Conservation achievements 2013 a year for restoration and remembrance

Posted January 2, 2014 at 10:16 am

Conservation achievements of 2013 would have thrilled conservation giants who passed into history during the past year.

Missouri lost several towering figures of its citizen-led conservation movement in 2013, but those history-making leaders would be heartened by gains made in the past year, including restoration of endangered or extirpated species and protection of gains they helped secure.

January

The start of the year found Conservation Department staff back in Kentucky, trapping elk for the final year of Missouri’s effort to restore the magnificent herbivores after a 150-year absence.

Hundreds of people braved the cold to attend Eagle Days events and were rewarded with the spectacle of hundreds of bald eagles.

Brian Taylor, Poplar Bluff, hauled a record-breaking 1-pound, 14-ounce gizzard shad from the Black River on Jan. 9 to set the first state fishing record of 2013. Taylor gigged the 16-inch fish, earning himself an alternative-methods record.

Archers finished the 2012-13 deer season with a harvest of 53,997 deer. Adding the archery harvest to the number of deer taken during all six portions of firearms deer season brought the 2012-2013 deer harvest to 311,304, up 6.8 percent from the previous year. The total 2012-2013 turkey harvest, including the youth and regular spring seasons, the fall firearms season, and the archery season, was 56,511.

The Conservation Department set in motion a plan to work with landowners in a small section of Linn and Macon counties to help limit the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) by reducing local deer numbers. The targeted reduction effort focused on a 29-square-mile core area around northwest Macon County where the disease has been found in six free-ranging deer since early 2012. The effort involved Conservation Department staff and landowners shooting deer to slow the spread of CWD while it is still limited to a small number of deer in a very concentrated area.

Missouri hunters have donated more than 3 million pounds of venison to the needy through the Share the Harvest Program (STH) since 1992.

February

The Conservation Department announced the Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) program aimed at encouraging landowners to use best management practices in managing privately owned forest land. CIG uses financial incentives to foster logger-landowner partnerships that prevent erosion, protect water quality, and maintain top forest health and productivity.

The Share the Harvest program, coordinated by the Conservation Department and the Conservation Federation of Missouri in cooperation with local groups, brought more than 300,000 pounds of venison to food banks and charitable organizations statewide.

Work continues to rejuvenate the Mingo Basin in Wayne, Bollinger, and Stoddard counties. This wetland complex includes Duck Creek Conservation Area (CA) and Mingo National Wildlife Refuge, which provide critical habitat for migratory birds, including ducks, geese, swans, shorebirds, eagles, and other birds of prey. Funds from the North American Wetland Conservation Act are underwriting work to improve recreation and ecological benefits the two areas have provided since their establishment 60 years ago.

March

Thousands of anglers flocked to Missouri’s four trout parks for the opening of catch-and-keep season. The parks’ spring branches teemed with rainbow trout from Conservation Department hatcheries, guaranteeing hot action despite subfreezing temperatures at dawn.

On March 8, Eric Whitehead set a new state alternative-methods record for bowfin with a 13-pound, 6-ounce fish taken while bowfishing on Pool 1 of Duck Creek CA. On March 23, Joshua Ross tied the alternative-methods record for gizzard shad set in January by snagging a 1-pound, 14-ounce fish on the Meramec River.

Live-feed cameras trained on peregrine falcon nests in Kansas City and St. Louis gave web-browsing Missourians a peek into the domestic life of these superb aerial predators.

More than 1,400 students took part in the fifth Missouri National Archery in the Schools (MoNASP) state tournament March 22-23 at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg. Archers in grades 4 through 12 from 74 schools across the state braved wintry weather to attend the event. The top-scoring male student was Seth Pezley of St. Joseph Cathedral School in Jefferson City with a score of 294 out of a possible 300. The top-scoring female student was Shelby Winslow of Summit Lakes Middle School in Lee’s Summit with a score of 287 out of 300. In addition to trophies, the two top scorers received Special Edition Genesis Bows. They and other top-scoring individuals and teams went on to compete in the National Archery in the Schools (NASP) national tournament.

At its March meeting, the Conservation Commission approved a regulation change that increased the daily limit of blue catfish on Truman Lake and Lake of the Ozarks and their tributaries from five to 10 and establish a protective slot limit to allow more fish to grow to larger sizes. The Conservation Department subsequently hosted six open-house meetings to gather input from citizens.

Warsaw, known as the “Paddlefish Capital of the World,” became the focus of an international wildlife undercover operation. Working on information from outraged citizens, conservation agents went undercover for two years and ultimately made cases against poachers from Missouri and eight other states. When state and federal agents fanned out on March 13 and 14, they arrested more than 100 poachers on charges that included violations of the federal Lacey Act for taking paddlefish roe across state lines for the international caviar trade.

