Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 a year of bold conservation initiative

The Flag of the State of MissouriImage via Wikipedia
Under new leadership, the Missouri Department
of Conservation tackled challenges old and new.
JEFFERSON CITY–Looking back on 2010, historians are likely to describe a year when economic challenges spurred conservation innovations and a new leadership team launched ambitious initiatives. It was also a year when the Show-Me State’s world-class fishing repeatedly made national news.

 As 2010 began, revenue from Missouri’s one-eighth of 1-percent conservation sales tax was in its fourth consecutive year of decline. Sales-tax income fell from $103.3 million in Fiscal Year ’07 to $93.9 million in FY ’10, and projected sales-tax income for the current fiscal year was projected to be $92.7 million. To adapt to falling revenues, MDC moved to cut its workforce by 10 percent, close 13 offices and adjust some programs.

While implementing these budget cuts, the agency got new leadership. Bob Ziehmer replaced retiring Director John Hoskins on Jan. 15. By July 1, six of the agency’s 10 division chiefs had retired as part of MDC’s payroll reduction effort and were replaced from within the agency’s ranks. Over the course of the year, MDC’s new leadership team launched several initiatives to achieve further cost savings or advance MCD’s mission.

They unveiled the year’s first initiative in February, announcing plans to test a new system for assigning waterfowl hunting opportunities on three of its managed wetland areas. “Quick Draw,” as the new system is known, went into effect at Eagle Bluffs, Grand Pass and Otter Slough conservation areas (CAs) in the fall as a test to determine whether the online system could enhance convenience and hunter participation while saving money. Thousands of hunters tried the new system, and managers of the three areas said they noticed an increase in the number of new faces arriving for waterfowl hunts. Hunters who took part in “poor line” drawings for unreserved hunting spots found more opportunities than expected under the new system. MDC will evaluate the system’s effectiveness after the hunting season before deciding whether it should be expanded to other areas.

In March, MDC announced plans to distribute nearly $6 million in grants to help seven schools reduce energy costs, create jobs and provide incentives for better forest management. The Fuels for Schools grant program was a cooperative effort with the USDA Forest Service and was funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It helped participating schoolsinstall boiler systems that use woody biomass to heat and cool their facilities. Besides cutting schools’ fuel bills, the program helps reduce dependence on fossil fuels, supports local employment and supports the state’s forest industry. It also benefits conservation by giving landowners a financial incentive to conduct timber-stand improvements harvests and other management practices that enhance forest productivity and wildlife habitat.

Perhaps the most heralded initiative launched in 2010 was a plan to restore elk to a 346-square-mile area in parts of Shannon, Carter and Reynolds counties. The Conservation Commission approved the plan in October, and MDC forged ahead immediately. Elk will be released into the wild at Peck Ranch Conservation Area (CA) in late April or early May.

Expected benefits of elk restoration include restoring a key ecological link to the Ozarks, boosting Missouri’s tourism industry and providing hunting opportunities once the herd can sustain a harvest. The full elk-restoration plan is available at
Following is a month-by-month roundup of some of the year’s other significant conservation-related events.

Anglers made some of the Show-Me State’s biggest news last year. The action began Jan. 19, when 15-year-old Joshua Lee Vance of Bolivar gigged the 4-pound, 5-ounce white sucker from the Niangua River. It was the first white sucker entered in the “alternate methods” category.
Around the same time, archery deer hunters were wrapping up their four-month-long season. The 2009-2010 archery deer harvest topped 50,000 for the first time in the modern bowhunting season’s 64-year history.
Thanks to deer hunters’ success, the Conservation Federation of Missouri reported brisk activity in the Share the Harvest program, which encourages hunters to donate venison to food pantries. Donations topped 252,000 pounds of venison during the 2009-2010 hunting season and brought the total for the program’s 18-year history to more than 2 million pounds.
The first issue of Xplor: kids’ adventures in nature arrived in mailboxes around the state. The bi-monthly magazine does for readers 7 to 12 years old what Missouri Conservationist magazine does for adults.
Testing confirmed chronic wasting disease (CWD) in a captive whitetail deer at a private hunting ranch in Linn County. Testing of deer from the ranch and of free-ranging deer from surrounding parts of Linn, Macon and Chariton counties found no sign of the disease, which affects deer, elk and moose. MDC continues CWD monitoring efforts that began in 2001.
More than 600 youths took part in Missouri’s second National Archery in the Schools state tournament. The program’s ranks have swelled to approximately 16,000 youths in just four years. This remarkable growth rate is evidence of archery’s enduring appeal.
As winter faded into spring, state and federal officials issued fire warnings for a number of counties in southern and central Missouri, indicating an extreme danger of wildfire. The immediate causes of the danger were high winds, low humidity and a prolonged dry spell. However, the underlying causes go back three years, during which ice storms and high winds dumped countless tons of woody debris on the ground. Missouri got through the spring fire season without a major fire disaster. However, fire officials warn that the abundance of woody fuel will continue to pose a threat for a decade.

