News and Almanac

WRP wades into Missouri wetland restoration challenge

Founded in 1992, the Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) has been instrumental in restoring more than 84,000 acres of wetlands.

WRP was first included in the 1990 Farm Bill and was reauthorized in the 2002 Farm Bill, as well. The program is designed to provide critical wetlands for migratory birds, threatened and endangered species, and a host of other wildlife. It also improves water quality, alleviates floods, recharges groundwater sources, protects biological diversity and provides educational, scientific and recreational opportunities.

Administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), WRP is a voluntary program. Participating landowners sign either 10-year agreements or sell easements (30-year or perpetual) to the NRCS. They still own their land, but they agree to certain use-restrictions that protect, restore, and enhance the land’s natural values.

Eligibility requires that land meet certain criteria for soil type, biological factors and cost. The NRCS provides funding and technical assistance to restore wetlands. Restoration typically involves building low-level berms to hold water. Planting trees, shrubs and grasses that thrive in moist locations is also an important restoration component.

WRP provides an alternative to agricultural land use in flood-prone areas. Because WRP sites hold seasonal rainfall and provide places for streams to spread out, the program has reduced flood crests and shortened the duration of floods in some areas. They have also reduced the amount of damage that floods have inflicted.

To date, Missouri landowners have enrolled 84,374 acres in WRP. An additional 370 landowners are on a waiting list to enroll another 28,000 acres, so there’s no questioning the program’s popularity.

Historically, Missouri had almost 4.8 million acres of wetlands. By the 1980s we had lost an estimated 90 percent of these wetlands. Although WRP and other wetland restoration programs have only restored a fraction of this loss, the restoration benefits in terms of recreation, wildlife values and flood-control are striking. The Conservation Department, NRCS and other partners in the program hope to extend those benefits in coming years. —Kevin Dacey

Bad news & good about West Nile Virus

When the Missouri University College of Veterinary Medicine’s resident golden eagle died of West Nile virus in August, college officials were sad. Still, the news was encouraging for wild birds of prey.

The golden eagle, nicknamed Ron, had lived at the veterinary school for 15 years. Having lost one wing in an accident, the bird could not be returned to the wild. Ron was a favorite among faculty and students and was a tremendous educational asset for school programs. He was part of a captive breeding program to help increase eagle numbers in the wild. When Ron died Aug. 26, many grieved.

The good news is that five other birds of prey at the veterinary college also came down with the disease but survived. This suggests that many birds of prey have the ability to develop resistance to the virus. Many wild birds may have died from the disease, but the survivors will pass on their resistance to their offspring. In a few years, West Nile virus will be just another bird disease that takes a few animals each year without hurting the overall population.

West Nile virus is spread by mosquitoes. It can infect all birds and mammals, but crows, jays, birds of prey and horses are most susceptible. The first hard freeze eliminates the hazard of contracting the disease until the following spring.

Share the Harvest and reap rewards

One of Missouri’s best hunting-related programs is getting better. Share the Harvest encourages deer hunters to donate venison to food banks. Last year, the program put more than 76,000 pounds of lean, savory venison on the tables of needy Missourians. This year, the program aims to top 100,000 pounds.

As an extra incentive for hunters to participate, one of the program’s sponsors, Bass Pro Shops, has donated thousands of dollars worth of outdoor equipment to be given away as prizes in an end-of-season drawing. Hunters who donate at least one whole deer through Share the Harvest automatically will be entered in a drawing for a Winchester 150XL muzzleloading rifle, a $500 shopping spree and dozens of other prizes.

To learn more about Share the Harvest, call the nearest Conservation Department office or the Conservation Federation of Missouri at (800) 575 2322.

“Acorns to Oaks” is theme of Arbor Day Poster Contest

Fifth-graders with a knack for art and a soft spot for trees in their hearts can compete for prizes in the 2003 Arbor Day National Poster Contest. Contestants create artworks to illustrate the theme “Trees are terrific . . . from Acorn to Oak!”

