This out-of-print book details the history of MDC from 1937 to 1987.
Browse the history of MDC's first 50 years.
Only a few decades ago, it wasn't unusual to see fields of rocks in the Ozarks or acres upon acres of broomsedge, that indicator of worn-out land. Today, fields of bare rocks are rare, and broomsedge have largely been replaced with improved pastures. Wildfires are nowhere nearly as common as they were, and reforestation cloaks hills that were formerly cut, goated and burned.
Sydney Stephens died October 17, 1948. Students in the wildlife conservation class at the time remember Dr. Rudolf Bennitt, associate zoology professor at the University of Missouri, standing before the class and crying as he announced Stephens' death. What sort of man could evoke such emotion?
On the first day of July 1937, E. Sydney Stephens was confronted with the necessity of coming up with some sort of organization. Amendment NO. 4 had passed by a sizable majority, indicating that the public was ready for a nonpolitical, scientifically-based wildlife and forestry program. But how do you go about starting one?
Irwin T. Bode had a history of successful development of new programs before he became director of Missouri Conservation Department.
Bode had one trained wildlife biologist, Harold V. Terrill, who had been hired by Ramsey in September. He needed more biologists to get some sort of wildlife program going, and he needed someone to head up a forestry program. Both he and Stephens shared a dream of improving the position of the game warden by giving him a larger role in the management of wildlife and forests. That needed organization and personnel.
Bode's aim was to have most of his personnel out in the field "on the firing line," as he expressed it. He preferred to have a minimal staff in the Central Office and the bulk of the Department's personnel actually working with citizens on the land.
In November of 1941, Irwin T. Bode had officially completed four years as director. He brought this fact up at the January 1942, Commission meeting and was given a vote of confidence and reappointed for another four year term.
Read about Commissioner Bode's last few years with MDC.
William E. Towell became the Department's second director in 1957. A native of St. James, Towell's achievements included streamlining the Department's administration and locating all sections and divisions under one roof for the first time.
Carl Noren joined the Department in 1940 as a biologist assigned to study raccoons. His duties changed to deer restoration and river basin studies before he rose to the position of director in 1967.
Larry Gale took the oath of office February 1, 1979, swearing to uphold the constitution and serve conservation.
The first attempt at wildlife management, begun in 1939, was the Cooperative Wildlife Management Program. The intent was for the handful of biologists to serve as extension agents for the Department and bring together the landowners and the sportsmen to put wildlife restoration measures on the land.
All thirteen fisheries employees listed in 1937 worked in hatcheries. In fact, for the first two years the entire fisheries program of new Conservation Commission consisted hatching and releasing fish, plus some fish-rescue work. It was the program inherited from the old Fish and Game Department.
There was no forestry program in Missouri for a number of years, but a group called the Missouri National Forest Association successfully lobbied a bill in 1929, which was enabling legislation to permit the federal government to acquire land in the state for a national forest.
In any fish and wildlife department, protection or law enforcement has always been one of the basic management tools. The enforcement division usually has the most manpower, and in many places law enforcement was the major activity of the department until modern fish and game management came to the front in the 1930s.
The Commission believed from the first that Missourians, and especially young people, should know how to be good stewards of their wildlife resources. They believed that restoration of wildlife and forests would come about by people educated to the value of those resources in their lives.
To an organization like the Department of Conservation, a good public information program is a vital part of its overall aim, because public knowledge and support is necessary for any other program to succeed. This is even more true of an agency born of initiative, because citizens take a proprietary interest in their creation.
The Natural History Section came into being following passage of the conservation sales tax. Creation of such a unit was implicit in the Design for Conservation, which had promised increased attention to natural areas, special lands, endangered species, nongame wildlife and plants not fully dealt with under previous programs of the Department.
Prior to 1937, the amount of funding for the Fish and Game Department from sportsmen's fees depended on how much the legislature saw fit to appropriate. The legislature also stipulated how much could be spent on each function of the Department. Any unexpended funds reverted to the general revenue fund.
What eventually became the Engineering Section had its origin in the 1937 Land and Waters Division, consisting of a chief, E. A. Mayes, and one secretary.
When the Department began operations in 1937, no one was designated to handle personnel management responsibilities. Each division, and often each supervisor, shouldered the duties.
Planning Section became a separately designated administrative section as part of Department reorganization in 1964, with Edwin H. Glaser as its chief. Its roots, however, extend back to 1946, when the Department found it necessary to establish liaison with the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers to safeguard the state¿s fish and game interests in river basin planning and developments.
As early as 1942, the Forestry Division recognized a need for services that were later to become duties of the Operations Section. State Forester George O. White hired Robert F. Wells, a former U. S. Forest Service employee and CCC foreman, to do construction work.
Organizational charts show the structure of the Department during its first 50 years.
Browse this gallery of MDC Commissioners from the first 50 years.
The Master Conservationist award was adopted in 1941 and first presented in 1942. There were awards every year from 1942 until 1950 when there was a lapse of 18 years until R. A. Brown, member of the Conservation Commission from 1945 to 1951, was awarded the honor in 1968.
The story of conservation in Missouri is told pictorially by the murals of Charles W. Schwartz which grace the foyer of Department headquarters in Jefferson City. These murals trace the history of the fish, forest and wildlife resources of the state from the pristine conditions of 1700 through the era of settlement and exploitation to present conservation efforts.
Chronology Part 1 details conservation-related events in Missouri from 1861 to 1968.
Chronology Part II details events related to Missouri wildlife and forests and the Department of Conservation from 1969-1986.
View the photo credits and index.