Resource Scientist Jeff Beringer reported on what he has learned from ongoing research into Missouri’s growing black bear population. He estimates the state’s bear population at approximately 225. Female black bears are found mostly in four separate areas covering 10 counties in south-central Missouri. DNA evidence suggests the largest of these populations, located in Webster and Douglas counties, may be a remnant of Missouri’s original black bear population. As the study continues, Beringer hopes to figure out how fast Missouri’s black bear population is growing, how early and how old female bears are they when they have their first litters, how many litters they have in a lifetime, how many cubs they have per litter, and the survival rate of the cubs.

DNA testing confirmed that a large canine shot by a bowhunter at Franklin Island CA in October 2012 was a timber wolf. DNA tests showed the wolf was closely related to wolves from the Great Lakes region. Wolves occasionally wander into Missouri from northern states. This was the third such case since 2001.

April

Hunters age 6 to 15 years checked 3,915 turkeys during Missouri’s 2013 youth spring turkey season April 6 and 7.

Joe McMullen of Sullivan caught a 2-pound, 3-ounce shovelnose sturgeon on a trotline on the Osage River, setting a new alternative-methods record for that species. The fish measured 25 inches from nose to tail.

A struggling flock of prairie chickens in Harrison County got a boost in April with the arrival of 34 prairie chickens from Nebraska. The hens were released at The Nature Conservancy’s Dunn Ranch Prairie to bolster a flock that was hard hit by cold, rainy weather during their nesting season in recent years. Besides increasing the number of prairie chickens at Dunn Ranch, the new birds will provide a much-needed infusion of genetic diversity to the struggling flock.

Chris Kimble of Thomas, Okla., shot a 35-pound, 9-ounce longnose gar while bowfishing on Bull Shoals Lake April 5. The previous alternative-methods record was 34 pounds, 7 ounces.

State courts resolved the last cases resulting from the Conservation Department’s 2011 Operation Pulling Wool undercover investigation. Pulling Wool targeted an organized poaching ring that used dogs and marine-band radios to hunt deer. Altogether, the operation resulted in fines totaling $67,425 on dozens of deer poachers. Forty-six defendants were found guilty in Federal Court for hunting deer with the aid of dogs on Mark Twain National Forest land. Six others were charged with violations in state court in Ripley County. The poachers also lost their hunting privileges for periods of one to three years.

The International Hunter Education Association honored the late Allen Hoover, Pleasant Hill, with its highest honor, the Gladney Davidson Memorial Award. Hoover, who died of a heart attack in December 2012, was known for his involvement in state, national, and international hunter-education programs. He was instrumental in founding the Missouri Hunting Heritage Federation (MHHF), whose primary focus is youth mentorship.

May

Forty elk arrived at Peck Ranch CA on May 2, the final delivery in a three-year restoration effort in cooperation with the State of Kentucky and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. After a few weeks of acclimation in holding pens, the elk were released to roam the 29-square-mile Elk-Restoration Zone in Shannon, Carter, and Reynolds counties.

Missouri was named the “Best Trails State.” American Trails, a national, nonprofit organization. American Trails announced the award at the International Trails Symposium in Arizona. The award is presented every two years to the state with the most-improved trails. The Conservation Department maintains more than 700 miles of foot, bicycle, and equestrian trails on 136 CAs areas and 10 nature and education centers statewide.

Hunters shot 42,220 turkeys during the regular spring turkey season. That was an increase of 1,773, or 4 percent, from 2012. The 2013 spring turkey season was the safest on record, with only one firearms-related hunting incident reported. That incident was nonfatal and occurred during the regular season.

Biologists found zebra mussels in a lake at Schell-Osage CA. The mussels were found in Barber Lake, a shallow oxbow lake in the flood plain of Truman Reservoir. Biologists do not know if zebra mussels are in Truman Lake, but a lake upstream from Schell-Osage CA in Kansas has the aquatic pest. The larval stage of zebra mussels, called veligers, floats downstream on water currents. Invasive Species Coordinator Tim Banek urged boaters and anglers to help prevent the further spread of Zebra mussels and other invasive aquatic plants and animals by following the Conservation Department’s guidelines for cleaning boats and trailers and disposing of live bait.

The Conservation Department rolled out a new hunter-education program that offers students greater flexibility and convenience while maintaining high performance standards. Since hunter education became mandatory in 1987, Missouri has seen a 70-percent decrease in firearms-related hunting accidents.

June

Shelby Winslow of Lee’s Summit scored 290 out of a possible 300 points to win third place in the 2013 World NASP Championship. The tournament is part of the National Archery in Schools Program. The 14-year-old topped her score at the state NASP tournament in March, when she shot a 287. Hers was the highest score for a female at the state level.

The St. Louis Zoo released 302 pairs of federally endangered American burying beetles at Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie. Later surveys showed the beetles had established a breeding population on the area, which is owned by The Nature Conservancy and managed by the Conservation Department.

