EDITOR’S NOTE: Our guest columnist this issue is Brandon Butler, executive director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri. If you are not a member, please consider becoming one by going online to confedmo.org.
By BRANDON BUTLER
I read a story the other day about a battle that took place 200 years ago between early settlers and a number of Indian tribes at the confluence of the Osage and Missouri Rivers. Today, we are manning missions to Mars. Can you even imagine what this world will be like in another 200 years?
The settlers pushed out the last remaining Indian tribes and began spreading out across a native landscape flush with fish and game. These early settlers found a fortune of deer, bison, elk, bears, ducks, turkeys and other wildlife species.
They took what they needed and a whole lot more. Market hunting was rampant. Shipping game meat and hides back east and off to Europe quickly took a toll on wildlife. So did the booming lumber industry.
The Ozarks were logged bare. Feeding sawmills like the one at Grandin consumed 70 acres of woodland a day. Maybe those early settlers never dreamed they could exhaust the abundance of natural resources they found here in Missouri, or maybe it was a race to the end to see who could make the most money before the resources ran out. Either way, the damage was done.
THE LOW POINT
In less than 100 years, the early settlers had killed every bison, every elk and every bear in Missouri. Deer were almost gone, reaching a low of an estimated 400 in the state. Turkeys were not doing much better. In the early 1930s, there were only an estimated 2,000 turkeys left. To put that in perspective, during last year’s Youth Turkey Season, youth hunters killed 4,332 turkeys. That’s a harvest of two times the number of turkeys we had in the state just 80 years ago.
So just a couple of generations ago, when your father or grandfather was young, Missouri was on the brink of losing the few deer and turkeys we had left. But something amazing happened. Citizens stood up.
People just like you said we have to do something about this; that we cannot stand by and lose what is left of our precious wildlife resources. So they got together and formed the Conservation Federation of Missouri.
ON THE BALLOT
Then these early conservationists, led by legends such as Aldo Leopold, Ding Darling, Nash Buckingham and E. Sydney Stephens, rallied Missourians together from all across the state to push an initiative petition to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would take politics out of conservation, thus allowing sound science to manage our natural resources. They did, and it passed.
The people of Missouri created the Conservation Commission, which you recognize today as the Missouri Department of Conservation. And if Missourians shall continue to live in a state with thriving forest, fish and wildlife resources, then citizens must be engaged in the process of protecting our unique system of authority from the ever-encroaching attempts of certain industry-influenced legislators who are determined to undermine what most American conservationists refer to as the greatest state game agency ever to exist.
From 1935 until today, Missourians have been working to restore our natural resources and wildlife species. And because of citizens supporting the efforts of the Department of Conservation, Missouri has once more become a land rich in game and habitat.
Today there are an estimated 1.4 million deer in Missouri. That’s quite a recovery from 400. And Missouri now has 500,000 turkeys.
We only have these resources because of the citizen conservationists who came before us. They restored our natural resources. Now we must conserve them for our children and our children’s children. Please, do your part.