On April 9, Nicholas Wray, of Harrisonville, caught a 2-pound, 4-ounce black bullhead from a Cass County farm pond using a jug line. The bullhead nudged aside the previous record by 4 ounces.
Hunters kicked off Missouri’s second half-century of turkey hunting in April. Unregulated hunting had almost eliminated the wild turkey from the Show-Me State by the 1930s. It took three decades of careful stewardship to rebuild the flock to the point where it could support a three-day hunting season in 14 Ozarks counties in 1960. Hunters checked 94 turkeys in the spring season that year. In 2010, the figure was 46,199, confirming Missouri’s status as one of the nation’s top turkey-hunting destinations.
Oak trees across a broad swath of Missouri experienced an unusual outbreak of a common parasite, the jumping oak gall wasp. The insects lay eggs in leaves, producing tiny, button-like growths that turn leaves brown. When the galls fall to the ground, larvae inside start moving around, causing the galls to jiggle, slowly working their way into protected spots. Tree experts reassured tree owners that the parasite is not fatal to healthy trees, even though the condition can look awful.
One of Missouri’s most familiar invasive species, the zebra mussel, turned up on a private boat lift during an inspection of the Camp Branch Marina in Smithville Lake. MDC and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers worked together to eradicate the infestation later in the summer by applying almost 400 gallons of a commercial algaecide to the water around the marina.

The Lake City Shooting Range and Education Center in Jackson County, improving recreational shooting opportunities for Kansas City area residents.

Missouri’s world-class fishing made national news on July 8 when John West, of Republic, caught a 58-pound, 10.4-ounce striped bass at Bull Shoals Lake in Taney County. At that time, the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) line-class record for inland waters was 47 pounds, 11 ounces.

In the early hours of July 20, Greg Bernal, of Florissant, caught a 130-pound blue catfish on a handheld fishing pole while fishing on the Missouri River north of St. Louis. The monster topped Missouri’s previous pole-and-line record for blue catfish by 27 pounds.

July’s third record was a 99-pound flathead catfish caught by Robert Neal Davidson, of Mokane.

On July 17, MDC culminated a two-year undercover investigation in Crawford, Dent, Howell, Iron, Miller, Oregon and Shannon counties. Most of the 425 serious violations documented by state and federal wildlife officers were related to deer and turkey.

The Conservation Department, in cooperation with the St. Louis Zoo, released the first captive-reared eastern hellbenders into the Big Piney River this month. The release was part of efforts to help the endangered salamanders recover.

Efforts to restore alligator gar populations in southeast Missouri made national television in a National Geographic documentary that aired late in July.
At its Aug. 20 meeting in Jefferson City, the Conservation Commission announced that it would appeal a judgment by Ripley County Circuit Judge Robert Smith concerning regulations that prohibit the use of motorized vehicles and dogs for deer hunting. Smith had ruled earlier in the month that the regulations were unconstitutionally vague.

Missouri’s Golden Anniversary Wetland Initiative forged ahead with renovation work at Duck Creek CA. The initiative is replacing aging infrastructure at Missouri’s oldest managed wetland areas.

In September, MDC announced the closure of Missouri’s ruffed grouse hunting season for the first time in more than 25 years. Grouse numbers remained low despite  repeated attempts to reintroduce grouse in areas with suitable habitat. MDC and the Ruffed Grouse Society were seeking a source of grouse to resume reintroduction work, so hunting grouse made no sense while restoration work was under way.
George Pittman Sr. put Missouri fishing back in the news on Oct. 12 by landing an 8-pound, 3-ounce shortnose gar with a rod and reel at LakeContrary in his home town of St. Joseph. It topped the previous Missouri state record by 3.5 pounds and was more than a pound heavier than the current IGFA record.

Black bears also made the news as MDC launched a multi-year field study of Missouri’s growing bear population. The study will provide information about movement patterns, population densities, habitat preferences and overall numbers of Missouri bears. The data will establish a firm scientific basis for bear management, so that bears continue to thrive and expand into suitable habitats with minimal conflicts with people. Hunting is expected to be part of Missouri’s long-term bear management strategy.

