Intelligent Tinkering

Aldo Leopold, the father of wildlife conservation, said, “To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”

That wisdom saved me money and embarrassment as a young man when I found myself too deep into an old pickup engine overhaul and needed a professional mechanic to put the pieces back together; but more importantly it has guided my professional efforts as a fisheries biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation.

What Leopold was getting at was that every species of plant and animal is interconnected and important to a healthy environment, even if we don’t know why. That’s why it’s so important to conserve every species.

Working to conserve aquatic plants and animals is an important part of my job. It’s a challenge, however, to act efficiently and practically when Missouri’s aquatic species include more than 200 fishes, 32 crayfishes, 65 mussels, 56 snails, 2,000 aquatic macroinvertebrates such as mayflies and stoneflies, and 400 water-related plants.

Missouri, with direction from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, created a state Comprehensive Wildlife Strategy to meet this challenge. The approach of our CWS is to conserve all of Missouri’s native plants and animals by conserving the habitats they depend upon. For an overview of the CWS, see the October 2005 Conservationist.

It’s helpful to understand how the CWS process guides us to select the best places and opportunities.

The Process

We use the CWS process to help us select the best places and opportunities to protect Missouri’s aquatic plants and animals. Our selection process also rests on four fundamental principles:

Conservation of stream ecosystems is key to the conservation of aquatic species. Trying to conserve each species, one by one, is not practical. Groups of interrelated aquatic species and the habitat they depend upon need to be defined and conserved together.

Watersheds are the fundamental conservation units that define ecosystems for stream systems. A stream is a reflection of the land that feeds it. You can no more disconnect a stream from its watershed than you can disconnect a tree from its roots.

Efforts must be focused when human and financial resources for conservation work are limited. Without focus, resources would likely be used in a piecemeal, fragmented manner and not be sufficient to produce desired results, especially given the many other services and areas that MDC maintains.

Proactive conservation efforts are less costly and more likely to succeed than restoration actions. History has shown us many times that an