Ted Shanks Redemption

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Published on: Mar. 2, 2003

Last revision: Nov. 15, 2010

Ted Shanks Conservation Area in Pike County isn't very old as conservation areas go. The Conservation Department bought the land in the 1970s. However, the land's history as a magnet for wildlife, hunters, anglers and nature lovers goes back much farther.

The area is part of a complex of braided seasonal channels, sloughs, backwaters and tributaries that once bordered the length of the Mississippi River. Like much of the great river's historic flood plain, Ted Shanks supported a lush growth of oak, ash, pecan and sycamore trees. These bottomland forests sheltered millions of ducks, geese and other migratory birds.

The birds came to eat acorns. This staple food provided fuel for ducks' annual migrations. Hunters stood among the Shanks area's towering pin oak and swamp white oak trees and watched hundreds of ducks swirl into the flooded timber.

Looking at Ted Shanks Conservation Area today, a first-time visitor would never imagine such a scene. What you do see at the Shanks area today can differ drastically, depending on who you are.

Duck hunter Steve Hoepf began visiting the 6,700-acre area in 1979, soon after the Missouri Department of Conservation bought the property. "We often had 40 or 50 thousand ducks on the area," Hoepf remembers. Today, when he looks across the Flag Lake tract near the middle of the area, he sees only dead trees and lost opportunities.

Resource Forester Kristen Goodrich looks at the same area and sees history in the making. She also sees a bright future for the next generation of hunters.

Both visions are accurate, as far as they go.

Hints of the changes that Hoepf witnessed first appeared in aerial photos of the area. Pictures taken in the 1980s showed many more dead trees than photos taken in the 1970s. They also showed water standing in Flag Lake, which had been dry in the earlier photos. Area managers believed the trees died due to manipulation of water levels to improve wildlife habitat.

Then they discovered that Flag Lake appeared in photos taken in 1956, before the land was under Conservation Department management. The water was rising even before the area was being managed as a waterfowl area. Where was the water coming from?

Ted Shanks' bottomland hardwood forest originally occupied land that stood a few inches or feet above the normal water level of the adjacent Mississippi River. Floods rose among the timber, but for most

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