A weekend of free shooting heralded the reopening of the Jay Henges Shooting Range at High Ridge, augmenting public opportunities for recreational shooters in the St. Louis area.
Just in time for deer season, the Missouri Court of Appeals stayed Ripley County Circuit Judge Robert Smith’s ruling on hunting deer with dogs and vehicles. The Court of Appeal’s order enabled conservation agents to continue enforcing the contested Wildlife Code provisions until MDC’s appeal is resolved.
When deer hunters went afield during the November portion of Missouri’s firearms deer season, their ranks included a few practical historians wielding atlatls, spear-throwing devices used by humans as long as 30,000 years ago. No atlatl kills were reported.

Gov. Jay Nixon shot an 8-point whitetail buck on opening morning of the November deer hunt and donated the venison to needy Missourians through Share the Harvest. Earlier in the fall, Gov. Nixon announced that Share the Harvest had the resources to underwrite processing of up to 10,000 deer, more than double the number in previous years. The expansion was possible because of a partnership between Gov. NixonMDCthe Conservation Federation, and local food banks. For each whole deer contributed, the Conservation Federation reimbursed local processors $60, up from $40 in 2009. In many cases, local charities covered the balance of the processing cost, making donations free for hunters. Through efforts like this, the Conservation Federation hopes to boost venison donations to half a million pounds annually.
In December, MDC construction crews working with teams from Kentucky and Virginia began building elk traps and pens in Kentucky. The next step is construction of a holding pen at Peck Ranch CA. The Appalachian Wildlife Foundation and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation pledged financial support totaling $350,000 for Missouri’s elk-restoration efforts.

MDC announced that it had confirmed the 11th mountain lion sighting in Missouri since the big cats disappeared from the Show-Me State in the mid-1800s.  A landowner in southern Platte County near the Missouri River contacted MDC with a photograph he took of a mountain lion in a tree on his property. The confirmation came after experts examined the photo and interviewed the landowner, who asked to remain anonymous. MDC experts also examined claw marks on the tree where the big cat was photographed and gathered hair samples for DNA testing in hopes of gaining information about the animal’s origins.

With 18 days of archery deer hunting and the late portion of youth deer season still ahead, Missouri’s 2010-2011 deer harvest stood at 269,759.
-Jim Low-

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Muzzleloader hunters push firearms deer harvest above 230,000

This year’s muzzleloader harvest is well above the 10-year average.
JEFFERSON CITY–Hunters with front-loading firearms shot 12,940 deer during Missouri’s 11-day muzzleloader season, bringing this year’s firearms deer harvest total to more than 230,000 statewide.
The muzzleloader harvest was the third-largest in the season’s 23-year history and well above the 10-year average of 11,312. Top muzzleloader harvest counties were Oregon with 277 deer killed, Macon with 268 and Franklin with 267.
Snowfall, which makes deer more visible to hunters, may have boosted this year’s muzzleloader harvest, according to Lonnie Hansen, a resource scientist with the Missouri Department of Conservation.
“We had snow on the ground for both weekends of this year’s muzzleloader season,” said Hansen. “The weather during some of the season was pretty extreme, and that might actually have held down the harvest a little. Overall, though, I think the weather probably was a help to hunters.”
The final segment of Missouri’s firearms deer season is the late youth portion Jan. 1 and 2. The harvest during last year’s late youth hunt was 1,706.
-Jim Low-

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Missouri Conservation Commission NEWS: Dec. 22, 2010

The Commission approved the following 2011 hunting-season dates:

Youth Spring Turkey - April 9 and 10.
Spring Turkey - April 18 through May 8.
Fall Firearms Turkey - Oct. 1 through 31.
Opening Day of November Portion of Firearms Deer Season - Nov. 12.

The Commission also approved recommendations for spring hunting regulations on Conservation Areas and spring managed hunts, which will be published in the 2011 Spring Turkey Hunting Regulations and Information booklet.

