News and Almanac

Native plant seminar and sale March 10 in Cape Girardeau. A native plant seminar sponsored by the Cape Girardeau Master Gardeners and the Missouri Department of Conservation will be held at the Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center from 8:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. March 10. The seminar will focus on the benefits of incorporating native plants in landscapes. Registration is required. For more information, call (573) 290-5218. A native plant sale will be held in conjunction with the seminar and is open to the public.

Missouri’s wetland work praised

Missouri conservation officials traveled to Canada in October to dedicate a Missouri-funded wetland restoration project in southwestern Manitoba. The project restored 319 wetland and grassland acres, creating summer habitat for ducks and other migratory birds that travel to and through Missouri during the fall, winter and spring. Other partners in the project included Ducks Unlimited and Ducks Unlimited-Canada, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and local Canadian partners, including Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation, Manitoba Conservation districts and the Province of Manitoba. Missouri’s share of the funding came from sales of hunting permits and the one-eighth of 1 percent conservation sales tax. Matching money came from Ducks Unlimited and the North American Wetlands Conservation Act. Pictured with a commemorative plaque at the project site are (from left): Conservation Commission Vice-Chairman Chip McGeehan, Marshfield; Commissioner Lowell Mohler, Jefferson City; Commission Chairman Steve Bradford, Cape Girardeau; and Department of Conservation.

Habitat Hints

Plant a butterfly garden

Want to double the color in your garden and add flashes of life to the scene? You can, by choosing plants that attract butterflies. Now is the perfect time to plan and plant a butterfly garden.

Butterflies are attracted to nectar-producing flowers, so these should be the foundation of your butterfly garden. Native plants are good choices, because they are adapted to Missouri soils and climate and consequently require less care than cultivated varieties.

Among the best native butterfly plants are purple coneflower, wild bergamot, rose verbena, New England aster, columbine, passionflower, blazing star, black-eyed Susan, sweet William, Joe-pye weed and lance-leaf coreopsis. Seeds and bedding plants for these wildflowers are available from native plant nurseries. To find one near you, visit Grow Native! online.

Cultivars that make good butterfly plants include yarrow, Shasta daisies, zinnias, lavender, blanket flower, forget-me-nots, foxglove, bluebells and poppies.

Choose flowers with different blooming periods to ensure that your garden remains attractive to butterflies throughout the growing season. Keep butterflies visible by placing taller plants at the back of the garden and stair-stepping shorter plants toward a bench or other favorite vantage point.

To make your property as attractive as possible to butterflies, provide food for their larvae, too. Swallowtail caterpillars dine on spicebush, sassafras and pawpaw leaves. For monarch butterflies, choose any plant in the milkweed family, which includes butterfly weed. Fritillary butterfly caterpillars like violets, while the young of buckeye butterflies are partial to snapdragons.

For more information about butterflies and how to attract them, visit online.

Five lucky turkey-gobble counters to receive lifetime permits

Sign up immediately to count gobbling turkeys, and you could win a lifetime hunting and fishing permit. The Department of Conservation, in partnership with the National Wild Turkey Federation, is studying spring gobbling behavior and needs 500 volunteers to sit at listening posts of their own choosing twice a week between March 15 and May 15. The study will last for five years. At the end of each year, the George Clark Memorial Chapter of the NWTF will hold a drawing to award one volunteer a Resident Lifetime Conservation Partner Permit, good for small-game hunting and fishing. The deadline for applying to take part in the project is March 10. To sign up, e-mail Jeff Beringer at Jeff.Beringer@mdc.mo.gov. Type “Gobble Study” in the subject line, and provide your name, address and county in the body of the e-mail.

Plates get new design, many new vendors

For years, Missourians have sported the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation’s conservation license plates as a way to show their passion for wildlife. This spring, drivers can choose a new design featuring a Jim Rathert photo of morel mushrooms. This image joins the traditional lineup of conservation plates, which include a bluebird and big buck portrait.

Until now, drivers have gotten their conservation plates by making a $25 donation to MCHF. You can still apply for one of the three plate designs through the Department of Conservation or MCHF websites, but this spring you can also make your MCHF donation and apply for a plate at any hunting and fishing permit vendor in the state. To order online, see below.

The whys of prescribed fire

Setting fire to something you love seems wrong. For grassland wildlife, however, it definitely is the right thing to do. Here are a few reasons why.