Fifth-grade teachers statewide should have received information about the contest, which aims to increase children’s awareness of the importance of planting and caring for trees. Students take part in classroom activities focusing on tree planting, and then create drawings or paintings to enter in a poster contest.

Missouri’s state contest winner will receive a $50 savings bond and a 6- to 12-foot tree to plant at their school. The winner also will compete in the national contest in Washington, D.C. April 25. The national winner will receive a $1,000 savings bond, and his or her teacher will receive $200 for classroom materials.

Teachers of home-schooled children can learn more about the contest by contacting the program’s Missouri coordinator, Donna Baldwin, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180, Donna.Baldwin@mdc.mo.gov

The deadline for state contest entries is Feb. 1.

Conservationists honored

The Missouri Department of Conservation and its staff garner dozens of awards each year. Even so, 2002 has been a blue-ribbon year for the Department in terms of local, state, national and international recognition of Missouri’s conservation achievements.

Besides the prestigious honors reported earlier this year in the Conservationist, Missourians closed the year with more than a dozen additional awards.

Conservation Commissioner Anita Gorman, oft-honored for her tireless work on behalf of conservation at the local, state and national levels, received the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce’s Athena Award for contributions that include service to parks and conservation.

The Kansas City Discovery Center received a Cornerstone Award from the Kansas City Economic Development Commission. The Cornerstone Award program recognizes investments that improve economic, housing or educational opportunities in Kansas City. Gorman played a crucial role in developing the Kansas City Discovery Center.

Bob Krepps, the Department’s Forestry Division Administrator, received the USDA Forest Service’s 2002 Line Officer Leadership Award for his contributions to federal wildfire control efforts since the mid 1970s. The Forest Service honors one forester outside its ranks with the award each year.

The Wildlife Society, a national group of wildlife management professionals, accorded Rollin D. Sparrowe its highest honor, the Aldo Leopold Memorial Award. Sparrowe began his career with the Missouri Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit in Columbia. The award recognizes 22 years of accomplishments for Sparrowe, including waterfowl research and restoration, and work on the initiative petition drive that won voter approval of Missouri’s one-eighth of one-percent sales tax for conservation.

Ollie Torgerson, who retired Sept. 30 from a 32-year Conservation Department career and headed the Department’s Wildlife Division for 15 years, received a Special Service Award from the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

The Conservation Department’s Outreach and Education Division had a banner year, too. The video production “Missouri’s Tallgrass Prairie: An American Original” won Emmy awards for audio, cinematography, writing and original score. The Department’s Critter Rock video won an Emmy for children’s programs.

Department communicators brought home 10 awards from the national Association for Conservation Information (ACI) contest. The Department won first place for its Internet website, first place for its Emmy-winning tallgrass prairie video, first and third places for one-time, color publications and first and second places for its radio public service announcements. The Conservation Department’s print news release package, “All Outdoors,” swept the competition, taking first, second and third places. A story from “All Outdoors” also won second place in the ACI Outdoor Ethics Communications Contest sponsored by the Izaak Walton League of America.

Buy Natural Events Calendars now

The 2003 Natural Events Calendar is on sale now. These gorgeous calendars are always popular, so buy early.

Twenty-four of the calendar’s 32 pages are devoted to stunning color photos of Missouri wildlife, plants and landscapes. Date squares contain daily entries about natural events ranging from the birth of otter pups to the peak date of dogwood blossoming. The remaining eight pages contain bonus photos, a list of citizen conservation groups and information about other nature related topics and publications.

Supplies of the award-winning calendar are limited, and demand always is high. Waiting to buy can lead to disappointment. The calendar is available for $5 plus tax at Conservation Department Nature Centers and regional offices. To purchase by mail, contact the Nature Shop, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102, (877) 521 8632. Shipping and handling charges will be added to mail orders. Calendars also can be ordered online.

Origin of KC cougar still unknown

There’s no longer any doubt that Missouri has mountain lions, but the jury is still out concerning where they come from.

