Conservation - A Sound Investment
The nation's overall economic downturn and the corresponding decline in public revenue are serious challenges for state and local governments. Last year the Conservation Department cut its budget by $5.7 million, and Department employees have not received raises for two consecutive years. The Conservation Commission is serious about fiscal responsibility and the wise use of the citizens' conservation dollars entrusted to us.
In 1976, Missouri voters approved the one-eighth percent conservation sales tax. In easy English, this means for every $1,000 spent on taxable items, $1.25 is earmarked for conservation of our state's fish, forests, and wildlife.
The conservation sales tax provides about two-thirds of our Department's annual budget. The remainder is made up of federal funding and permit revenues. This public support is hugely humbling to us, and propels us to strive for peak efficiency each day. The dedicated conservation revenues require careful stewardship, self-discipline and accountability. Recently, a careful internal analysis of the Conservation Department led to two conclusions: (1) Our organizational structure needed to be flattened; and (2) more money and effort should be directed to managing natural resources and providing conservation services to citizens.
In response, we have taken steps to downsize our administrative structure. We've reduced the number of statewide management regions from ten to eight, and the number of supervisors who oversee field operations from Jefferson City from 21 to 12. Overall, the structural changes will save the Department $2.1 million in operating expenses annually. These savings will be redirected to programs that serve Missouri citizens and benefit our natural resources.
The public's decision to underwrite Missouri's Design for Conservation has proven an excellent investment. Recent economic studies tell us that fish, wildlife and forestry expenditures add more than $7 billion to Missouri's economy every year. The total sales tax generated each year by this spending far exceeds the amount the Department of Conservation receives from the 1/8th percent Conservation Sales Tax. In addition, fish and wildlife expenditures fuel thousands of jobs and are a solid building block of our state and national economy. Conservation more than pays for its own way.
Abraham Lincoln said, "You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today." The Conservation Department continues to engage in thoughtful planning to guide its focus in the future. Our goals include demonstrating sound conservation practices on Department-managed land and water and providing clean and serviceable facilities for public use. Our facilities -- offered in response to public demand -- are visited each year by hundreds of thousands of citizens eager to learn about wildlife and the outdoors. We also will assist and encourage more landowners to practice conservation stewardship on private land and waters.
We will continue to look for every opportunity to streamline and improve our business practices so that this agency works at peak efficiency. We believe that good management builds public trust and citizens' willingness to support conservation programs.
Conservation Department employees are the best conservation workers in the world, and they are very serious about their mission. They live and work throughout the state, and they share a commitment to earning public trust and to ensuring that conservation is a vital part of their communities. They seem to relish the challenge of taking the Missouri Department of Conservation from good to great.
John D. Hoskins, Director