Vantage Point

Good News Reporting

It's a great lake since they got it fixed! My kid will be able to ride his bike over and fish after school."

That comment was heard on the day that Combs Lake opened to fishing. After six years of effort, our newest addition to the chain of Conservation Department community lakes was finally providing people with fishing fun and memories.

In case you haven't heard, this is the lake derided on national television for not holding water and nominated for a "Fleecing of America Award." I doubt we'll get a return visit from the national networks now that it's a normal lake with water and fish and it's attracting kids with bikes. No bad news in that story!

Too often in our communications, we leave out the good news and focus on problems or looming disasters. This column, using Combs Lake as the lead story, is bucking that trend and will inform you of nothing but good news. If you'd rather focus on the negative, turn on your television or read your newspaper.

My second bit of good news comes from a report by Rich Wehnes, our Missouri Stream Team supervisor. Rich and other Conservation Department folks, along with the Conservation Federation and the Department of Natural Resources, quietly have been racking up amazing Stream Team growth numbers.

Last year they added 209 new teams, bringing the total to 1,422. Team members volunteered over 77,000 hours of work on our streams, protecting and improving them for the future. Missouri's Stream Team program, which is being copied by other states, represents the nation's largest outdoor volunteer program. That's the kind of news we like to hear! Way to go Stream Teams!

At the Runge Conservation Nature Center in Jefferson City, we recently hosted a "Conservation Focus" meeting in an effort to get acquainted with and exchange ideas about upcoming activities with the groups that work on behalf of our natural resources. The meeting succeeded beyond our best expectations. Over 50 groups participated and gave us great ideas on future priorities and programs. We ended the meeting vowing to form new partnerships and get even more done for conservation. We're hoping to hold similar meetings regionally and work collectively on a local basis.

The Conservation Department recently purchased land on the Niangua River to provide much needed boating access in a stretch of stream devoid of public launch facilities. We also received a donation of land in northern Missouri from someone who wanted the land preserved for public purposes. These acquisitions become part of the 1.7 percent of the state acquired by donation, purchase or trade in the last 62 years by the Conservation Department for public purposes.

At this rate of acquisition, another 124 years will pass before the Conservation Department owns or manages about 5 percent of the state. Our lands get heavy use now. Will we need 5 percent of the state in conservation ownership in the year 2124?

Have you seen a favorite hunting or recreational spot or stream closed to your use in the last 10 years? Does your neighborhood have the same little open green spots that your kids enjoyed when you first occupied your house? Are you able to purchase your own recreational areas now? Will you be able to in the future?

Another bit of good news has to do with our new Private Land Services Division. This effort promises to make a real difference for our conservation future by providing services, help and technical assistance to landowners. When last I told you about the Private Land Services Division, they were recruiting employees. I'm glad to report that this division is now up to full strength and is completing training. They've been assigned to districts and, in some cases, are already working with landowners. Keep them in mind if you have an area in need of some help.

This completes our news wrap-up. From the Director's standpoint, it couldn't get much better. We've got lakes holding water and fish, we've got kids having fun, people who care for the natural world, more resources coming on line to make a difference and we've got positive outcomes in our programs. We thank you for all your help on these and other good news projects. Maybe this report will help you keep some perspective the next time the news media tries to "fleece" you into believing the world is full of dry holes and negative outcomes.