There was plenty of excitement around the Conservation Department - and probably among conservation-minded people throughout the state - after the Conservation Commission named a new director of the Missouri Department of Conservation to succeed the retiring Jerry M. Conley.
The Conservation Department differs from other states' conservation departments and from many of Missouri's other state agencies in that its director is appointed by a non-paid, nonpolitical Conservation Commission, rather than being appointed by the governor. This provision, specified in the state constitutional amendment that created this agency, provides the Conservation Department with a great amount of stability and permanence. Over the last 75 years, the Conservation Department has had only six directors, while Missourians changed governors 15 times during the same period.
The seventh director of the Conservation Department, John Hoskins, began his tenure July 1.
Like the six directors that preceded him, John Hoskins earned his position by demonstrating commitment, expertise and leadership.
He will head an agency that has a lot of positive momentum. The Missouri Conservation Department is like a large engine, thrumming with the efforts of fish and game managers, scientists, researchers, private land specialists, education consultants, naturalists and numerous volunteers.
An important job of the director is to keep the machinery running smoothly, but each director also works the controls in his own way, redirecting conservation efforts to reflect his individual priorities and philosophy.
One of our former directors focused on increasing funding; another placed a high priority on acquiring more land; another reorganized the entire structure of the Conservation Department.
John Hoskins defined his priorities when he assumed the responsibilities of director.
"The Department must work harder and harder to be sure that we keep conservation in the hearts and minds of our urban and suburban citizens," he said during remarks following a July 1 swearing-in ceremony at the Department's central office in Jefferson City.
The new director pointed out that each new generation of urban and suburban Missourians becomes farther removed from rural or small town backgrounds. He said the Department's success depends on its ability to "engage citizens in conservation programs and activities and to sustain public support." He called on Department employees to keep the conservation connection going for future generations of city-dwellers.
John Hoskins also emphasized the primacy of the Department's mission. He said he was pleased with new guidelines that specified the primary uses of conservation areas to be fishing, hunting, nature observation and conservation education. He listed an array of other uses of conservation lands, including some as diverse as battle reenactments, weddings and car shows, but he said these should be evaluated in light of the Department's conservation mission. He clearly conveyed that Conservation Department employees and resources were available to serve the public, but that we cannot be all things to all people.
A change in leadership energizes an agency. You can feel a revitalization as you walk through the halls of the Conservation Department. The employees seem more focused, more energetic, somehow renewed.
Soon after John Hoskins was named to be the new director, I asked my boss what she thought his leadership would mean for the Department. "I'm not sure," she said. "He has a reputation for being squeaky clean, he's known for having strong family values, and he's fiscally conservative."
"That can't be bad for us," I said.
She agreed. I think you will, too.
Tom Cwynar, Editor