By 1976 conservation in Missouri had gone about as far as it could go-even though it needed to go further. Missouri's economy and population were expanding with predictably dire consequences for natural habitats. Land values were escalating dramatically, while revenues from fishing and hunting permits were barely keeping up with or falling slightly behind existing program costs. There was no money available for land purchases.
If the Conservation Department was ever going to protect unique environments for public recreational use or for their natural values, it needed to act quickly.
Acquiring public land was one of the highest priorities of the Design for Conservation. Because about 93 percent of Missouri's 44.6 million acres is privately owned, private land management will always have the most impact on the well-being of wildlife, but conservation necessarily runs second to profit on most private lands. Public land, on the other hand, can be intensively managed for the exclusive benefit of wildlife. Waterfowl areas provide a good example. Few farmers would flood potentially productive acres to provide nesting and resting areas for ducks and geese, but the Conservation Department has acquired and maintains wetland areas throughout the state.
Private lands also restrict enjoyment to a few. Landowners may take for granted their ability to walk through fields and woods and along streams, but Missouri's increasing urban population places high value on having places to enjoy and appreciate the outdoors.
The original Design for Conservation argued that a state as rich in resources as Missouri should not be "poor" in public land ownership. Many other states continue to outrank Missouri in public land ownership. Although one would expect Missouri to fall behind larger but thinly populated western states, Michigan, Minnesota, Virginia and Tennessee were mentioned as being ahead of Missouri either in amount of public land per capita or percentage of total area.
The promise of the "Conservation Lands" portion of Design was to obtain more public land for the citizens of the state. The Conservation Department would either purchase suitable property from willing landowners or would negotiate easement rights to allow public access. Both conservation and outdoor recreation guided land acquisition efforts. The purchases would benefit both game and non-game species. Design stressed the need for access to streams and lakes and constructing hatcheries to improve the fisheries in all state waters.
One of the arguments against state ownership of land is that counties lose tax