Vantage Point

"State of the Department"

It seems appropriate, now that our new director, Jerry Conley, has completed his first year, to report to my fellow Missourians the "State of the Department" from the Conservation Commission's perspective.

Many things have changed organizationally in the last year. These include, to name a few, elimination of one entire level of management, selection of Deputy Director John Smith and establishing a process by which weekly staff meetings occur directly between the director and deputy director and division chiefs in a "round table" atmosphere.

Virtually all of the Conservation Department's policies have been reviewed, analyzed and improved. New uniforms with "individual" choices have been adopted, the central office has been downsized, hardworking field staff have been promoted and, perhaps most significant, common divisional boundaries have been established. It's been a breathtaking year of change from this standpoint. Through it all, the Commission has been carefully briefed in advance and has watched closely to ensure that everything accomplished will lead to the betterment of the Conservation Department.

Judging by employee morale and enthusiasm, the changes have succeeded beyond our expectations. Jerry Conley was clearly the right man for the job.

Over the last two years, the Conservation Commission also has grappled with numerous other thorny issues. Negotiating with the City of St. Louis to acquire 4,000 acres for the Columbia Bottom Conservation Area was quite an experience, but title was finally transferred on Sept. 16. Additionally, in early summer, the Commission adopted a five-year management plan for wild turkeys that allows expanded opportunities to hunt this magnificent bird. It also puts in place definitive checks to monitor the well-being of our flocks statewide.

I am pleased to convey to you that the Conservation Department recently completed long negotiations for a 7,200-acre tract of land in Vernon County that will connect the two sections of the Four Rivers Conservation Area, creating one of the finest waterfowl areas in the country. Contributions from the Wetland Reserve Program and Ducks Unlimited made up about half of the purchase price.

Recently, plans also were adopted for our first public/private partnership-financing of the environmentally sensitive Discovery Center construction in Kansas City. Finally, the issue of lead mining on state forests is gone from our agenda for the near future. We can now devote our full attention to our constitutional mandate of fish, forest and wildlife management without distraction.

Among the issues that I personally hope to have resolved by the time my term ends in the year 2002 is the continued long-term decline of quail, and of songbirds associated with the same habitat. Other thorny issues, such as running dogs and the urban and rural deer explosion, to name a few, also will be addressed. Of particular importance is the process we have directed the staff to develop for prioritizing requests for financial assistance, which far exceed available funds. In that regard, we are fortunate that newly appointed Commissioner Howard Wood is not only a businessman, but a CPA as well.

Being named a member of the Conservation Commission is a high honor to someone who loves the outdoors. Be assured that all of the commissioners are aware of their continuing responsibility to the people of this state and to its resources. The Conservation Department and the Conservation Commission are going forward toward the year 2000 with ever greater vigor. We want to ensure that Missouri will continue to lead the nation in its devotion to and protection of our forest, fish and wildlife resources.