Burning grassland between August and February stimulates the growth of wildflowers. This increases plant diversity, making grass stands less vulnerable to diseases or pests. Diversity provides a variety of food and cover types for wildlife. It looks prettier, too. One caution: burning at this time of year on steep slopes can lead to erosion.

Burning from February through March prepares stands of grass for interseeding with legumes and stimulates germination of legume seeds already present. Again, wildlife benefits from increased plant diversity.

Burning thick stands of cool-season grasses from April through May sets back their growth and encourages seed-producing weeds. This is a plus for wildlife, because it creates food for them and opens cover at ground level, allowing animals to move more freely. It also kills or sets back small trees and bushes, slowing the takeover by woody vegetation.

Burning warm-season grasses in April and May tends to thicken sparse stands of native grasses and kills or sets back woody vegetation. On the negative side, burning at this time of year also kills germinating annual lespedeza and ragweed.

For more information about managing your land for wildlife, visit online.

Boaters, anglers should watch for zebra mussels

With the return of warm weather just around the corner, thousands of Missourians will be taking boats out of mothballs and preparing for fishing and pleasure boating trips. If you are among these, remember that Missouri waters still are at risk of infestation by zebra mussels. The most common way these economically and ecologically damaging pests enter new waters is by hitching a ride on boats or boat trailers.

Adult zebra mussels can live for several days out of water. Their microscopic larvae can survive for weeks in boat bilge water, live wells, engine cooling-water systems and bait buckets.

To help prevent the spread of zebra mussels:

  • Inspect your boat and trailer thoroughly, and remove any trash, mussels or aquatic weeds after each outing.
  • Drain water from the motor, live well, bilge and transom wells and other parts of your boat.
  • Dump leftover bait in trash receptacles away from the water.
  • Rinse boat, trailer and equipment (including live wells, bilge and cooling systems) thoroughly with hard spray from a garden hose, and allow to dry for at least 48 hours. If your boat or equipment was used in zebra mussel-infested waters, use a commercial car wash with hot water.
  • Dry boat, motor, trailer and equipment thoroughly in the hot sun before using again.
  • Learn to identify zebra mussels. Adults have a distinct triangular shell, with a striped pattern. They can reach 2 inches, but most are fingernail-sized.

To report a potential zebra mussel sighting or for additional information, contact a Department of Conservation office (see page 1 for a list of regional office phone numbers). For more information see below.

Birds suffer when cats roam

Could the adorable tabby swatting a ball of yarn at your feet be a killer? The answer is yes. Birds and other wildlife suffer when cats are allowed to roam outdoors.

When cats play, they really are honing predatory skills. Hunting is in their nature, so even well-fed cats look for prey. Their ability to climb makes them effective predators of cardinals, blue jays, wrens, titmice and other birds commonly seen around residential bird feeders. Putting a bell on Tabby’s collar isn’t much help, as birds do not associate bells with danger, and nestlings cannot flee anyway. Even declawed cats are effective hunters.

Besides killing birds and raiding their nests, free-ranging cats take a serious toll on other wildlife, from chipmunks to lizards.

Cats are happy indoors, and indoor cats live longer than rovers. Keeping cats indoors protects them from dogs, coyotes and automobiles. So, do your cat and nature a favor by keeping it inside.

If your cat is accustomed to being outdoors, help it adjust to the change by gradually increasing the length of indoor stays. For more information about cats’ impact on nature and tips on how to keep cats happily indoors, see the link listed below.

Turn your pond into a crappie haven

Crappie are very popular with anglers, but few ponds or small lakes have natural populations. Crappie management can be challenging in small impoundments, but it can be done under certain conditions.

First, your pond’s water must be clear most of the time. In murky ponds, too many small crappie escape bass and other sight-feeding predators, and the crappie population tends to become stunted.

Ponds also need ample rooted, underwater vegetation to be suitable for crappie. Young bass need hiding and feeding places to survive to sizes that can eat crappie and control their numbers.

Heavily fished ponds need regulation to ensure that bass are not over-fished. One approach is to release all bass between 12 and 14 or even 18 inches long. The only danger is in taking so many small bass that few make it into the protected size range.

Stocking prey fish to boost crappie growth can work, but avoid gizzard shad, which can grow numerous enough to keep bass from eating small crappie. Fathead minnows are the best choice.

