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Public forums reveal keen interest in conservation
People who attended open forums statewide last year expressed strong opinions about everything from deer management to conservation education.

JEFFERSON CITY--Officials from the Missouri Department of Conservation asked Missourians what they thought about conservation at eight public forums last year. What they learned is contained in a recently released Missouri Conservation Forums: Autumn 2003.

The 61-page report summarizes comments received at eight meetings last fall. Two-hundred twenty-eight people attended the meetings, which took place in Hannibal, Farmington, Chillicothe, Rolla, Columbia, Union, Joplin and Clinton. Conservation Department Director John Hoskins attended all but the meeting in Union. Top Conservation Department staffers were present for all eight.

"There were a few surprises," said Policy Supervisor Jane Epperson, "but mostly the meetings gave us a chance to fine-tune our understanding of what Missourians want and how those wants differ from region to region."

Among surprises documented in the report is the small number of people expressing concern about chronic wasting disease. "We expected that to loom large in people's minds, because of the national attention the issue has received in recent years," said Epperson. "But apparently they were reassured by Missouri's ongoing testing program. So far all the statewide tests have come back negative."

Epperson said she was not surprised that many people who attended the meetings were concerned about controlling local deer populations, increasing the number of bobwhite quail and maintaining strong conservation education programs, especially those for children.

"We were particularly pleased by positive comments about how the department is using the one-eighth of 1 percent sales tax for conservation," said Epperson.

Topics that cropped up repeatedly at meetings around the state included:

* Property damage and automobile accidents caused by deer.
* Desire for more mature male deer.
* Too few public hunting areas, stream and lake accesses and shooting facilities
* Need to control raccoons and other predators to protect quail.
* Need to give women, minorities and city dwellers more chances to enjoy outdoor activities.
* Desire for more youth hunting and fishing clinics.
* Otter depredation on fish.
* Desire for more equestrian trails
* Importance of maintaining a conservation program based on biology.
* Importance of maintaining conservation funding.
* Need to educate new legislators about conservation efforts.

Concerns of special interest in northeast Missouri included giving farmers incentives to leave fence rows in place as habitat for quail and other wildlife. Northwest Missouri residents said quail numbers were increasing and complimented the Conservation Department's efforts to help private landowners implement wildlife conservation measures.

In the southeast, people asked about wetland restoration and nature center development. In southwest Missouri, citizen concerns included water quality, public fishing areas and public shooting ranges.

St. Louis area residents expressed concerns about wetland conservation and programs of interest to people who do not fish or hunt. Kansas Citians' concerns focused on invasive exotic plants and management to benefit quail and other wildlife that share their habitat needs.

In the Ozarks, people expressed support for programs that help endangered species and eradication of multiflora rose, sericea lespedeza and other invasive exotic plants. They also asked about prospects for financial support for a nature center in Rolla.

Central Missourians voiced concern about invasive aquatic species, such as the rusty crayfish, and maintaining wetland habitat. They expressed appreciation for Conservation Department partnerships with city and county officials on projects of mutual benefit. The desire for more recreational facilities on the Missouri River came up, too.

Positive comments included:

* Compliments on buying Columbia Bottom CA before it was developed.
* Public and private forests are in good condition.
* Appreciate firefighting equipment available to rural fire departments through the Forestry Division.
* Support for the agency's promotion of best management practices for loggers.
* Support for educational programs, including curriculum materials, in-school programs and books and other publications.
* Support for Missouri Conservationist Magazine
* Appreciation for educational programs to support schools and universities.
* Partnerships with Ducks Unlimited have resulted in significant wetland gains.
* Missouri Cattlemen's Association members appreciate financial support of agriculture-related conservation programs.
* Support for youth hunting clinics.
* "Director Hoskins is listening and moving the Conservation Department in the right direction."
* "MDC is too low key: toot your own horn a little more."

The full report is available at Click on "Missouri Conservation Forums, Autumn 2003" at the bottom of the page.

-Jim Low-

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