Monitoring and research key to MDC's natural resource management

News from the region
Kansas City
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Kansas City, Mo. – Nature is a cared-for resource, so biologists and foresters for the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) will be measuring and monitoring creatures and their habitats in the year ahead. Some are new projects. Knowing how species and ecosystems are faring is important for managing forests, fish, and wildlife.

“Research helps us understand the biological mechanisms of natural resources that we are trying to manage,” said Kasey Whiteman, an MDC resource science supervisor at St. Joseph.  “Monitoring helps us see the impact of actions on those resources. Research helps us know what to do and monitoring helps us know how well things are going.”


MDC fisheries biologists and researchers have started a four-year study of flathead catfish at Truman Lake, Smithville Lake, and some small impoundments. Bottom-dwelling flatheads can live 20 years or more and are a popular native game fish. But they are difficult for biologists to study. MDC has modified electrofishing techniques that will help them study flathead populations for sizes, ages, growth rates, and genetics.

“We want to collect a variety of information to better manage these fisheries and track their status over time to sustain or improve fishing opportunities for anglers,” said Zach Ford, MDC game fish ecologist at Clinton.

MDC staff will also survey anglers on the Missouri River about their preferences and goals when fishing for big-river species such as blue and flathead catfish. Serving people who enjoy the outdoors is a major factor in resource management decisions.

MDC will begin a study of invasive Asian carp in the Missouri River and tributaries. This federally funded study is being done in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other states, Whiteman said. Biologists want to learn Asian carp spawning habits and population trends in various locations, such as the Platte and Grand rivers. The carp harm the food chain and compete directly for food with native fish. They can overrun an area leaving little room for other fish species. Biologists will use the information to develop plans to reduce Asian carp numbers.


Biologists will conduct breeding bird surveys in the Big Buffalo Creek and Upper Osage Grasslands. MDC works with private land owners and public land managers to improve habitats in these priority geographies. One focus in the Big Buffalo Creek geography will be a survey of spring warblers. Throughout western Missouri, multiple rare or endangered plant species, natural communities, and animal species will also be surveyed and monitored, said Krista Noel, MDC natural history biologist.

“Prairie mole crickets are a species of conservation concern that we will be surveying for this year,” Noel said. “This tallgrass prairie species, the largest cricket in North America, only calls briefly at dusk making it difficult to survey multiple locations in one evening. Males use their clawed feet to dig special burrows that amplify the sound they make by rubbing their fore wings together to attract a female.  This species has occurred on both public and private prairies in the past. But much data is needed to update the status of this species in the Kansas City region.”

Benton County will be included in a wild turkey harvest study biologists are preparing for the coming year. Next winter, MDC biologists will trap turkeys, gather data, and affix leg bands. Hunters can get rewards for reporting the leg bands. The goal is to determine a localized estimate of harvest rates, said Tony Elliott, MDC resource science supervisor at Clinton.

Grasslands and woodlands

Bumblebees, an important pollinator insect, are in a population decline. MDC this year will start a relative abundance assay of bumblebees, said Steve Buback, MDC natural history biologist. His work will also include an annual population assessment for regal fritillary butterflies in summer. They are a species of concern due to a severe loss of high quality prairie habitat. Biologists will also monitor native grassland restoration projects at MDC’s Bilby Ranch Lake and Grand Trace conservation areas in northwest Missouri.

Water quality and fish populations in prairie streams will be a monitoring focus in the Upper Osage Grasslands of west central Missouri, said Mike Allen, MDC fisheries management biologist. Allen will conduct fish surveys in Baker Branch and Brush Creek in St. Clair County. He will also work with volunteers sampling streams for water quality monitoring.


MDC foresters will be doing an inventory on a portion of the Big Buffalo Creek Conservation Area near Cole Camp. They will tally information such as tree species, special natural areas or features, wood harvest potential, and needed sylvicultural practices such as thinning.

Many more annual surveys, monitoring, and ongoing research projects will be done in 2021. Missourians value their wide variety of natural habitats and wildlife. These projects are a partial list of what MDC biologists, conservation agents, and field staff do for nature in their care.