Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Missouri's Conservation Areas: A Series starting Mid-June

View from Stegal Mountain firetower. Stegal is a part of Peck
Ranch Conservation Area
Starting the middle of June, we will highlight the incredible opportunities that people who enjoy the outdoors have with regard to the Missouri Conservation Areas. Run by the Missouri Department of Conservation, owned by the people of Missouri, and funded primarily by a sales tax on sporting goods, the recreational opportunities on these tracts of land are almost limitless.

These areas also provide places for commerce, scientific research, as well as places to preserve native species and sometimes re-introduce native species that have been extirpated - a current example being the reintroduction of elk at Peck Ranch Conservation Area.  Given the opportunities available, and the value of what is at stake, then combine that with an effort by some to limit scientific management practices by the MDC - in effect throwing management to the politicians - and the reader can see how it would be to the advantage of Missouri's citizenry to know a little more about this state land.

History of Conservation Lands
Glade in Daniel Boone Conservation Area in Warren County
In 2011, the MDC celebrated its 75th anniversary. These 75 years have seen the department become one of the most respected government-based land stewardship entities in the United States, and perhaps it would not be stretching the truth to say in the world.

The department was established by state vote in 1936, and came into being at a time when the state of hunting and game populations across the state was absolutely abysmal. It got so bad that even deer were numbered at just a few hundred.  The Conservation Federation of Missouri, still an active and vital participant in advocating for Missouri outdoor issues, was the group instrumental in getting things done.

Nationwide, as well as in Missouri, the management of hunting and fishing practices as well as most all conservation related issues was done at the state legislatures.  As is the case now, legislators were beholden to special interests, and the needs and desires of sportsmen and women were put on the back burner if they made it to the stove at all.  The Conservation federation was almost like a union of folks interested in getting the power back from the special interests, and by banding together they finally had the power to do so.

One part of our series will be devoted to the recent efforts to dismantle the work those old-timers did to put Missouri back to where it needed to be - places to hunt, fish, hike, and camp as well as fairly abundant populations of deer, turkey, game fish, and a myriad of other game species.  There are always special interest that try to sway politicians through their lobbying efforts, so in recent years rural legislators have been gnashing their teeth about how to wrest control from the MDC regarding a wide range of issues.  Almost universally, sportsmen and women do not want to see this happen.

Huzzah Creek Conservation Area
Some of the most famous conservationists played vital roles in the genesis of MDC formation - guys like Aldo Leopold.  These were the Teddy Roosevelt ilk of conservationists. They were hunters, fishermen, explorers, and they wanted to make sure there was land available and fish and game on that land.

The Missouri Department of Conservation now manages nearly one million acres across the state employing management practices suited to the competing needs necessary.  Deer are abundant, turkey hunting is amongst the best in the nation, streams run clear, timber is selectively harvested to keep stands healthy and to benefit local economies.

As we highlight the variety of activities available on these lands, and look at specific conservation areas across the state, keep in mind that they are in constant peril of being overrun by politics.  Perhaps make it a point to follow stories you hear about this issue, and take the time to let your legislators know you want them to keep politics out of our great system we have in place.