Note To Our Readers

Landowners Make it Possible

I vividly recall the first time I saw a mature bald eagle. It was 1972, early morning, in the middle of a cold and snowy northern Illinois winter, as I was driving along the Illinois River. The eagle was sitting in a large sycamore tree eyeing an open spot in the river, waiting for its next meal of crippled waterfowl or fish.

I was just as awed a few weeks ago, driving through St. Martins with my wife, when an eagle swooped in, grabbed a gray squirrel with one talon and disappeared into the darkening sky, all in a matter of a few seconds.

Today, sightings of bald eagles occur throughout the year in central Missouri and nesting pairs are not uncommon along the Missouri River and in other parts of our state.

In Missouri, wildlife restoration has been no accident. Our natural resource recovery and conservation has evolved through a unique partnership. This partnership includes the collective wisdom of landowners, outdoor enthusiasts and government agencies. Missourians, in their efforts to restore and conserve Missouri’s natural treasures, have demonstrated how to “get conservation right.” We have moved beyond the challenges of the early years of restoring the state’s forest, fish and wildlife resources.

While it is good to reflect as Missouri citizens’ Conservation Department celebrates 75th anniversary this year, it behooves us all not to get complacent. Conservation is as important today as it has been the past 75 years. Our planet supports 6 billion people exerting more demand on our natural resources than at any time in history. It is my belief that our relationship with landowners is even more critical today than it has been in the past.

John F. Kennedy said, “There is too little recognition of how much we all depend upon farmers as stewards of our soil, water and wildlife resources.” How true! Growing up, I had the good fortune to live in rural northern Illinois. Farmers were some of my first employers and friends. Cleaning barns, walking beans, baling hay and helping with harvest gave me a real appreciation for people connected to the land. I have also had the good fortune in my 37-year career of natural resource conservation to work with many landowners in several states.

I have traveled to the four corners of our state and in between. I am always amazed at the diversity of landscapes. In Missouri 93 percent of the land is in private ownership and much of that is in production agriculture. Each day, dedicated agriculture professionals have to adapt to the vagaries of the weather and understand the complexity of our economic times while ensuring that the soil, water, forest, fish and wildlife resources are intact for future generations. Strengthening the partnership between farmers, sportsmen and conservation agencies has never been more important if we are not only going to sustain soil, water and natural resources, but ourselves, as well.

Early spring is upon us. As you listen to the turkeys gobble, hunt for morel mushrooms, head out to fish or watch agriculture land come alive with the food that sustains us, think about the landowners who make it possible. If you know a landowner or have access to private land for your outdoor adventures, thank them for their commitment to the future.

Tom Draper, deputy director