri Prairie Foundation, Missouri Bird Conservation Initiative, Missouri Stream Teams, Master Naturalists and many more. All of these diverse organizations, plus many others, work together with Missourians in a meaningful way to encourage conservation where it is needed most.

“Partnerships between government and citizen conservation groups make it possible to achieve things beyond our separate means. It is a model that has proven successful time and time again and is responsible for Missouri’s— and America’s—greatest conservation success stories,” says MDC Director Robert L. Ziehmer.

Agencies Partner for Conservation Success

MDC also partners with state and federal agencies. Missouri state agency partners include the Department of Agriculture, Department of Transportation, Department of Natural Resources, the Highway Patrol and others. Federal partners include the U .S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U .S. Forest Service, the U .S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Park Service.

Through the Farm Bill, the U .S. Department of Agriculture administers the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) and Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to help Missouri’s landowners protect, restore and enhance wildlife habitat. Missouri is one of the top ten states in the nation in acres of habitat conserved in both programs.

Another important federal partnership is with the U .S. Fish and Wildlife Service. MDC receives funds from the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration programs, which are also celebrating 75 years of success. Federal excise taxes paid by sportsmen and fishermen in the state on firearms, ammunition, archery equipment, fishing tackle, motorboat fuel, electric outboard motors and sonar equipment are returned to MDC to restore, conserve, manage and enhance fish and wildlife, develop motorboat accesses and shooting ranges, and to help fund angler, hunter and aquatic resource education.

Celebrating partners all year

Many important conservation partnerships will be highlighted in the Conservationist during MDC’s yearlong celebration its 75th anniversary. The December Conservationist highlighted the lasting contributions of Ducks Unlimited to continental-scale waterfowl conservation success. This article highlights the important role of Missouri’s largest membership-driven conservation group—the Conservation Federation of Missouri, as well as the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation, which funds conservation work throughout the state.

Future issues will feature important partnerships such as:

  • February: Missouri’s Rural Fire Departments, Missouri Forestkeepers Network, Forest Releaf of Missouri, Missouri Community Forestry Council and the National Arbor Day Foundation
  • March: Trout Unlimited
  • April: National Wild Turkey Federation and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
  • May: The Nature Conservancy and the Missouri Prairie Foundation
  • June: Stream Teams and the Department of Natural Resources
  • July: U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service and the LAD Foundation
  •  August: Nature center volunteers and hunter education instructors
  • September: University of Missouri–Columbia and Missouri State University

This Issue's Staff

Editor In Chief - Ara Clark
Managing Editor - Nichole LeClair Terrill
Art Director - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Artist - Mark Raithel
Circulation - Laura Scheuler