Conserving Missouri’s Rivers and Streams

By Bonnie Chasteen | February 1, 2017
From Missouri Conservationist: February 2017

With more than 110,000 miles of flowing water, Missouri is rich with rivers and streams. Prairie streams weave through our grasslands, clear Ozark streams tumble through our hills, Mississippi River lowland streams dissect the Bootheel, and two of America’s biggest rivers merge near St. Louis.

We rely on rivers and streams for our quality of life, and we all have a role to play in caring for them. As Missouri Department of Conservation Director Sara Parker Pauley often says, “Conserving our state’s water resources is an all-hands-on-deck undertaking.”

In Crawford and Washington counties, one dedicated team of landowners and natural resource managers has been working hand-in-hand to protect their Ozark streams since 2010. They call themselves Shoal Creek Woodlands for Wildlife (SCWW), and they take a watershed approach to their work.

Savvy Landowners Meet the Needs of Land and People

St. Louis Region Fisheries Management Biologist Rob Pulliam helped the team get started, and he enjoys talking about their work. “This is truly a bottom-up, self-organized effort,” he said. “Everyone — landowners and natural resource professionals alike — participated in scoping our challenge, identifying needs, setting goals, and implementing practices.”

SCWW aims to improve the health of woodlands, grasslands, and streams within the Meramec River watershed, an area including about 63,000 acres of private and public land between the Huzzah and Courtois creeks.

Many of the participating landowners are farmers and ranchers, and most have oak-hickory and oak-pine woodlands on their land. Some of the key challenges they identified were improving pasture, controlling erosion, improving timber, and improving fish and wildlife habitat.

“Listening to people’s natural-resource management needs was a critical first step,” Pulliam said. “For conservation practices to work over the long haul, they have to help people solve real problems.”

With this in mind, the team uses practices that meet the needs of the land and its people. These range from seeding pastures with clover, a natural source of nitrogen, to installing alternative livestock watering systems designed to keep cattle out of streams by providing them with a reliable source of clean water. To learn more about management practices that improve woodland habitat for migrating songbirds as well as timber yields, landowners hold farm tours to show and share techniques that work for them.

“Natural resource managers are on-hand to help answer technical questions,” Pulliam said, “but the main focus is on the landowners’ efforts.”

A big help in the team’s work is cost-share opportunities available from various conservation partners. “Even if you’ve seen a practice work, it’s hard to implement it on your land if you can’t afford it,” Pulliam said.

Government and nongovernment conservation partners alike have helped the team pay for such efforts as planting trees to stabilize stream banks, building reliable water crossings to minimize erosion, and installing grazing and livestock-watering systems. “Because we’ve got a solid landowner committee, we can match the right practices with needed services and leverage dollars up to 90 percent of the cost of a practice.”

Steve Yocom, a member of the SCWW team, agrees. “Ninety-percent cost-share makes it affordable,” he said. “If you have a desire to help conserve habitat, there’s help out there.”

Steve Yocom’s Crawford County farm has been in his family for almost 100 years. His land includes a mile of stream frontage along Huzzah Creek, a major tributary of the Meramec River and an area of high natural diversity.

“What drew my grandfather to this land was the source of fresh water. He was amazed at it,” Yocom said. Yocom and his wife, Heidi, are passionate about their land, and they are determined to make it easy for their daughter, Rachel Hopkins, and her husband, Joe, to take over the work when they are ready to retire.

“Rachel always loved the farm, so she naturally became my business partner,” Steve said. “I let her take over the newer ideas.”

To make this eventual transition successful and secure, the Yocoms and Hopkins, an agricultural business specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, have taken steps to make running the farm easier, especially for just one or two people. They’ve also improved the land’s stream, grassland, and woodland habitat in the process.

Charter members of the SCWW team, the Yocoms and Hopkins have worked with a number of local, state, and federal conservation partners to stabilize their stream-front acres, fence their cattle away from stream banks, improve their livestock forage base, and develop alternative water systems to support rotational grazing. “We’ve already seen how this system improves plant vigor in our paddocks,” Hopkins said.

One of the most important things they’ve done to conserve their land and water over the long-term is enroll two parcels of it into conservation easements with Ozark Regional Land Trust (ORLT). A conservation easement is a voluntary, legal agreement between a landowner and qualified conservation organization that helps families permanently protect their land from development.

“Our conservation work with Steve is consistent with his objectives,” ORLT staff member Abigail Lambert said. “We listened and were able to offer options that met his needs and our goals, too.”

The Yocom family has worked with ORLT to protect over 400 acres of farmland along the Huzzah. “We appreciate the Department of Conservation and Ozark Regional Land Trust for the programs they have provided,” Yocom said.

“Together with the Department of Conservation and ORLT, we are showing there is room for agriculture and conservation to coexist.”