William “Bill” Bennett, a longtime outdoor editor for the St. Joseph News-Press newspaper, was inducted into the Missouri Conservation Hall of Fame. Bennett, who died in 1999, championed conservation and the outdoors. “Bill really brought conservation to the people,” said Tim Ripperger, MDC deputy director. “He would cover major national or statewide conservation stories, and then he would write about local issues. He made conservation real for people.” Joel Vance, a nationally known outdoor writer and former Conservation Department writer-publicist, spent hours afield with Bennett. “Bill was the ideal outdoor writer in my opinion,” Vance said. “He had a deep appreciation for conservation and for the Conservation Department, but he never hesitated to criticize us when he thought we needed it.”

Gov. Jeremiah “Jay” Nixon launched the “100 Missouri Miles” initiative, challenging Missourians to hike, bike, or paddle 100 miles by the end of the year. The challenge dovetails perfectly with Missouri’s designation earlier in the year as the No. 1 trail state in the nation, and with the Conservation Department’s release of the updated Paddler’s Guide to Missouri. The 94-page book features maps and detailed descriptions of nearly 3,000 floatable miles on 58 streams and rivers.

Conservation agents in northwest Missouri cited 16 people for illegally taking catfish by hand fishing. One of the primary cases occurred as agents observed illegal hand fishing activity on the 102 River in Andrew County. Several large fish were seized from those cited. Agents also cited one group of anglers for using an illegal hoop net.

Flooding caused extensive damage to Columbia Bottom, Ted Shanks, and other CAs along the Mississippi River.

St. Louis hosted the National Archery in the Schools Program World Championship June 28-30. More than 3,000 archers from the United States and Canada participated in the event and several Missouri youth medaled at the world tournament.

July

Gov. Nixon appointed Tim Dollar, Blue Springs, to a six-year term on the Missouri Conservation Commission. Dollar, 53, grew up in the Kansas City area, where he now practices law. He traces his interest in conservation to time spent outdoors with his maternal grandfather, Alden Jaynes. “He took me squirrel and rabbit and quail hunting, and I fell in love with it immediately,” says Dollar. His passion for nature now finds expression in hands-on wildlife management on his wife’s family farm. Dollar will serve through June 30, 2019.

The G. Andy Runge Conservation Nature Center in Jefferson City celebrated its 20th anniversary.

The Conservation Commission received a presentation on the establishment of an elk hunting season, taking into account such factors as elk population growth, hunting methods, season timing, permit allocation, and public opinion.

The Conservation Department stocked 16,000 striped bass in Bull Shoals Lake.

On July 15, the Department transported approximately 5,000, 6-inch alligator gar from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Tishomingo Hatchery in Oklahoma to Missouri. The alligator gar is one of four species of gar found in Missouri. The Department has been stocking alligator gar in southeast Missouri on private and public land since 2007. The fingerlings are stocked in wetlands, river sloughs, and lakes near large rivers and major drainage ditches in southeast Missouri.

August

John B. Mahaffey, who served on the Conservation Commission from 1982 through 1988, died Aug. 2 at age 86. Early in his term as conservation commissioner, the Springfield resident voted to approve a staff recommendation to require nontoxic shot for waterfowl hunting. This made Missouri a national leader in preventing lead poisoning of waterfowl and predators – most notably bald eagles – that suffered from second-hand exposure to lead toxicity. He stood firm on his decision in the face of intense pressure.

Conservation agents, with special training in swift water rescue, helped other emergency responders save the lives of people caught up in flash floods. Flooding also affected damaged crops and infrastructure on several managed wetland areas.

The Conservation Department’s state fair offerings included live appearances by a barred owl and a bald eagle, fish cleaning and cooking demonstrations, wildlife calling, tree identification, bowfishing, a portable sawmill, feral hogs, and dealing with nuisance wildlife.

One-hundred eighty-two rural fire departments received grants from the Conservation Department for firefighting equipment and supplies.

September

The Conservation Department hosted a series of eight public meetings around the state to allow people to question top agency experts on deer diseases and management and solicit citizen comments on how best to protect the state’s wild white-tailed deer herd. Experts on the panel included State Wildlife Veterinarian Kelly Straka, Resource Scientist Jason Sumners, Resource Science Division Chief Mike Hubbard, and Protection Division Chief Larry Yamnitz. Missouri’s wild deer herd supports a $1-billion-a-year outdoor recreation industry.

The Missouri 4-H Foundation honored the Conservation Department with the Nelson Trickey Bridge Builder Award.

The Missouri National Archery in the Schools Program added its 300th and 301st participating schools when Northeast Vernon County Elementary and the district’s high school signed on.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Conservation Department worked together to eradicate zebra mussels from a cove on the Grand River Arm of Truman Lake. The agencies closed the area for a few days while they treated the water with copper sulfate.

