Missouri Conservation Funding Under The Gun!

Caney Mountain vistaRecently Scott Laurent, author of Wild Missouri, alerted me to a proposed amendment to the Missouri Constitution that threatens to destabilize the funding for the Missouri Department of Conservation.   

Just the thought of the MDC losing its funding makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.  And I think most Missourians would agree, because they know that one of the things that makes Missouri such an incredible place to live, work and play is the beauty and diversity of its wildlands.

 Missourians take pride in the fact that they have such wonderful free rivers to float on and to catch fish from, and that there are still wild places left where one can go to escape the bombardment of man-made life. These wild and natural places are our inheritance – our natural heritage – and after we have enjoyed them, they rightfully belong to our children and to our children’s children, for endless generations to come.

But in order to ensure that we pass on this bountiful legacy, we must first ensure that it is protected from those who seek to exploit its abundant natural resources for private, personal, or political profit. That was a lesson our forefathers learned the hard way.

The raping and pillaging of Missouri’s landscape began as early as the late 1600’s, as miners and fur hunters found an abundance of natural wealth free for the taking. But the final blow in the destruction of Missouri’s wilderness began to take shape in the early 1800’s, when private interests proceeded to cut down every tree from every hill and every holler and every knob. Swamps were drained and riversides denuded. 

The hillsides were so devastated that one could see from mountain to mountain for miles and miles on end because there were no more trees to block the view.   Once all the trees had been cut down wildfires ravaged the landscape, leaving the bare earth to erode unchecked into our beautiful clear rivers and streams, killing mink, otter, fish, turtles and anything else that relied upon the waters for life.

Missourian’s learned about conservation the hard way – after all the wild game, including deer, bear, turkey, elk, otter, rabbit, weasel, grouse, quail, mountain lion, squirrel, bald eagle, songbirds and a wide array of fish, frogs and turtles became scarce or locally extinct.

The decline began with environmental degradation and was continued by unscrupulous bush-meat hunters that killed with such abandon, that many an elder Ozarker alive today remembers a time when seeing a deer in the woods was an amazing thing because there were so few left to see.

It wasn’t until the late 1930’s that Missourians really stood back and looked at what had become of their beautiful land.  When they saw the full extent of what they had allowed to happen, they cried.

It’s hard to imagine Missouri as bald and barren as a lunar landscape when all we have to do to see the abundance and diversity of our land is look outside .  But it is crucially important to see it from that historic perspective.

Just think about all the times you have hiked to a hidden lake or spring, or floated on a cold, clear river and then  imagine never having had that opportunity.  Remember the first time you went hunting, fishing or camping and imagine there were no fish or deer or trees. And for those new to the area, remind yourself why you came to Missouri in the first place and understand fully and completely that the Missouri Department of Conservation has been the driving force in rebuilding that once horribly scarred landscape into the lush landscape you enjoy today.

The process of restoring Missouri’s natural landscape has been a monumental task that has been decades in the making. It is no small means to rebuild an ecosystem from scratch, but through cooperative efforts of the MDC and the public, we have.  Some of these efforts include land acquisitions that link together critical wildlife corridors, restoration and protection of diverse ecosystems crucial for the support of both animals and plants, and reintroduction of key wildlife species, such as wild turkey.

Conservation isn’t just about preserving the land and its flora and fauna or protecting the environment that supports them, it’s also about people interacting with that environment in a positive and constructive way. Conservation efforts help landowners manage their private forestland, build ponds, restore wetlands, and increase opportunities for hunting, fishing, and recreation, and to teach future generations how to enjoy the land while protecting it at the same time.  It’s about making the land we live on better for both humans and wildlife.

The achievements attained by the Missouri Department of Conservation over the last 75 years have been nothing short of monumental, garnering them the honor of being one of America’s most emulated conservation programs. But these accomplishments in conservation don’t happen overnight, nor do they come for free. Missouri’s citizens know the value of the work of the MDC, which is why they afforded them funding through a 1/8th of 1% sales tax. 

So before you rationalize the latest attempt by lawyers and big government officials to rob you, the citizens of this great state, of your natural heritage – remember how much you have loved the land and the quality of life you have enjoyed because of its existence.2001 - 11 - Althea Spring near N Fork of the White River

The most recent attempt to thwart the continued efforts of the Missouri Department of Conservation comes in the form of an amendment to the state constitution, known as HJR 22. This bill was proposed by Republican Senator John Cauthorn of Missouri’s 18th District. Of the 13 counties he represents, all are located in the north eastern portion of Missouri’s farm belt. His bill would in effect institute what lawmakers call a “sunset clause” on the current funding of the Missouri Department of Conservation, forcing voters to periodically vote to refund the department.  

At first glance, the wording of the amendment seems innocuous, but if the current trend of legislative movement in the State of Missouri is any indication, this bill is just another attempt to reduce quality public services to Missouri citizens.

When I first heard about the bill, I was naturally upset; yet, I wanted to be sure I had my facts straight before bringing it to the public’s attention. I wrote to both Senator Cauthorn and the Missouri Department of Conservation to get their input on the bill. I asked both to clarify the purpose of the bill and also how the bill might affect the ability of the Department of Conservation to continue its work.

And while Senator Cauthorn did not respond to my inquiry, Tim Smith, an Ombudsman for the Missouri Department of Conservation, had this to offer:

“…if the legislation passed, it would provide an opportunity for eliminating a large portion of MDC’s funding (sales tax revenues account for about 60% of our annual revenue). That loss of funding would severely limit the services that we are able to provide. Even if a public vote did not eliminate the conservation sales tax, it would limit our ability for effective long-term planning because a large part of our revenue would periodically be in doubt.