Watch more of the Yocom family story at

Conserving Rivers and Streams Statewide

Across the state, a diverse array of public and private conservation partners is working to implement best management practices in priority watersheds and other aquatic conservation opportunity areas. These are places where stakeholders can do the most good for river and stream habitats, as well as the fish, forests, wildlife, and people that depend on them.

Grassland/Prairie Streams

These generally occupy the northern half and a portion of the western side of the state. They are low-gradient streams with fine substrates. Historically, they were very curvy, but today many have been channelized.

In the Spring Creek Watershed, which encompasses the 8,262-acre Union Ridge Conservation Area, partners are protecting 32 miles of prairie stream. This effort benefits the endangered Topeka shiner and seven species of sensitive freshwater mussels.

Ozark Streams

These are found in the middle of the state down to its southern border. They have coarse, rocky substrates and steeper slopes than do grassland/prairie streams. Karst topography can also influence the character of Ozark streams. Where grassland/prairie and Ozark landscapes meet, streams can contain a mixture of physical and life form characters of both stream types.

In the Little Niangua River Watershed, low-water crossings fragmented local populations of the federally threatened Niangua darter. Partners have replaced 10 low-water crossings with bridges on 55 miles of stream, reconnecting the isolated darter populations. Restoring access to more mates and better habitat improves the species’ chances of recovery.

Mississippi Lowland Streams

Occupying the southeastern corner along the Mississippi River through the Bootheel region of Missouri, these streams are very flat and have sandy alluvial substrates. Past channelization has made heavy impacts on many of these lowland streams.

Partners are using the federal Wetland Reserve Easement Program (WREP) and other tools to increase the matrix of private and public land managed for moist-soil communities such as oxbows, riverine wetlands, and bottomland hardwood forest, all of which historically had strong interconnectivity to the lowland streams.

Big Rivers

Two of America’s greatest rivers have their confluence in Missouri. Known as “the big rivers,” the Missouri River divides the state into north and south, and the Mississippi River runs along the state’s eastern border.

The Department’s Missouri River Field Station is leading MDC’s efforts to reestablish the state’s federally endangered pallid sturgeon population. Every year since 2008, they have harvested wild pallid sturgeon as brood stock and taken them to Blind Pony Fish Hatchery. To date, 140,000 pallid sturgeon hatchlings have been stocked into the Missouri River below Gavin’s Point Dam.

Rivers and Streams

Stream Regions and Priority Watersheds

Missouri has four general stream regions: grassland/prairie, Ozark, Mississippi lowland, and big river. Each region supports its own unique suite of plants and animals, and each is vital to the well-being of our communities. We depend on them for drinking water, manufacturing, irrigation, and outdoor recreation. Priority watersheds are important biological and/or recreational areas where landowners and other partners are encouraged to team up with the Department to conserve our flowing waters and related natural communities.

Plants and Animals of Greatest Conservation Need
  • Northern Brokenray
  • Coldwater Crayfish
  • St. Francis River Crayfish
  • Alligator Gar
  • Ozark Hellbender
  • Topeka Shiner
  • Alligator Snapping Turtle

The Watershed Connection

Surrounding ridgelines define watersheds, which give rise to streams. From upland headwaters, streams flow downhill collecting material along the way. Some of it — like soil nutrients and organic matter — can nourish fish and other aquatic life. And some of it — like tons of eroded soil, pollutants, and trash — can harm wildlife and human communities. As headwater streams converge, enlarge, and move through floodplains, they often change in flow from ephemeral (appearing only in wet weather) to intermittent (sinking underground or drying up in some places) and eventually into larger perennial streams, which flow year-round due to their connection with groundwater. Each juncture along a stream’s pathway gives rise to unique characteristics, habitats, and life forms critical to the food chain and connectivity of the river system as a whole.

What You Can Do

Whether you own a large farm, a few acres outside of town, or a home downtown, you can help conserve rivers and streams in your local watershed.

Ask for Help

If you own rural property, your county’s private land conservationist or fisheries management biologist can help you assess your river and stream conservation needs, and then match them up with appropriate technical assistance and cost-share opportunities. Find your regional office phone number on Page 3.

Join or Form a Stream Team

Missouri Stream Team is a volunteer program that can help you conserve Missouri streams through education, advocacy, and stewardship. Members can monitor water quality, pick up trash, plant streamside trees, and much more. This program is a partnership between the Department, the Conservation Federation of Missouri, and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Learn more at

Help Control Invasive Species

Invasive species destroy habitat and displace or out-compete native plants and animals. A few well-known examples of aquatic invasive species are zebra mussels, Asian carp, and an alga known as didymo or ”rock snot.” Don’t dump bait, don’t buy exotic baits, clean your boat and gear between fishing trips, and call your regional office to report infestations when you see them.

Experience More Rivers and Streams

With more than 1,000 conservation areas in Missouri, you can find public accesses to rivers and streams throughout the state. Visit to find public access to flowing waters near you.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld
Art Director - Cliff White
Associate Editor - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Les Fortenberry
Designer - Marci Porter
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Circulation - Laura Scheuler