Conservation Laws: A Delicate Balance

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Published on: Nov. 2, 1995

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

Legal decisions that shape the fish, wildlife and forestry conservation of Missouri maintain a delicate balance between laws protecting private rights and those promoting the public interest.

Missourians spend countless hours enjoying the natural beauty, splendor and bounty of our state. They fish, they float, they hike, they hunt, they camp. They photograph wildlife, observe birds and introduce their children to streams and nature.

This recreation, which takes place on both public and private land, would not be available to us now or in the future without laws and regulations.

In fact, the entire management and conservation of Missouri's wildlife, fish and forests hinges on a number of legal decisions, most of which have maintained a delicate balance between laws protecting private rights and those promoting the public interest.

The very existence and operations of the Missouri Department of Conservation have been upheld in several major court decisions.

The first of these was Marsh v. Bartlett. In this test case in 1938, which involved a $10 fine against Marsh for catching a largemouth bass during the closed season in Dallas County, the State Supreme Court decided that the state had the authority to control game and fish within its borders and that it was not the function of the court to determine the wisdom of the policies of the Department of Conservation.

In a 1978 case, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the J of 1 percent conservation sales tax, which the voters approved in 1977.

A 1988 case involved the question of whether wetland habitat provided by the Conservation Department constituted a nuisance, because waterfowl drawn to the habitat consumed or damaged crops on nearby private lands. The court ruled in favor of the Conservation Department saying that the Conservation Departmen only provided habitat for the waterfowl and exercised no control over them.


As a lawyer and an ardent outdoorsman, I find our state's trespass laws comprehensive and clear. In essence, if you go on someone else's property to fish or hunt without their permission, you may be guilty of the crime of trespass.

In addition, a landowner or tenant may bring a civil lawsuit for damages against someone who has trespassed on their property. The landowner or tenant is not required to be in actual possession or actually occupying that property at the time, nor does the property have to be fenced or posted with "No Trespassing" signs.

Liability to the landowner for someone injured on his or

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