“This department’s budget represents less than one percent of the total state budget and we have enjoyed much public support. We believe that we have delivered effective conservation according to our mandate.”

Mr. Smith continued, by pointing out that surveys have indicated that,

  • “Nine of ten Missourians are interested in the state’s fish, forests and wildlife resources.
  • Eighty-five percent of adult Missouri residents trust the Department to manage those resources.
  • Seventy-three percent of Missourians believe that the Department is doing a good job.”

If the health of our natural lands, our access to those lands, and the increasing opportunities for outdoor recreation and education are any indication that the Missouri Department of Conservation is not only improving the quality of our lives, our property values, and our appeal as a tourist destination, then we should work tirelessly to protect that entity which has most improved our personal lives, our communities, and our state.

Now is not the time to sit by and allow politics to destroy a 75-year old legacy in Missouri! Now is the time to stand up and fight for the dreams of our founding fathers and for the future generations of Missourians. Support the Missouri Department of Conservation by writing or calling your state representatives and congressmen today.

Tell them to kill bill HJR 22!

Find out who your legislators are by visiting  http://www.house.mo.gov/  Simply enter your zip code in the box entitled Legislator Look-Up on the far right hand side of the page.

Read Scott Laurent’s original posting here:  Alert! Design for Conservation Sales Tax

Jill Henderson is an artist, author and the editor of Show Me Oz
You can find her book, A Journey of Seasons: A Year in the Ozark High Country, in our bookstore.

Copyright Jill Henderson – All Rights Reserved

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4 responses to “Missouri Conservation Funding Under The Gun!

  1. Jill,

    Your article is a wonderfully impassioned defense of wild Missouri. I’ve put a link to your post from my blog. I look forward to reading more of Show Me Oz!

    • Thanks, Scott. I wouldn’t have known about the bill if you hadn’t alerted me to it, so thank you for the heads-up! It takes an active citizenry to govern our government, and Missouri’s wildlands are the last bastion of sanity in an ever-industrialized world. Thanks for keeping us all on our toes!

  2. John W. Williams

    Jill,

    It’s my understanding that MDC funding is higher than any of the other States. Considerably higher. It would be nice to do a comparison and get the actual figures. I do agree that Missouri has done very well with what they have. There has, however, been a lot of opposition in the area of Property Rights etc. Note that there was a great amount of opposition to the recent ongiong effort at Elk reintroduction in the Southeastern part of the state. Also note the opposition to “Heritage Areas”. It would be interesting to see just how much of the MDC monies go to land acquisition and, overall, how funding compares to other states. Would elimnination of the one eighth cent sales tax, have a devastating effect or not?

    • Hi John, I really do appreciate your thoughtful comments on the situation. You and I know each other somewhat and so I know where you are coming from.

      I can’t say wether or not the conservation funding for Missouri is “higher than other states” but considering the state of other state’s conservation efforts, I’d say we’re leading the pack and rightfully so. Take South Dakota for example, as I happen to be here at the moment, in order for SD residents to recieve the South Dakota Conservation Magazine it costs around $15.00 a year for residents and it’s a pretty lame publication when compared to MDC’s magazine, which is competely free to all Missouri residents.

      Also, if one takes a good look at the surrounding states, Missouri’s “land aquisitions”, which are comprised primarily of donated land by private landowners who want to see conservation efforts continue (read quail hunting and fishing opportunities free for all Missourians), I think we in Missouri are getting a great deal from our tiny 1/8th of 1% SALES tax. A sales tax is a tax on goods purchased. We pay around 6.5% for all goods purchased in the state, give or take a little. And it’s completely voluntary. And for every $8.00 spent on some do-dad from corporate-welfare, publicly-funded Wal-Mart (the recipient of public funds for roads, stop lights, sidewalks, and state welfare for underpaid employees) the MDC recieves one single penny – so, yes, I think it’s a great deal. For one penny out of every $8.00 of taxable merchandise, Missourians enjoy one of the most emulated conservation efforts in the country and a wide array of outdoor opportunities to enjoy for generations to come. Try that in New York or Los Angeles, or better yet, Colorado, California, Montana or Washinton state.

      And to private property rights: Those who own property near or adjacent to Conservation lands and Conservation protected rivers, or natural areas enjoy a much higher resale price for their properties than those that are further away. So, basically, conservation land improves private property values. As to the elk situation, which frankly is why I believe this bill was introduced in the first place (as a type of punishment) – elk are a natural part of the Ozarks that have been wiped off the face of Missouri’s natural, God-given map. In other states, herds of elk are a enormous draw for tourists and out-of-state permits for hunting elk are quite substantial. These monies, both from tourism and hunting permits can help significantly reduce our state’s budget deficits and create new private enterprises specializing in outdoor experiences found no where else in the midwest. And the myths about elk eating all the grass, et al, is really a bunch of hype: I know, I’ve lived in states with large elk populations. Deer eat grass, too: are we willing to wipe out all deer in Missouri to appease cattle farmers? I think not. Top that off with the massive amount of free programs to educate young people in the ways of outdoor, woodsman and survival skills in one of the midwests’ most prized wildland areas and I’d say my 1 cent out of every $8.oo is really worth something!

      So, we can run the numbers and compare dollar for dollar the worth of an entire eco-system, or we can let the private corporate hacks come in and rape Missouri until there’s nothing wild or free left to enjoy – it’s our choice.

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