News and Almanac

Conservation Department Calls for River Changes

Citing the importance of farming as well as that of fish, wildlife and recreation, the Missouri Department of Conservation has asked for "a finer balance" in managing the Missouri River.

The Conservation Department recently outlined its recommendations for river management in a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In summary, the Conservation Department recommends reducing the flow of the Missouri River to 41,000 cubic feet per second at Kansas City from Aug. 1 through Sept. 15 six out of every 10 years. This would benefit fish, wildlife and recreation. This level of flow also would be enough to allow barge traffic.

Some of the river management alternatives the Corps of Engineers is considering call for increased spring flows to mimic natural seasonal flows. The Conservation Department noted that the Missouri River already experiences a spring rise in Missouri due to normal rises in tributary streams. The Conservation Department's letter, signed by Director Jerry Conley, said ". . .we caution that the effects of a periodic spring rise on Missouri's agricultural community must be a top priority in consideration of this important Master Manual issue. We want the agricultural community along the Missouri River to remain viable and profitable in the twenty-first century, and we believe this can be achieved within the context of careful river management decisions."

"The current Master Manual needs to be revised to strike a better balance between the many uses that the river sees today," Conley added. "The recreational potential of our namesake river is absolutely enormous and largely unfulfilled. We can come a lot closer to realizing that potential while maintaining or even enhancing benefits for agriculture, shipping and flood control. I'm very optimistic that the Missouri River will provide many more benefits tomorrow than it does today."

Survey Shows Endangered Sturgeon Still Scarce

Pallid and lake sturgeon, considered endangered in Missouri, continue to struggle for existence here, according to recent population surveys by Conservation Department fisheries biologists.

Results from a March survey on the Missouri River near Chamois were typical. Of 799 sturgeon captured in nets, 19 were lake sturgeon and only two were pallid sturgeon. That's actually an improvement for lake sturgeon, which were found in much smaller numbers in previous surveys. The number of both species remains perilously low, however.

Missouri's most common sturgeon, the shovelnose, exists in good numbers in the Missouri River. However, they seem to be dwindling in the Mississippi River. One cause could be increased harvesting of the fish. This, in turn, is related to the collapse of the Caspian Sea's beluga sturgeon population from overharvest.

Beluga sturgeon eggs are highly prized for making caviar. Although shovelnose eggs are less valuable, they still bring as much as $50 a pound wholesale. Finished caviar sells for up to $275 per 14-ounce tin. It's not surprising, then, that the commercial harvest of shovelnose sturgeon in the Mississippi River has jumped 300 percent in the past three years.

National Tree Trust Has Grants for Plants

The National Tree Trust is accepting applications until May 31 for grants to support tree planting on public land. Applicants must agree to use volunteers to plant tree seedlings. The grants consist of tree seedlings. For more information, visit online, or call (800) 846-TREE.

June 8-9 Are Free Fishing Days

June 8 and 9 are Free Fishing Days in Missouri. You can fish without having to buy a fishing permit, daily trout tag or trout permit at any conservation area and most other places in the state.

Requirements for special permits still may apply at some county, city or private areas. Normal regulations, such as size and daily limits, still apply everywhere.

Free Fishing Days are part of the National Fishing Week Celebration. Check with your local Conservation Department office for details about events in your area. Or visit the fishing section of the Conservation Department web page.

Protect Home Trees Before Moving In

A cool, shady lot is a big selling point when choosing the site of a new home. To make sure your dream home benefits from shade trees, it's imperative to protect existing trees during construction.

First, inventory the trees on your lot. Concentrate on protecting healthy trees that are positioned to provide the best shade. Large trees may not tolerate disturbance as well as younger ones. Try to keep at least a few younger trees to fill in if you lose older ones.

During construction, protect tree trunks from bumps and scrapes. Even small wounds invite disease and parasites. Put temporary fences around trees to keep heavy equipment and delivery trucks away.

Of course, you can only do so much to route utility trenches around trees. If unavoidable digging severs major roots, remove the affected trees immediately. It's better to get rid of these trees than to have them die and become liabilities a few years later. Replace lost trees with nursery trees as soon as construction is complete. Native species that are adapted to local climate and soil conditions will fare better than non-native species.

Soil compaction can damage trees as much as more obvious physical damage. Compacted soil lacks spaces for air and water and can suffocate roots. To prevent this, rope off the area around trees to exclude vehicles, foot traffic and storage of construction materials. If compaction is inevitable, aerate the soil with a garden tiller after construction is done, and water weekly for the first year to help trees recover. Winter feeding with a balanced fertilizer helps, too.

Adding fill dirt to level the ground can smother trees, too, so leave the ground under trees in its original condition.