The Commission:
·        Received a Protection Division report from Division Chief Larry Yamnitz.
·        Received a report on implementation of key components of the Vacancy Management Plan from Deputy Director Tim Ripperger and Human Resources Division Chief Tom Neubauer.
·        Received a presentation from Dr. Harry and Mrs. Lina Berrier, Show-Me Barbecue, Columbia, who made a donation of $25,000 to the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation.
·        Presented service awards to the following employees:
35 years:  Kurt Kysar, Branson
30 years:  Thomas C. Davidson, Marshall; Robert R. Farr, Warsaw; Timothy B. Grace, Columbia; Rickey D Welch, Salem; Matthew J. Wolken, Greentop; Larry D. Yamnitz, Jefferson City.
25 years:  Gary F. Bisges, Jefferson City; Chris L. Conway, Eminence; Joseph W. Davis, Jefferson City; Gregory K, Gremaud, Kirksville; Cathy E. Clark Harris, Holts Summit; Susan L. Hilty, Deepwater; Gregory W. Jones, Jefferson City; Gary N. Oakley, Houston; Jeffrey J. Petty, Jefferson City; David Rowold, Piedmont; Paul S. Spurgeon, Cassville.
·        Presented special awards to:
Public Service Assistant Barbara S. Amass, Brookline, who received the Clerical Employee of the Year Award; Conservation Agents Robert A. Lyons, Fulton, and Becky M. Robertson, Wentzville, who received Workforce Diversity Awards; Karen Dunkle, Anita Hammann, and Pam Jones for more than 2,000 hours of service each at Runge Conservation Nature Center, Jefferson City.
·        Recognized volunteer Jim Hawes, from Burr Oak Woods Conservation Nature Center in Blue Springs, who received the National Association for Interpretation’s 2010 Outstanding Volunteer Interpreter Award.
·        Accepted the bequest of approximately 76 acres in Texas County as an addition to the Gist Ranch Conservation Area.
·        Conveyed approximately 0.18 acre of Settles’ Ford Conservation Area in Bates County to Bates County for replacement of the Grand River Lane Bridge over the South Grand River.
·        Approved working with the Fish and Wildlife Service to acquire a perpetual conservation easement held by Ozark Regional Land Trust on approximately 295 acres in Lawrence County to help protect Ozark Cavefish.
·        Authorized Forestry Division to advertise and sell an estimated 1.6 million board feet of timber located on 659 acres of Compartment 19, Peck Ranch Conservation Area (MoFEP 7), in Carter County.
·        Authorized Forestry Division to advertise and sell an estimated 1.7 million board feet of timber located on 529 acres of Compartment 4, Peck Ranch Conservation Area (MoFEP 9), in Carter County.
·        Authorized Forestry Division to advertise and sell an estimated 3.9 million board feet of timber located on 1,164 acres of Compartments 2, 8, 9 and 17, Current River Conservation Area (MoFEP sites 2-5), in Reynolds County.
·        Designated the 639-acre LaBarque Creek Conservation Area (CA) in Jefferson County as a Missouri Natural Area.
·        Designated 240 acres of Burnt Mill Cave CA in Camden County as a Missouri Natural Area.
·        Approved a 402-acre addition to Spring’s End Forest Natural Area on Woodson K. Woods CA in Phelps and Crawford counties.
·        Approved publication of the Conservation Department’s 2009-2010 Annual Report.
·        Suspended hunting and/or fishing privileges of 19 Missouri residents and one nonresident for Wildlife Code violations and affirmed actions taken by Missouri courts suspending privileges of two Missouri residents.
·        Approved the suspension or revocation of all hunting and fishing privileges of 287 people who are not in compliance with applicable child support laws.
·        Suspended privileges of two Missouri residents and 348 nonresidents under the provisions of the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact.
·        Imposed a hunting privilege suspension of two years for a Missouri resident who injured another person in a hunting incident. The hunter must complete a hunter-education training course before restoration of privileges.
·        Reinstated all hunting, fishing and trapping privileges of Ryan D. Pliler, Excelsior Springs.
·        Confirmed the Conservation Commission’s next regular meeting will be held Jan. 27 and 28.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Kentucky to provide elk for Missouri restoration program

Elk grazing in Cataloochee, in the Great Smoky...Image via Wikipedia
Cooperative efforts with other states and conservation groups is getting the Show-Me State’s elk-restoration program off to a fast start.

HAZARD, Ky. – Elk from Kentucky will begin arriving in the Show-Me State this coming spring, and preparations to trap and transport the animals are proceeding rapidly, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC).

In October, the Conservation Commission directed MDC staff to restore elk to a 346-square-mile area in Shannon, Carter and Reynolds counties. The first step in implementing the plan was to find a state willing to share its elk.

“Kentucky has by far the most successful elk restoration program and largest herds in the eastern United States,” said MDC Resource Scientist Lonnie Hansen, “Its herds number around 10,000 across 16 counties. The Commonwealth of Kentucky generously consented to provide elk for our program, so we are preparing to help trap elk in Kentucky and bring them to Peck Ranch Conservation Area in southeast Missouri.”

The area where MDC will trap elk is on the Cumberland Plateau in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky. Elk inhabit approximately 6,000 square miles of the mountainous region. Most of Kentucky’s elk are clustered around the eight sites where elk from western states were released during a five-year restoration effort from 1997 to 2002. In all, the commonwealth brought 1,549 elk from western states. The ratio of cows to bulls was three to one. Much of the area inhabited by elk is owned or controlled by timber or mining companies and is managed by the Commonwealth under special agreements.