The latest proof of their presence came when a big cat was struck by a car as it ran across I-35 near Parvin Road on Oct. 14 at 1:45 a.m. The two-year old male cougar weighed 125 pounds and measured more than 7 feet from nose to tip of tail.

Captive mountain lions often have tattoos or other identifying marks. Their paws and claws usually show wear from walking on concrete floors. This cat showed no such evidence of captivity.

While the cat wasn’t obviously an escaped captive, it could have been living free long enough for paw and claw wear to disappear. It might have migrated to Missouri from Colorado or Texas, which have wild cougars. Another possibility, though unlikely, is that the Kansas City cougar is part of a population that survived in Missouri for decades without a verified sighting.

For many years, a mountain lion killed in southeastern Missouri in 1927 was the most recent verified sighting. The first verified sighting in recent times was an animal killed illegally near Peck Ranch Conservation Area in 1994. The poachers said they shot the female mountain lion in the eye.

The head and hide of a female mountain lion with a gunshot wound to the same eye turned up four years later beside a gravel road in Texas County. It was badly freezer-burned, leading biologists to conclude that someone had kept the illegally killed animal, only to discard it later.

In recent years, Missourians have seen and video-taped mountain lions in southern and northeastern Missouri. In 1999, two men spotted a mountain lion while hunting rabbits in Texas County. Conservation Department investigators confirmed that report after examining the bodies of deer found near the scene of the sighting. The carcasses showed classic signs of having been killed and fed on by a cougar.

Mountain lions typically kill their prey with bites to the back of the neck where the skull and spine meet. Before feeding on the carcass, they tear open the abdomen and remove the internal organs, which they do not consume. They peel back the hide from meaty portions to feed. A mountain lion may feed on a carcass for several days, covering it with leaves or other vegetation between meals.

The Conservation Department receives hundreds of reports of mountain lion sightings each year. Most sightings can’t be verified because of a lack of tracks, droppings, injuries to livestock, photographs or video tape recordings or other physical evidence. In about a third of the cases, physical evidence clearly shows that other animals—often dogs or bobcats—were involved.

Nevertheless, the Conservation Department’s Mountain Lion Task Force investigates reports of mountain lion sightings if there is physical evidence. If you see a mountain lion, report the sighting to a conservation agent or your nearest Conservation Department office.

Jug-liners set smallmouth, striped-bass records

Jason Kirk of Camdenton set a new state record for striped bass in the “alternative methods” category Oct. 11 by catching a 39.5-pound striper on a jug line. He was fishing at 11 a.m. at Lake of the Ozarks, using shad as bait. The fish was 44.5 inches long.

Another jug-liner, Paul Elder of House Springs, landed a state record by catching a 4.25-pound, 20.8-inch smallmouth bass at Table Rock Lake Sept. 18. His bait was a bluegill.

The Conservation Department certifies fishing records in two categories, pole and line or alternative methods.

Annual Natural Resources Conference speakers offer differing views

Speakers representing interests ranging from the Sierra Club to the Missouri Farm Bureau are on the program for the 2003 Missouri Natural Resources Conference. “Facing Resource Issues in the Midwest—From Research to the Field” is the theme for the conference Jan. 29-31 at Tan-Tar-A Resort in Osage Beach.

A panel with representatives from the National Cattlemen’s Association, The Nature Conservancy, the Missouri Farm Bureau and the Sierra Club will discuss differing views of environment management. Also on the conference program are: Jim Gulliford, Region 7 Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Tom Christensen, Animal Husbandry and Clean Water Program, U.S. Department of Agriculture; Frank Clearfield, Rural Sociologist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Strafford).

Registration information is available at www.mnrc.org. The early registration fee of $30 includes the Wednesday evening social and two breakfasts. After Dec. 31, registration will cost $60.

On-site conference registration begins at 1 p.m. Jan. 29 and continues through 8 p.m. Jan. 30. The conference will begin with a student job fair at 5 p.m. Jan. 29, followed by a mixer at 6:30 p.m. Exhibits of art and commercial equipment run from noon through 11 p.m. Jan. 30.

