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Forum set for tonight

Scott Welton
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SIKESTON - State, regional and local Missouri Department of Conservation officials will hold a public conservation forum at 7 p.m. today in the Clinton Building at the Sikeston Sports Complex.

The public forums are being held all over the state, according to Leother Branch, Scott County conservation agent. “Sikeston was primarily picked as a central location for Southeast Missouri,” he explained.

The meeting is open to the public and is for “anyone who has any keen interest in conservation,” Branch said - both outdoorsmen and non-outdoorsmen alike.

“We always try to get public input on the way things are run and on our programs, give people a chance to voice their concerns,” he said, “and to let Jefferson City officials know what is going on here in our area.”

Department of Conservation Director John Hoskins and other administrators from Jefferson City are slated to attend along with Forestry Regional Supervisor Joe Garvey, Wildlife Regional Supervisor Harriet Weger, Fisheries Regional Supervisor Mark Haas, Private Lands Regional Supervisor Tony Jaco, Outreach and Education Regional Supervisor A.J. Hendershott and Protection Regional Supervisor Ken West from the Southeast Regional Office in Cape Girardeau.

The regional officials will be present to answer questions from the public, West said.

Among the statewide issues to be discussed are the overpopulation of deer in northwest and central Missouri as well as parts of the northeast and the department’s deer management plan implemented to address the problem, Branch said. “We’re giving land owners the opportunity to harvest more deer on their property,” he said. The department is also authorizing “urban hunts to reduce the population in those areas as well.”

Among the regional issues affecting Southeast Missouri to be discussed is the ongoing wetland restoration program in this area.

Organizers also plan to ask participants two primary questions. The first is, “What kind of public use facilities are most important to provide and maintain in conservation areas?”

This consists of “needs the public might have an interest in,” Branch explained, such as boats ramps on the Mississippi River, public ground for hunting and public lakes for fishing, for example.

With 93 percent of the land in Missouri being privately owned, Branch said conservation officials are asking, “are we providing enough opportunity to allow the non-land owner to have access to hunting areas and fisheries?”

Other facilities include things like shooting ranges. “We are always looking for more opportunities there - finding a suitable spot to have a shooting range,” Branch said. He said right now the nearest public shooting ranges are in Steele and Apple Creek.

The second question conservation officials plan to ask is, “Do you have any thoughts, questions, concerns or advice for the Department of Conservation regarding the restoration and management of bobwhite quail in Southeast Missouri?”

“The new quail management plan has been implemented and it does affect a lot of landowners in our region here,” Branch said. “There’s a lot of programs related to quail and small game management.

“Throughout Missouri we’re losing a considerable amount of habitat due to the farm practices taking place today,” he added. “These used to be some of the prime areas for quail - we’re just not seeing the quail we used to. Traditionally quail hunting has been a very popular sport throughout the Bootheel.”

To survive, the quail need adequate food, water and cover such as fence rows and “a lot of brush piles,” Branch said. Officials also plan to discuss the new conservation education center in Cape Girardeau that is being built.

“Basically, this forum is just to get some public input on some things we can improve on, things we are doing good on,” Branch said. “We just want to make sure that the pubic understands that we are going to be there to answer their questions and concerns about special interests they may have.”

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