Vantage Point

The More Things Change...

... the more they stay the same, the old saying goes. So when a member of our magazine committee asked recently what the purpose of the Conservationist is, I just reached for Volume 1, Number 1, to reply: "In response to an apparent desire for information concerning the activities of the Conservation Commission, and in order to provide information for the guidance of individuals and groups interested in the conservation of wildlife, this publication is being issued. Its purpose is to keep the public informed as to the policies and plans of the department as the work of organization and administration progresses. The publication is in the nature of an experiment. Its continuance will be determined by the extent of the interest that is manifested in its contents by those to whom it is sent." E. Sydney Stephens, the first chairman of the Conservation Commission, wrote that in July, 1938.

This year the Missouri Department of Conservation celebrates its 60th anniversary. One has only to reflect on the contents of the very first Conservationist to see the truth of "the more things change, the more they stay the same." The first issue featured articles on declining quail populations, baby animals, conservation agents, fish stocking and forest protection - topics you'll find between the covers of any recent Conservationist, too.

But change created the Conservation Department. In 1937, citizens recognized the need to set effective seasons and bag limits on wildlife and to put an end to wildfires that were destroying the state's forests, so they established the Conservation Commission by initiative petition drive. Then again in 1977, citizens wanted a change that would extend the Conservation Department's stewardship to nongame species, and provided - again through an initiative petition drive - a one-eighth-cent sales tax to fund new programs.

These unprecedented calls for change meant Missourians would have the most effective conservation program in the country.

Consider these other changes in the last 60 years:

  • Biologists once worked to restore deer and wild turkey populations, which were the endangered species of 1937; now they are challenged to control growing urban and north Missouri deer populations.
  • Foresters virtually halted destructive wildfires which used to annually burn up to 33 percent of Missouri's forests; now foresters and other land managers use fire constructively as one of nature's many management tools.

The Conservationist strives to change, too, while maintaining our purpose set forth by Mr. Stephens in 1938. The brilliant painted bunting on this month's cover, for example, reflects our readers' growing interest in birds and birding. (We regularly survey Conservationist readers to make sure our content matches your preferences.) And advances in printing technology have made it possible to show you the beauty of natural Missouri, in contrast to the drab Volume 1, Number 1, in the picture.

The Conservation Department, which owes its existence to a call for change, is itself undergoing change under our new director, Jerry Conley. One visible sign of this change is in clothing. Gone are the gray-and-green uniforms of the past (except for conservation agents) and in are "signature" shirts bearing the MDC logo. These and other changes are welcome to some and upsetting to others, but they demonstrate the ability to adapt to a changing society and resource conditions.

It's good to honor the past, but it's absolutely necessary to prepare for the future. Here at the Conservationist, we are already planning articles for the year 2000. I predict months of good reading ahead for you, but I am winding up my eight-year stint as editor. Serving as editor of this magazine has been an undreamed-of privilege. Through your calls, letters, e-mail and surveys, I feel like I've established a network of long-distance friends who share a love for all outdoor Missouri has to offer. A new editor will guide the magazine into the future, but you can be assured this 59-year-old "experiment" will continue to inform as long as it is needed.

And we won't forget that "the more things change" - whether it's new clothing or new ideas for conserving our resources - "the more they stay the same" - that's our commitment to serve you, the finest conservation minded citizens in the country. -- KSL