Construction of a corral-type elk trap, holding pens and other facilities began Dec. 8 in Bell County, Kentucky. Construction Superintendent Richard Grishow, who supervises MDC onsite staff, said the work has progressed very quickly. In spite of single-digit temperatures and a 14-inch snowfall, work was winding down by Dec. 15. On that morning, the crew had to use space heaters to free skid steers from frozen mud before work could begin. Frequent sightings of elk have kept construction crews excited about their work.

Grishow said he expects the trap and holding pen in Kentucky to be completed by Christmas. Soon afterwards, trapping crews will begin baiting the trap with a mixture of corn, oats and molasses. At the same time, MDC construction workers will be busy back at home building a holding pen at Peck Ranch Conservation Area. The elk will arrive in tractor-trailer trucks after a three-month, precautionary quarantine in Kentucky.

The MDC has not selected a site for the holding pen at Peck Ranch. However, it likely will be in a remote spot inside the conservation area’s 11,000-acre central refuge. The Missouri holding pen will consist of a single 12-foot chain-link fence covered with burlap so the elk cannot see out or be disturbed by activities outside the pen. MDC Resource Scientist Ron Dent, who is helping with the restoration program, says the enclosure will minimize the chance of disturbing the elk.

“We will try to minimize human activity around the enclosure,” said Dent. “These are wild animals that are not used to being around people. Activity around the holding pen could cause unnecessary stress to these animals.”

The MDC will provide periodic public updates, including photos and video of the trapping and relocation process.

Elk could be released into the wild at Peck Ranch as soon as late April 2011. The “soft release” will involve opening a gate and letting elk leave on their own. The MDC plans to close the refuge area at Peck Ranch to hunting as long as elk remain in the holding pen. This is likely to affect a small number of turkey hunters who use the area.

The MDC selected the limited restoration zone in this remote part of the Ozarks because it has extensive public lands, suitable habitat, low road density, minimal agricultural activity and landowner support.

MDC personnel have received significant help from the staffs and volunteers from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFW), the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) and the Appalachian Wildlife Foundation (AWF).

The RMEF recently pledged $300,000 for Missouri’s elk-restoration program. The AWF has pledged $50,000. Virginia plans to conduct its own elk-restoration program with elk from Kentucky and will benefit from helping set up the trapping operation.

The Conservation Commission decided to restore elk to Missouri for several reasons. These included citizen requests, ecological benefits from restoring a native species and economic benefits to Missouri through tourism and hunting. Before making the decision, the commission gathered citizen comments at public forums and by e-mail, mail and telephone. More than 70 percent of the 2,953 comments received expressed support for elk restoration.

All elk brought to Peck Ranch CA will be fitted with microchips and radio collars. This will permit tracking their movements after they leave the holding pen as part of a cooperative research project with the University of Missouri.

The elk-restoration plan includes measures to deal with elk that wander onto private land where they are not welcome. The Conservation Department will use hunting to maintain the elk herd at a manageable size.

Kentucky held its first elk hunt in 2001. Missouri’s elk-restoration plan calls for a hunting season as soon as the elk population can sustain one. Research conducted in conjunction with the restoration program will enable the MDC to develop a population model to help determine when hunting can begin.

Elk brought into Missouri as part of the MDC’s restoration program will undergo rigorous testing for chronic wasting disease (CWD), brucellosis, bovine tuberculosis, anaplasmosis, bovine viral diarrhea, blue tongue, epizootic hemorrhagic disease, Johne’s disease and vesicular stomatitis. They also will receive treatment for internal and external parasites. These veterinary health protocols are more stringent than any that apply to livestock brought into Missouri. 

Elk-vehicle accidents have been infrequent in other states with elk-restoration programs. This is partly because bull elk assemble groups of cows and guard them, rather than pursuing individual females, as white-tailed deer do. Elk are much less mobile in eastern states, where natural food is more plentiful, than in western states.

Arkansas’ elk-restoration zone has nearly twice the density of roads as Missouri’s. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) has recorded one or two elk-vehicle accidents annually since elk restoration began 25 years ago. The AGFC receives approximately two complaints of pasture damage and one or two complaints of fence damage annually.

According to the RMEF, statistics from eastern states with elk-restoration programs show no human fatalities from collisions with elk, and automobile insurance rates are no higher in states with wild free-ranging elk.

-Jim Low-

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Winter Fishing Blues

Canoers on Current River in the Ozark National...Image via WikipediaMaybe it's too early to be getting forlorn about there not being enough to do outdoors, but there might be some advantage in doing some planning for Spring and Summer fishing trips.  In reality, we love fishing the Ozarks streams and even trout parks during the Winter when the crowds are non-existent.