New Conservation Department Director Named

John D. Hoskins has been named to head the Missouri Department of Conservation. Hoskins, 47, will be the seventh director of the Conservation Department since its formation in 1937. He replaces Director Jerry Conley who is retiring effective July 1.

Hoskins has worked for the Department since 1977, serving as Conservation Agent, Regional Protection Supervisor, Chief of General Services and, presently, as Protection Division Administrator. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University and earned a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Missouri.

In announcing the Conservation Commission's unanimous selection of Hoskins, Commission Chairman Anita Gorman, said, "I believe his selection is a credit to the outstanding job the Department does in developing quality internal leadership."

Something Old, Something New Available in Conservation Books

If you want to learn about conservation history in Missouri or make conservation history on your own property, check out the Conservation Department's two latest book offerings.

A new book titled, "Native Landscaping for Wildlife and People" describes the species of native wildflowers, shrubs and trees that attract wildlife. It also supplies many ideas for enjoying nature around your home while benefiting wildlife and beautifying your property. This 184-page, color book, written by biology professor and native plant landscaper, Dave Tylka, retails for $18. It is available at Conservation nature centers and other booksellers statewide.

A Missouri classic, "The First 50 Years," has been out of print for several years, but now is available free of charge in electronic form. The 446-page book traces the history of the Conservation Department from 1937 through 1987, with extensive historical notes on the period before the agency's creation.

The author, the late James F. Keefe, witnessed much of the history he described during a 28-year career with the Conservation Department.

For a complete listing of Conservation Department books, contact Nature Shop, Missouri Department of Conservation, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180.

UBM Names Travis Mills Agent of the Year

Texas County Conservation Agent Travis Mills is the United Bowhunters of Missouri's 2002 Agent of the Year. The archers group honored Mills in recognition of several arrests of poachers who were using crossbows to take deer, which is illegal in Missouri. Some of the deer were taken at night. In all the cases, the poachers tried to present the deer as legitimate bow kills. Citizen tips led to some of the arrests. In other cases, Mills caught violators in the act while on patrol.

Cash penalties discourage poachers, and the money is put to good use. Proceeds from fines in fish and wildlife cases go to local school districts.

Awareness Neutralizes Meth Lab Hazard

Visits to conservation areas or national forests should provide safe, relaxing experiences. But for some Missourians, visits to the great outdoors can involve unexpected-and unnatural-hazards.

The new hazard in Missouri's public wildlands is created by mobile or temporary laboratories making methamphetamine, commonly called crystal meth. This drug can be manufactured using common, easily-obtainable chemicals. The equipment needed for production can fit in the trunk of a car. Mobile meth labs have become increasingly common in Missouri and several other states.

Having public recreation areas turned into workshops for felons is bad enough, but crystal meth labs also pose real hazards for legitimate visitors. For starters, felons can be dangerous, especially if they think someone has noticed their activity. Also, the manufacturing process generates highly toxic by-products that can harm unwary passersby, hunting dogs and wildlife. Meth makers often discard these by-products, along with empty medicine packages and other trash, when they leave. To a casual visitor, such refuse may look harmless.

If you see unusual activity or smell unusual chemical odors at a conservation area, don't investigate the source. Leave and call the nearest sheriff's office to report what you observed. Also call the sheriff if you find suspicious trash, such as packages from over-the-counter cold medicines, propane, gasoline or other fuel, drain cleaner, muriatic acid, paint thinner and matchbooks with the striker strips missing. Don't touch suspicious trash. Some by-products of methamphetamine labs can be harmful if touched or inhaled.

Finally, don't let drug makers keep you from your favorite outdoor pursuits. The chances of encountering a meth lab are small, and awareness is your best protection. -Sonny Lynch

Water Works Wonders Website Has Answers to Fishing Questions

Want to go fishing but don't know where or how? Help awaits at the Water Works Wonders website. An online visit  will connect you with information about fishing areas near you, tips on how to get started, summaries of fishing regulations and a list of places to buy fishing permits. You can even click on links to online fishing equipment retailers, hire a guide or find out about fishing events around the state and nation.

Meramec River Spotted Bass - Come And Get 'Em!

Anglers who fancy a mess of bass in the skillet will be pleased to learn that the daily limit for spotted bass on the Meramec River and its tributaries has increased from six to 12. The possession limit for spotted bass also is 12, and there is no 12-inch minimum length limit on spotted bass on these waters.

Anglers won't be able to take advantage of the more liberal harvest regulations on spotted bass in the Meramec River until May 25. That's when the season for black bass opens on streams in southern Missouri.

By allowing anglers to keep more spotted bass of any size on the Meramec River, the Conservation Department hopes to help smallmouth bass, which have been under increasing pressure from the invading spotted bass in recent years.

