Note To Our Readers
Mentoring a New Generation
Wow, it’s September already. By the time this magazine is distributed, it’ll be October. What a glorious time of year! I recently celebrated my 58th birthday on Sept. 1. That particular date brings back many fond memories of squirrel hunting on opening day in my home state of Illinois. I still remember the sleepless nights on Aug. 31. I couldn’t wait to get to the woods. I know I drove my mom and dad crazy banging around in the kitchen very early on the morning of opening day. After gathering my gear and getting out the door, I’d hike around corn and bean fields and across pastures to get to “Tony’s Timber.” Tony was the neighboring farmer who let anyone hunt on his land. All you had to do was ask permission. Usually, I was there so early I would spend an hour or so in complete darkness listening and observing the woods wake up. To this day, I remember the first time a saw I pair of flying squirrels come home to roost in their den tree at dawn.
I have often thought of how fortunate I was to have a dad that took me on my first squirrel hunt. I still remember that day vividly. My dad was a man of few words but a great teacher. He pointed out many things in the woods that day beyond squirrel hunting. We found some fall mushrooms and feasted on wild plums. We tramped through different habitats and looked for signs from many different critters.
My Uncle Steve taught me the finer points of processing a deer, and our neighbor, Leonard, took me on my first fishing trip to the Illinois River.
Thinking back on these experiences, I have come to realize how fortunate I was to have had adults in my life that opened the wide wonders of the out of doors to me. I believe that exposure to the out of doors led me to my chosen vocation of being a forester, which I’ve been for the last 36 years. That, in itself, has been a great gift.
Why all the reminiscing? Our great state of Missouri has so many opportunities for old and young alike to enjoy the great outdoors. With the advent of fall, the opportunities are almost limitless. As we become a more urban society, it is important for us older folks to replace ourselves with youngsters who love the outdoors and who will be future stewards of Missouri’s natural treasures. Many opportunities exist to take a child on a managed youth hunt where they can experience their first waterfowl, quail or deer hunt. Other fall activities such as fishing or hiking abound here in Missouri. Our Partners such as the National Wild Turkey Federation host jakes events that teach youngsters about Missouri’s wild turkey and the intrigue of hunting this wily bird. In a recent Missouri’s Trapper Association magazine, Missouri Mountain Men, I read an article on a local trapper who spent time with a 4-H Club so those youth could learn about that important wildlife management tool. I applaud these and other partner efforts that engage youth in Missouri’s hunting, fishing and trapping heritage.
As we all know, managing and sustaining natural resources is all about the balance between sustaining the resource and meeting human desires. One of my responsibilities as deputy director is to serve as chairman of the Department’s Regulations Committee. Development of Wildlife Code regulations is one of the most important responsibilities of the Department. The challenge is to find the balance between natural resource needs and the public’s desire to access and use those resources. It is a complex and interesting challenge.
As you might expect, views differ on how well the Department meets the desires of citizens. Again, it is all about finding balance. We believe recruiting youth is critically important to sustain Missouri’s conservation and outdoor heritage. As I reflect about my youth, I am glad that someone took the initiative to introduce me to the great outdoors. Exploring the outdoors has been, and will continue to be, a lifelong adventure.
As we approach one of the great seasons in Missouri, pledge to engage the important youth in your life in a Missouri outdoor adventure. Who knows, one of those youngsters may be the next conservation agent, fisheries or wildlife biologist, or forester.
Thomas A. Draper, deputy director