We have made a downloadable fishing calendar from January through August of 2011.  Maybe a fun activity would be to download it and write in some potential fishing dates.

We at Family-Outdoors are working on a public access fishing resource right now.  I have worked on counties alphabetically through Mississippi County as of this December 18, 2010 writing.  I have them organized by county, so if you want to find all (at some point it really shall be nearly all of them) the fishing spots in a certain county, you can look through these, find out what species are present, and plan accordingly.  A couple of other Family-Outdoors Resources are Smallmouth Central and Missouri Trout Fishing.
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Friday, December 17, 2010

Labor of Love

Maple sap buckets - Beaver Meadow Audubon CenterImage via Wikipedia
By Shanna Raeker, Naturalist
Each January, I start to think about all the work that
needs to be done to prepare for the upcoming maple
sugaring season. It’s a never-ending to-do list which
includes cleaning buckets, tapping trees, collecting and
boiling sap, filtering and canning syrup, and preparing
for 3,000 visitors to come to Rockwoods Reservation
to learn about this process. Although this might be
overwhelming to most people, for me it’s a reminder
that maple sugaring truly is a labor of love.

From the moment we hang the first bucket, I eagerly
await the sound of sap dripping. The familiar rhythmic
pinging signals the start of the sugaring season. There’s
a lot of work to be done. The buckets have to be emptied
every day and sometimes twice a day if the sap flows
fast. I don’t mind carrying heavy buckets up and down
the steep hillsides of Rockwoods, because I know it
won’t be long before we can start a batch of syrup.

When enough sap is collected, the boiling process can
begin, which requires gathering firewood and setting up
the evaporator. Many hours are spent tending the fire that
cooks the sap. This is a tiresome task, but the intoxicating
smell of sap boiling over a wood fire makes it all
worthwhile. Soon, real maple syrup will be ready to eat.

As the syrup nears completion, I find myself becoming
more and more excited. My mouth waters in anticipation
of tasting the first syrup of the season. As I pour the
sweet liquid gold over my pancakes and take my first
bite, I am reminded that although making maple syrup
requires lots of work, it truly is a labor of love.

For more, visit

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Hunter shoots unusually large coyote in Northwest Missouri

A coyote standing by a road in ArizonaImage via Wikipedia
Carroll County deer hunter shot a coyote weighing more than 100 pounds.
JEFFERSON CITY Mo – DNA tests show that a 104-pound canine shot by a hunter in Carroll County Nov. 13 was an unusually large coyote.
The hunter shot the big canine on opening day of Missouri’s November firearms deer season, thinking it was a coyote. Coyotes are legal game during deer season. However, when the hunter saw the animal’s size, he wondered if he had mistakenly shot a wolf. He reported the kill to Conservation Agent Marc Bagley. Bagley took possession of the animal and turned it over to the Missouri Department of Conservation’s (MDC) Resource Science Division for identification.
Resource Scientist Jeff Beringer said the MDC staff took measurements and collected tissue and hair samples for DNA analysis. The test showed the animal was a coyote.
According to Beringer, the coyote was a male approximately 3 years old. It had no tattoos, microchip or evidence of ear tags that would indicate it might have escaped or been released from captivity.
The coyote’s size and the size and shape of its feet were similar to those of a wolf, leading to speculation it could be a coyote-wolf hybrid. Gray wolves, also known as timber wolves, once inhabited northern Missouri but were gone from the state by the late 1800s, due to hunting and habitat loss. Wolves persisted in Minnesota. From there, they dispersed into Wisconsin and Michigan, which now have wolf populations of their own.
The last record of a gray wolf in Missouri was of a young male mistaken for a coyote and killed by a bowhunter in Grundy County in October 2001. A radio collar and ear tag linked that 80-pound wolf to Michigan.
The Wild Mammals of Missouri, the definitive text on Show-Me State mammals, indicates a normal weight range of 18 to 30 pounds for coyotes. However, much larger specimens have been documented in other states.
Wolves are a protected species in Missouri. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the grey wolf is listed as a federally endangered species in the lower 48 states, except in Minnesota and where there are non-essential experimental populations.
Beringer said the MDC has never stocked wolves and has no plans to restore them to Missouri. 

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Cold Missouri Day

Looking out on a snowy dayImage by mbgrigby via FlickrIt is cold today and getting colder as the sun goes down.  It's not cold by the standards of Alaska from where I came.  But it's the kind of cold that brings the true meaning of winterfresh flavor deep into my lungs and makes me feel younger than however old I am.  I cannot imagine ever feeling old on a Winter day.  I do know not everyone feels the way I do, and I also know I may not feel this way in a few more years.