Publication of The Promise Continues: 75 Years of Citizen-Led Conservation in Missouri provides an indispensable complement to the classic The First 50 Years, published in 1987.

The Conservation Department invited Missourians to enjoy the fall foliage display at Peck Ranch CA, with the added attraction of possibly seeing Missouri’s first free-ranging elk in nearly 150 years. The opportunity was facilitated by a designated self-guided driving tour. Late September through early November is a prime time to see bull elk bugling against a backdrop of fall foliage as they woo cow elk into small groups called harems.

Michael Schoening of Owensville gigged a 2-pound, 5-ounce gizzard shad from the Bourbeuse River to break the alternative-methods record for that species that was set in January. The fish was a tad over 18 inches long.

The Conservation Department sponsored events around the state to celebrate National Hunting and Fishing Day.

Conservation pioneer Elizabeth “Libby” Schwartz, born on Friday, Sept. 13, 1912, died on Friday, Sept. 13, 2013. She taught zoology at the University of Missouri-Columbia, where she met her future husband, Charles “Charlie” Schwartz. That was the beginning of a love affair and professional partnership that spanned five decades and made the couple famous in Missouri and around the world. Their collaborations included the book The Wild Mammals of Missouri and numerous nature films.

October

Hunters checked 5,929 turkeys during the fall firearms turkey season Oct. 1 through 31. Top counties were Greene with 208 turkeys checked, Webster with 158, and Laclede with 152.

Hunters in Missouri’s urban deer management zone checked 600 deer during the urban portion of firearms deer season Oct. 11 through 14. County harvest totals were: Boone, 77; Cass, 39; Christian, 9; Clay, 30; Cole, 33; Franklin, 57; Greene, 104; Jackson, 33; Jefferson, 64; Platte, 9; St. Charles, 98; and St. Louis, 47.

Edwin R. “Ed” Stegner, who served as executive director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri (CFM) for 40 years, died at his home in Pilot Grove Oct. 25 at the age of 88. Stegner took the job as CFM’s top executive in 1953 and held it until his retirement in 1994. He was Missouri’s only full-time conservation lobbyist for many years and in this capacity was instrumental in establishing Missouri’s first clean water law, forest stewardship guidelines, strip mine regulation, funding for local parks and recreation, and much more.

The Springfield Conservation Nature Center celebrated its 25th anniversary.

The Conservation Department and partners, notably the St. Louis Zoo, released 600 captive-reared Ozark hellbenders and 150 eastern hellbenders into Ozark streams, giving the troubled species a leg up in their struggle for survival.

November

Hunters age 6 through 15 added another 18,676 to the 2013 firearms deer harvest during the early youth portion Nov. 2 and 3. The early youth deer harvest was 44 percent larger than the previous 10-year average. Factors contributing to the increase included excellent weather and increasing participation in the youth portion.

Newly appointed Conservation Commissioner Marilynn J. Bradford, Jefferson City, has a diverse background in government, business and conservation. A life member of the Conservation Federation of Missouri, Bradford traces her interest in nature to family trout-fishing trips and time spent on undeveloped land that she and other children in her Jefferson City neighborhood called “Bird Haven.” Her term on the Conservation Commission runs through June 30, 2019.

Biologists released 3,300 hatchery-reared Topeka shiners into ponds and a creek on The Nature Conservancy’s Dunn Ranch Prairie and the Conservation Department’s Pawnee Prairie Natural Area in Harrison County in northwest Missouri. Removal of the prairie-dwelling fish from the endangered-species list is the goal of a decades-long protection and restoration effort.

Hunters shot 157,273 deer during the November Portion of Missouri’s Firearms Deer Season. Top harvest counties were Texas with 3,309 deer checked, Howell with 3,292, and Oregon with 3,227. Biologists attribute a decrease in the November deer harvest to losses to hemorrhagic diseases in 2012, abundant acorns in southern Missouri, and declining deer numbers in northern Missouri. They say that, in spite of the dip in this year’s harvest, Missouri’s deer population remains healthy overall and will rebuild. Hunters have an important role to play by adjusting the number of does they shoot in areas where they notice declines in deer numbers.

December

The Conservation Department continues to work with the Quail and Upland Wildlife Federation and landowners to explore the potential for restoring ruffed grouse in the river-hills area of east-central Missouri. A two-year study reveals that additional early successional forest habitat is needed to support a population.

More than 215,000 students in 74 percent of Missouri’s school districts have participated in the Conservation Department’s Discover Nature Schools program.

The Conservation Department paid more than $1 million in county levee and drainage district taxes, forest cropland payments, and payments in lieu of taxes to Missouri county governments.

The Conservation Commission approved the nominations of Ed Stegner and Libby Schwartz for induction into the Missouri Conservation Hall of Fame.

Jim Low