You can harvest any number of crappie at any size without fear of “fishing them out.” However, imposing a minimum length limit of 9 or 10 inches produces larger fish.

If your pond has an established population of bass and other fish, you may be able to get started by stocking 30 adult fish early in the spring. The alternative is to stock fingerlings at a rate of 50 to 200 per acre in June.

For advice about managing fish in ponds, contact the Missouri Department of Conservation, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180, phone (573) 751-4115 or visit online and click on “Fishing.”

Donation helps landowner with taxes, expands Bootheel conservation possibilities

John W. Sanders wasn’t thinking primarily of conservation when he donated 118 acres in the Mississippi River bottoms in Pemiscot County to the Department of Conservation. All the same, his gift is part of exciting conservation opportunities developing around Hayti.

Sanders, 56, raises corn, soybeans and “a little cotton” for a living. His land was scattered over a wide area until he sold some property northeast of Hayti. What was left in that area was inconvenient for him to farm.

“This piece of ground was kind of out of the way,” he said. “The land was still farmable. In fact, it made the best crop it ever made the last year. We just didn’t take care of it like we did when we had more land up there, and WRP was offering a good price. So, I decided to see if it qualified.”

The land did qualify. Sanders accepted a cash payment per acre in exchange for a permanent easement that precludes him or future owners from farming or building on enrolled acres. More important to Sanders than what WRP would not let him do on the land was what it let him do with the land.

“I’m not a hunter, so I wouldn’t be hunting the ground,” said Sanders. “I couldn’t farm it anymore, but WRP made it possible to donate the land to the Conservation Department. That helped me on my income taxes.”

Just as Sanders was pleased about saving money on taxes, conservationists in the Bootheel are excited about the possibilities the 118 acres create. The tract becomes part of a 3,500-acre complex of conservation lands that includes Black Island, DeSoto, Gayoso and Wolf Bayou conservation areas.

“This is enough acreage to re-create a small expanse of bottomland hardwood habitat,” said Wildlife Division Chief David Erickson. “Waterfowl, furbearers and endangered species like the alligator snapping turtle eventually could benefit from conservation efforts in the area, especially when you view the donation in relation to other public and Wetland Reserve Program lands in the area. It will also provide a spot for the public to enjoy the outdoors.”

Missouri certifies 1 millionth hunter education graduate

2006 was a banner year for hunter education in Missouri, with the 50th anniversary of the program and certification of the 1-millionth hunter education graduate. Sam Enright of Wildwood graduated from a class taught by volunteer Kevin Dixon at the Four Rivers Career Center in Washington. He missed just one question on the final exam. He won a Resident Lifetime Small Game Hunting Permit from the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation, a full set of camouflage clothing and a guided spring turkey hunt from Bass Pro Shops and a 20-gauge Browning BPS semiautomatic youth shotgun donated by the manufacturer. Enright, 13, began going on hunts with his father at the age of 7. Asked what he considers the most important thing he learned in hunter education, he said, “To always be safe.”

Agent Notebook

Finding and catching crappies in spring is a great sport, and crappie fillets sizzling in the frying pan are definitely a fine treat. Keep in mind, however, that no matter how good the fishing is, crappie are not an unlimited resource.

All crappies you don’t intend to eat should be released unharmed immediately after they are caught. Also, those crappies under the minimum size limit must be released immediately. Be sure to check the Wildlife Code and area bulletin boards for minimum length restrictions, as well as creel limits.

To release crappies, first try giving them slack line. The hook may work loose while the fish is still in the water. If this doesn’t work or if you need to measure a fish to see if it is legal to keep, wet your hands before handling the fish and then handle it just firmly enough to keep it under control.

Use needlenose pliers, fishing forceps or a similar tool to remove the hook. If the fish is deeply hooked, it’s usually better to cut the line than to try to free the hook. The hook will dissolve or work its way out in a short time. While measuring or photographing a fish, don’t let it drop to the ground or boat floor.

Release fish gently. Throwing or tossing fish back into the water is likely to stun them. Instead, place fish upright in the water and let them swim out of your hands. This will increase their chances of survival so they can be caught again by you or others. Practicing these techniques will help ensure that we will all have plenty of crappies to enjoy in the future.—Eric Smith, Camden County