I hiked through the woods with my son that still is at home and we jumped one of the increasingly rare grouse in the area.  Our dog who is getting old like me ran as though she were still a skinny pup.  After our half hour hike we spread some birdseed on the ground and refilled the feeders and came in.

I just got in from my second outdoor foray.  I was making certain our cars would start and getting a bit of firewood for the night.  I told myself when I was done I would stand on the lower deck and listen to the wind and enjoy a moment before coming in for the night.  As I stood there the thought crossed my mind that I was born at the wrong time.  After this thought crossed my mind I reminded myself that this was awfully easy to say when my back faced a warm house.  At least in this country, we do not face the risks as part of our daily existence that would qualify me to know if I would have been tough enough to thrive one hundred years ago.

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Trumpeter swans numerous at Squaw Creek refuge

Trumpeter Swan on nestImage via Wikipedia
KANSAS CITY Mo -- A majestic white bird – bunches of them -- may be on the water or wing for Eagle Days this weekend (Dec. 4-5) at the Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge.
The refuge staff on Monday counted 96 trumpeter swans making a migration stopover at the marshes, said Ron Bell, refuge manager. A few decades ago the swans, a species recovering from near extinction, were seen infrequently at the refuge. But the trumpeter population increased in recent years thanks to conservation and swan recovery programs.
“It’s unbelievable,” Bell said, adding that it’s one of the largest trumpeter tallies he’s seen in 23 years at the refuge. “They’re just everywhere.”
They will add bird watching variety when the Missouri Department of Conservation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service host the 32nd annual Eagle Days from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The activities will include captive eagle programs and observation stations along a driving tour for spotting eagles at refuge marshes.
Unless they head south, trumpeter swans will be among the bald eagles and thousands of ducks and geese present for viewing and photography. Most of the swans are congregated in the Pintail Pool on the west side of the refuge driving tour road, Bell said.
Trumpeter swans are the largest waterfowl in North America with seven-foot wing spans, snow white plumage, black bills and a graceful elongated neck. They are the largest swans in the world.
Habitat destruction and market hunting dropped their numbers to fewer than 70 in the Lower 48 states by the early 1930s, with those birds concentrated at a location near Yellowstone National Park. Another population was later discovered in Alaska.
Today, there are only about 16,000 trumpeter swans in North America, and 13,000 of those are in Alaska, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The remainder nest during spring and summer in Canada, the upper West and the upper Midwest.
For information about trumpeter swan history and ecology in Missouri, go to the MDC web site at:
The refuge, celebrating its 75th anniversary, is about 30 miles north of St. Joseph and reached off of Interstate 29 via Missouri 159.
For more information about Eagle Days, contact Squaw Creek at 660-442-3187, or the Missouri Department of Conservation at 816-271-3100.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Timber harvest opens second chapter in forest research saga