Curl up with a book on Naturescaping

As cold weather settles in, prepare for spring by planning a nature-friendly, biologically diverse garden or landscape. Landscape-worthy native plants provide year round beauty, reduce long-term maintenance, improve habitat and attract wildlife. They also conserve soil and water.

Start with books devoted to natural landscaping. Following are a few to get you started.

  • * “Native Landscaping for Wildlife and People” by Dave Tylka, published by the Missouri Department of Conservation. Tylka, a former Conservation Department wildlife biologist, talks about the connection between wildlife and habitat and tells how to use native plants to bring wildlife to your property. This is the first book of its kind geared specifically for Missouri property owners. This book is available at conservation nature centers or through The Nature Shop, (877) 521-8632.
  • * “Gardening with Prairie Plants: How to Create Beautiful Native Landscapes” by Sally Wasowski, University of Minnesota Press, P.O. Box 1104, Ann Arbor, MI 48106-1104, 734/764-4388. Whether you want to add native plants to a conventional landscape or are thinking about using natives exclusively, this book offers ideas and plans for using prairie plants.
  • * “Noah’s Garden: Restoring the Ecology of Our Own Backyards” by Sara Stein, Houghton Mifflin Company, 222 Berkeley Street, Boston, MA 02116, 617/351-5000. A former conventional suburban gardener, Stein writes convincingly of the ecological history of suburbia, and how she changed her gardening methods when she noticed the absence of many creatures she remembered from her childhood. — Natalia Hamill

Go nuts with tree seedlings

Missourians who treasure black walnuts in baked goods and who value walnut trees for their high-dollar timber will be glad to learn that George O. White State Forest Nursery has an item just for them in this year’s seedling catalog.

The Walnut Variety Bundle contains 10 each of three different black walnut cultivars—the Kwik-Krop, Sparrow and Thomas varieties. All are good nut producers as well as good timber trees.

Nut fanciers also can buy bundles of certified black walnut or pecan seedlings grown from nuts collected at improved orchards. First-time offerings this year include wild black cherry, spicebush and extra-large (3-foot minimum) shumard oak or black gum trees.

The nursery, located near Licking, has Quail Cover Bundles again this year. Included in each bundle are 10 wild plum, 10 fragrant sumac, 10 rough-leaf dogwood, 10 blackberry and 10 false indigo seedlings. Quail Cover Bundles come with planting tips for maximum benefit to quail.The nursery also has an ample supply of blackberry seedlings.

Missourians can order seedlings through April 15. Most are sold in bundles of 25 that cost $3 to $12. Order forms, including lists of available seedlings and bundles, are available from Missouri Department of Conservation, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180.

Orders are filled on a first-come, first-served basis, so order early. In addition to spelling out which plants you want, the order form allows you to specify when you want the plants delivered. You may prefer to pick them up at the nursery from February through May.

Spotted any unusual skunks lately?

Missourians are going to be seeing more of spotted skunks for the next few years, even if they never spot a live one outdoors.

The Conservation Department wants to learn more about how many of these endangered skunks—also known as civet cats—live in the Show-Me state and where they are found. To encourage people to report sightings of spotted skunks, the agency is putting up posters at wildlife check stations and other locations around the state. You might even receive a mail survey or an advertisement in a soil conservation district newsletter.

Spotted skunks seldom grow larger than 3 pounds. The more familiar striped skunk can weigh more than 10 pounds. Spotted skunks have a prominent white spot on their foreheads and in front of each ear. They have large white spots along both sides of their backs rather than the pure white stripes that mark the flanks of striped skunks. A spotted skunk’s tail typically is all black.

If you see a live or dead spotted skunk, or if you have seen one since 1960, call Wildlife Staff Biologist Jackie Combes at (573) 751-4115, ext. 3635, or toll-free (888) 571-1042. You also can e-mail her at Jackie.Combes@mdc.mo.gov.