The new director of the Missouri Department of Conservation is Tom Draper. Truthfully, he has been the boss there for quite some time. To explain that, I had an interview with the latest director Robert Zeihmer, just a couple of years ago in his office in Jefferson City and Draper sat beside him as if he were there to see to it that Zeihmer answered any questions as Draper wanted them answered. Several times he interrupted to answer the questions I had on his own, without letting Zeihmer say a word.
Once, I asked Ziehmer if he approved of the situation down in Douglas County where a dying man had willed two hundred acres of land to the MDC. Just after the man died the department sent in their surveyor and attempted to rearrange the boundary so that it would take about 25 or 30 acres from three neighboring landowners without ever notifying them.
This involved cutting trees from neighbors land, setting a new boundary and posting signs telling the real owners of the land to stay off the land they had owned for decades. The landowners had to pay lawyers quite a lot of money and go through a long legal battle just to get back that land. In that interview I asked Zeihmer why they had done such a thing. Draper looked at him as if to say, “keep quiet” and then he answered with something that sounded as if he had written it down and memorized it.
“The people of Missouri expect us to accumulate and expand land for them to hunt, or hike or otherwise enjoy,” he said.
My next question was, “Do you think the people of Missouri collectively would approve of what you did there next to land a dying man gave you, a man who had long known and respected his neighbors. If all Missouri citizens knew all about it, would the majority be happy with what you have done?” There was no answer, and Draper asked if there was anything else I wanted to know, as if he was in charge of the interview rather than Ziehmer.
There was another question… The MDC had paid, up front, $145,000 to a man who was a close friend of the previous director, John Hoskins, for a book he was to write about Missouri rivers – a book never produced. The Missouri Auditor’s office had come out with criticism of the payout, and Ziehmer looked at Draper for approval, then replied… “That was something Hoskins did for a friend of his as they both retired together, and we had no part in it, no knowledge of it until it was done.”
I had an interview with MDC enforcement chief Larry Yamnitz a year or so before when Draper was there, and I felt as if Yamnitz had to be aware that his answers were approved by Draper. Again, he even interrupted at times to answer questions I had asked of that Department Chief.
So now he is the Director, and I assume that trees of any value on MDC managed public land will continue to fall to contract loggers. I am sure the upland habitat on others will continue to be obliterated in order to turn that land over to large scale tenant farmers who can only profit when the amounts of acreage planted in crops is considerable. It has happened for years, and few Missourians know about it.
That day in Jefferson City, I asked about some wildlife areas in the Sedalia area about which outdoor writer Gerald Scott had written columns, disturbed about fence rows and habitat being bulldozed, resulting in loss of quail and rabbits and song birds. Again Draper answered… “We have met with Scott and his questions have been addressed to his satisfaction.” That was it, end of conversation.
The editor of the largest newspaper I write for will not allow this column to appear. Nothing critical of the MDC has appeared there for many years. I have talked with her about it and she states that my writings about the MDC are merely opinions which are “unsubstantiated”. But finally she has agreed to come and spend a day with me, in which I want to show her the evidence of what I have written, allow her to talk in person with ex-agents, and people whom the MDC has unjustly targeted.
I intend to take her and show her a beautiful waterfowl marsh that the MDC has built on land owned by very wealthy lawyers and judges, at absolutely no expense to them. All Missourians paid for that marsh, but none of us can go on the land without being charged with trespassing. Each fall, high-ranking department officials hunt there with those lawyers. I am sure that editor will soon end the use of my column in that newspaper which I have written for nearly 20 years.
But that is okay, no newspaper columnist can write about anything when what he writes must be completely in agreement with what one person approves of, despite what the readers think. But when this editor sees what I have to show her, I wonder how she or any other editor can turn a blind eye to it. Some of what I have turned up over the years is clear violations of the law, and yet the MDC is so powerful, they feel they need not ever worry about all this, they cannot be held accountable. They are above the law, and can violate anyone’s constitutional rights. They have many times… and once it cost them a million dollars.
MDC officials often ridicule what I write, and they contact newspapers and try to get them to drop my column and use outdoor material written by their “media specialists” offered free of charge. Recently they went to a local chamber of commerce to have a weekly radio program of mine taken off the air.
My greatest desire is to have Mr. Draper and as many of his associates who might want to be involved, come to one or several of their meeting halls and debate with me six or eight things they have been involved in before an audience of Ozark outdoorsmen which I have written about. It will not happen, no matter what. What Draper knows, and what the MDC has counted on for so long, is that if the truth can be kept hidden… it is much to their benefit.
I can speak their language because I am not a journalist… I have a degree from the University of Missouri majoring in wildlife management and conservation. I know so much about what they do because they have plenty of good employees who believe in conservation as I do, and many contact me often to tell me things that the ordinary citizens will never hear. If it were known what they tell me, they’d be fired.
The major newspapers, like the one in Springfield owned by Gannett, do not print anything that the MDC would not approve of. They will not even use something I write in their “letters to the editor” page. Same thing with the Springfield, Kansas City and St. Louis television stations; never, ever a critical story about them. A writer for the Kansas City Star wrote a page-long article about what the MDC was doing. It was all true, but she was nearly fired because of it. I would give anything if readers could hear what the MDC did to her merely because she wrote the truth.
This practice of never allowing the truth to come out is just as bad as censorship.
Yet somehow, some way, I believe eventually the corruption and the mismanagement those top people are involved in will come out, maybe years and years from now.
Maybe if enough editors and Ozark sportsmen keep after them, Draper, Yamnitz and other department heads will meet me for that debate. What an event it would be. If all I have written is untrue, they can end my career as an outdoor writer for good, and silence the only real critic they have. If what I have written is something they fear that I can back up before a large audience, then such a debate can never happen.
All I want is for Missourians to know the truth.
DEN TREE NO MORE – Forestry management on our public hunting lands managed by the MDC means heavy logging. The cutting of this den tree is an example of how little the wildlife means when timber sale contracts are negotiated.
THE SMITHS LOST LAND – Landowners from Douglas County stand by a survey line put in place by the Missouri Department of Conservation which claims several yards of their land.