to better understand how human activities affect forest ecology.
ELLINGTON–Early next year, contractors working with the Missouri Department of Conservation will begin writing the second chapter in a century-long saga. Their theme is the quest to understand forest ecology. Their pages are rugged Ozarks hills, and their writing tools are chainsaws and skidders.
At its meeting Dec. 17 in Jefferson City, the Missouri Conservation Commission will consider seeking bids from professional loggers to harvest trees on 2,344 acres in Current River Conservation Area (CA) in Reynolds and Shannon counties and at Peck Ranch CA in Carter County. Altogether, the timber sales are expected to produce a little more than 7 million board feet of forest products, mostly oak.
The timber harvests are part of a carefully designed scientific experiment with breathtaking size and duration. The experiment, known as the Missouri Ozark Forest Ecosystem Project, or MOFEP, was launched in 1990. It is designed to measure the effects of different management practices on various elements of the forest ecosystem. The study area covers 9,381 acres of forest and will span 100 years. Researchers who participate in its early phases will not live to see its conclusion.
MOFEP seeks answers to several questions, including:
·        How much carbon do Ozark forests sequester and how will climate change or different management scenarios affect carbon stocks?
·        How do different forest management practices influence abundance and reproductive success of birds?
·        How do different forest management practices affect tree growth, species composition and regeneration?
Preparations for MOFEP involved measuring a host of ecological factors on all 9,000-plus acres of MOFEP. Field workers documented existing populations of trees, wildflowers, fungi, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals on MOFEP land. They studied soil and other physical components of the forest. Once these baseline data were assembled, MOFEP moved into its active phase – timber harvests – in 1996.
MOFEP methodically subjects small tracts of forest to different types of timber harvests and then measures the resulting changes. Timber harvests occur every 15 years.
On one-third of the MOFEP land, the Conservation Department conducts even-aged forest management. This involves cutting all trees within small tracts. The forest that re-grows on these tracts consists of trees of the same age – hence the name.
On another one-third of MOFEP land, contract loggers harvest individual trees and groups of trees selectively in what is known as uneven-aged management. This produces timber stands containing trees of different ages.
The remaining one-third of the study area is a scientific control, where no trees are harvested. The lack of timber harvests does not mean this forest is frozen in time, however. Trees die of natural causes, such as old age, disease and tornadoes, and they fall and decay. Field crews record these changes, too.
The 1996 timber harvests and subsequent measurements were Chapter 1 of MOFEP. Now, 15 years later, Chapter 2 is about to begin, as contract loggers return to harvest timber on different portions of MOFEP land.
On land under even-age management, they will thin 415 acres of forest and clear-cut another 488 acres. A total of 1,467 acres will be thinned under uneven-aged management, and 124 acres will have woodland/glade restoration work done.
Another 4,001 acres within the actively managed portions of MOFEP do not need treatment, according to standards MDC followed on all conservation areas. These acres will be reevaluated for possible timber harvests during the next MOFEP management cycle in 2026.
As always, the one-third of MOFEP land set aside as a control will receive no timber harvest, but monitoring of forest changes will continue there, as on the actively managed land.
As the forest changes under the three different management regimes, scientists collect and analyze data for insights about how different management strategies affect the forest ecosystem. Such insights already are accumulating and are being used by the Conservation Department to manage Missouri’s forests better.
One such insight is the observation that the first small-scale even-age timber harvests did not seem to hurt local populations of many forest bird species.
“For years, the Conservation Department has been concerned that logging in the Ozarks might contribute to the decline of migratory songbirds,” said MOFEP Coordinator David Gwaze. “This was based on the belief that logging could decrease available habitat or make songbirds more vulnerable to brown-headed cowbirds, which lay their eggs in other birds’ nests. But, study results so far show no increase in nest parasitism on MOFEP timber-harvest sites.”
According to Gwaze, early study results also indicate that logging – when performed according to MDC’s high standards – does not decrease the variety of bird species present in a forest tract. He said some birds that prefer mature forests, such as the ovenbird, may be less numerous around timber harvest sites. However, numbers of other forest-dwelling birds, including the wood thrush and Kentucky warbler, actually increase around harvest sites. So do numbers of birds, such as indigo buntings, yellow-breasted chats and prairie warblers, that prefer more open areas.
Similarly, the number and diversity of reptiles, amphibians and small mammals did not decline in areas with timber harvests.
Fieldwork during MOFEP’s first cycle shows the mix of tree species changing rapidly in control areas where no logging occurs. Gwaze said scarlet and black oaks are dying faster and not replacing themselves as rapidly as white oaks. The proportion of scarlet and black oaks also is declining in areas under uneven-age management. Where managers want to maintain the original mix of scarlet, black and white oaks, even-age management appears to be the best strategy.
The diversity of plant species growing on the forest floor is greater in areas where timber harvests have occurred than in unlogged areas, probably due to greater availability of light. For the same reason, berries and other wildlife food collectively called “soft mast” are more abundant in harvested areas.
Researchers also are discovering that even-age management is more efficient than uneven-age management in regenerating oak trees. Stump sprouting is the most common and efficient way to regenerate oak forests. So far, trees produce more, faster-growing sprouts after even-age harvests. As information continues to accumulate, managers will be able to use MOFEP data to refine regeneration practices and other management techniques.
Other MOFEP data suggest that root injuries caused by logging might contribute to harmful fungal infections, decreasing tree vigor and inhibiting stump sprouting. This indicates a need to find the exact causes of the injuries and educate loggers about how to avoid them.
So far, MOFEP results do not show that either even-aged or uneven-aged management is more profitable. The effects of each approach on other values, such as recreation, could be a significant factor in deciding which system to use.
“We are still very early in the study,” said Gwaze. “Some of these initial results might not hold true over the long term. We will adapt management as our knowledge and understanding of forests increases. MOFEP will have far-reaching effects on how we manage forests, but no one living now can say exactly what those effects will be. Today’s research is for future generations.”
MOFEP had to be designed as a long-term research project because the oak and hickory trees that make up the bulk of Missouri’s forests take 80 to 100 years to mature. The immediate goal is to track forest changes through one tree life cycle.
“Forests operate on a different time scale than people,” said Gwaze. “To understand them, you have to work on their time scale. Individuals don’t live long enough to do that, so several generations of workers will contribute to MOFEP. The longer we stay with it, the better we will understand how to manage the Ozarks forests for wildlife and plants sustainably.”
To learn more about the Missouri Ozarks Forest Ecosystem Project visit its official website at
-Jim Low-
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