An old saying goes: “Together we can do more than we could ever accomplish alone.” For the last 25 years the Conservation Department and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) have made this saying a reality in Missouri.
In 1981, the Conservation Department experimentally assigned several of its biologists to NRCS to help with staff training and to develop wildlife plans for private land. The experiment was so successful that today the Department has 10 biologists assigned directly to NRCS, and 50 more work directly with private landowners out of NRCS offices. These Conservation Department staff members are key to helping NRCS implement provisions of the 2002 Farm Bill that deal specifically with the fish, forest and wildlife resources of Missouri.
We serve as an example to the rest of the country for our cooperative resource accomplishments together, our service to customers and our dynamic partnership. No other state fish and wildlife agency has this kind of relationship with the USDA. Representatives of agencies from other states come to Missouri to see how we do it.
Field staff from both agencies are excited about the new customers that we bring to each other. Our close partnership allows us to use the expertise that each agency brings to the table when servicing landowner requests for assistance. And, our ability to get programs implemented and conservation working on the ground has attracted additional federal dollars to Missouri for conservation.
One of the greatest examples of how our partnership benefits Missouri natural resources and landowners is our cooperative effort in delivering the federal Wetlands Reserve Program. The Conservation Department has five wetland biologists who provide biological expertise to NRCS wetland teams comprised of soil scientists, engineers and technicians. The synergy of these teams has helped Missouri become one of only five states to enroll more than 100,000 acres into the program.
That is a critical effort in Missouri, where more than 90 percent of the state’s original wetlands have been drained and converted to other land uses. The benefits of restoring wetlands are immeasurable when you consider the migrating waterfowl, shorebirds and hundreds of other wetlands species that call these restored acres home. Studies show that these wetlands also improve water quality in our state’s streams and reduce bottomland flooding on farms along major rivers.
The Department has also helped NRCS prepare for and conduct the first Conservation Security Program signups. This voluntary program rewards farmers and other landowners for being good stewards of the land and motivates others to do likewise. While the signups have been limited to select watersheds around the state, the program has good implications for all Missouri wildlife resources.
The Conservation Security Program requires that landowners attain a minimum standard of protection of soil and water resources to enter the program. To attain higher levels of payment, landowners need to improve the wildlife resources on their farms. As a result, farmers from the Bootheel to northwestern Missouri are establishing an estimated 8,000 acres of native-grass field borders and are re-flooding 15,000 acres of rice fields for migrating wetland species. This amount of habitat improvement is unprecedented in Missouri conservation history. It is happening because we have worked together to make wildlife habitat restoration an economically attractive option for farmers.
We truly could not have come this far without working so well together. The real achievements are put on the ground by the conservation-minded citizens of Missouri with the technical assistance of the passionate, hardworking staff of the Conservation Department and the NRCS. Many of Missouri’s great conservation achievements are the result of our long, steadfast partnership.
Cooperative conservation is alive and well in Missouri!
Roger Hansen, state conservationist, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
John Hoskins, director, Missouri Department of Conservation