New Campaign Targets Litter

A litter-free Missouri is the dream of a new statewide campaign, and Missourians of all ages can help to make the dream come true.

The Missouri Department of Transportation, which spends more than $6 million each year in litter pickup, joined with the Conservation Department to kick off the campaign. The first anti-litter TV ads will target 16 -to 24- year-olds.

"Although we're targeting the age group most likely to litter with our first ads, we're hoping to get the word out to everyone," said campaign coordinator Lorna Domke. "The campaign's website, will be an important clearinghouse for news on efforts around the state and for ways to get involved."

Governor Bob Holden convened the Anti-litter Advisory Board. Its members include government, private and non-profit organizations. They'll work to spread the anti-litter message among friends, neighbors, colleagues and customers.

Missourians ages 16 to 24 can also help by creating their own 30-second video ads against littering. The best of these will receive $200 awards and will be used with the campaign.

Video entries can be sent to: No MOre Trash, 9229 Ward Parkway, Suite 225, Kansas City, MO 64114.

PETA's Tax-exempt Status Under Scrutiny

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) could lose its status as a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization.

The Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Bellevue, Wash., has asked Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles O. Rossotti to investigate what it calls "a flagrant violation of tax laws" by PETA and revoke the animal-rights group's tax-exempt status.

In a 12-page letter dated March 4, Center for Free Enterprise Executive Vice President Ron Arnold told Rossotti that PETA has been accused of supporting the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), "an FBI-declared domestic terrorist group, by acting as a media conduit and providing legal defense funds for a convicted ALF felon linked to PETA."

Other accusations cited by the Center for Free Enterprise include stealing trade secrets, advocating arson and assaulting business executives. Among the most telling documentation was a U.S. Attorney's sentencing memorandum detailing operational connections between PETA employees and an ALF activist in connection with the destruction of an animal-research laboratory at Michigan State University in 1995.

One Big Fish!

Some anglers fish a lifetime and never catch a record fish. Then there are anglers like Wayne Russell of De Soto who, on his first paddlefishing trip, snagged the largest spoonbill ever taken from Missouri waters.

On the second day of the paddlefish season, March 16, the 56-year old retiree hauled in a 139-pound, 4-ounce paddlefish from Table Rock Lake. The fish measured 57.5 inches from the eye to the fork of the tail and had a girth of 42.5 inches. The previous record paddlefish was caught from the Lake of the Ozarks in 1998 and weighed 134 pounds and 12-ounces.

Russell fought a tough half-hour long battle to bring in the behemoth. He says the battle left him a little sore, but very happy.

"When I hooked it I thought I was hung up on a log," said Russell. "Then it turned the boat and headed off. After that, it was like a tug-of-war where I tried to pull him in, and he tried to pull away."

Russell finally got the fish close enough to use a gaff hook and tie it to the boat. "I couldn't have caught the fish without the help of my two brothers-in-law," said Russell. "Jim Skiles introduced me to the sport, and Paul Pruitt kept the boat straight in the water so I wouldn't lose the fish."

Mountain Lions Turning Up Across the Midwest

With verified sightings of mountain lions in Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois in recent months, the phenomenon is becoming more of a trend than a novelty. The question of where the cats are coming from remains unanswered, however.

In December, a former employee of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission videotaped a mountain lion feasting on a deer it killed near Valentine, in north-central Nebraska. The wildlife agency later verified the sighting.

Last August, an automobile killed a 2- to 3-year-old male mountain lion weighing 125 pounds in Shelby County, Iowa.

Also last August, a homeowner in a remote part of east-central Minnesota shot and killed a female cougar after it repeatedly came onto his front porch and tussled with his Labrador retriever. The man scared the cat away once by kicking it. The 54-pound cat was shot when it returned to the porch.

A cougar in Illinois was even bolder but fared better than its Minnesota relative. Dan Cowen, superintendent of Sanganois Fish and Wildlife Area in east-central Illinois, investigated duck hunters' reports of seeing a young cougar. The 4-year-old cat turned out to be real and very tame.

"It wasn't bashful," the Peoria Journal Star quoted Cowen as saying. "It just came right up to me, and I grabbed it."

The tame behavior of the Minnesota and Illinois cougars fuels speculation that at least some of the mountain lions seen outside the western United States have escaped or were released from captivity.

Science Verifies Wisdom of Folk Ways and Cats

Have you ever heard that putting hedge apples in closets and under beds will keep insects away?

The Lincoln University Outreach and Extension office says that hedge apples (the fruit of the Osage orange tree) contain essential oils that have been shown to repel cockroaches. Meanwhile, researchers have learned that catnip oil repels mosquitoes at concentrations better than the most effective manmade repellent, DEET (diethyl-toluamide).