The new year has me looking back to my old notes for inspiration and guidance.
I make a habit of jotting down humorous or colorful phrases I hear from fellow conservationists as we go about the Department's business of protecting and improving our fish forest and wildlife resources.
For example, Debo McKinney, of Houston, Missouri, a volunteer on our Otter Management Committee, explained the need for working with landowners to protect watersheds from unraveling. "There are enough diseases in the water now," he said, "that they have to fight over what gets to kill us!"
We fixed our once-leaking lake in southeast Missouri, Jerry Paul Combs Lake, only to have it suffer a late summer fish kill caused by oxygen depletion. Both Mother Nature and some poor management practices on our part were to blame. (We've since corrected the management practices.) When the lake was empty, I referred to it as "Missouri's most visible lake!" Following the fish kill, Wayne Wittmeyer, of our Private Land Services Division, called the event "the perfect screw-up!" Fish have since been restocked, and the outlook for the lake is promising.
We recently purchased 3,000 acres as an addition to the B. K. Leach Conservation Area. The acquisition was highly praised by the majority of St. Louis duck hunters. Ann Holland, of our land acquisition unit, responding to someone's praise for the purchase, said, "Without land acquisition, the Department wouldn't have any ground to stand on!"
Teamwork in the Department advanced a long way in 2001. I think Eric Kurzejeski, one of our research supervisors summed it up best by saying, "Connectiveness equals effectiveness."
Sadly, we lost some great Missouri conservationists this past year. Commissioner Howard Wood referred-not disrespectfully in any way-to those losses as, "When the big duck flies down."
We had our first statewide youth turkey and youth deer seasons in 2001. Each proved highly successful and were helped by populations described by one of our conservation agents as, "so high you can't swing a dead cat around in a circle without hitting a turkey or a deer!" (I guess you could call this the dead-cat population estimation).
Our presentations improved dramatically this year when we started using software on computers instead of the old slide show routine. Dave Hamilton, our furbearer research biologist, preferred his old method of using slides for his many presentations. "I have to," he said. "I'm a roadkill possum on the information highway!"
Lots of animals were shifted around this past year. We removed geese from highly damaged areas and donated them to various food banks. A gray wolf (Michigan origin) was killed in Missouri along the border, an event not experienced for over 100 years. Cougars were spotted in several new areas. A fellow director's advice, based on a bad experience in his state was, "Don't ever let your department shoot or remove any animal that has a name." Sure enough, a goose named "Elsie" nearly caused a shut-down of one of our goose-relocation efforts.
We now have too many or too few otters, depending on your outlook. Natural History Division Administrator Rick Thom reported to me: "Otters have gone from a species of special concern to a species of special concern!" And Policy Coordination Chief Dan Witter said to our Commission on the same topic: "Citizen recommendations on otters range from the B-52 bomber approach to enrolling them in our physical fitness program!"
Zebra mussels popped up in several new places recently. One of our field biologists referred to the critters as "the parasitic fleas of the aquatic world."
Our Private Land Services program rolled into high gear this year, driven by employees whom Division Administrator George Seek described as "high speed: low drag."
We've also had our share of projects in the past that, according to Dan Witter (fast becoming my mother lode of quotes), were like "giving CPR (coronary pulmonary resuscitation) to a dinosaur!"
We backed off the daunting task of reintroducing elk in Missouri in 2001. Lonnie Hansen, our chief deer biologist, when asked by the public to speculate on what would happen if elk were reintroduced, said, "I'll be glad to. Predictions are easy for me unless, of course, you want me to include the future!"
My New Year's goal is to be close to Lonnie often with my pad and pen. He could be another mother lode of quotes.
If you want more quotes or are willing to share some of your own best recollections, stop by for coffee and a chat. Keep in mind that conservation never has enough humor or friends. Have a productive New Year!
Jerry M. Conley, Director