Conserving Public Lands

For the past 75 years, MDC has been developing an extensive network of conservation areas. These are the places we go to hunt, fish, hike, birdwatch and enjoy nature.

The Department’s aim has been to balance conserving and managing the state’s forest, fish and wildlife resources while providing ample opportunities for all citizens to use, enjoy and learn about them.

“Conservation areas belong to the people of Missouri and are for their benefit. These areas have always provided room for people to enjoy the outdoors,” says MDC Director Robert L. Ziehmer. “They also do much more. We manage these areas to re-establish habitats for native species and to protect unique natural communities, which results in a wider range of ways that the public can benefit from these areas.”

Design for Conservation

Missourians have long supported conserving lands for public use and to support wildlife. Beginning in the 1970s, the Department made a pledge to embrace a broader conservation approach called the Design for Conservation. It was a plan to preserve the best examples of forests, prairies, marshes and glades; to obtain land for recreation, forestry and protection of critical habitat; to increase services to the public in the areas of wildlife and forest conservation; and to create a system of conservation nature centers throughout Missouri. Voters approved the Design for Conservation plan in 1976 with a one-eighth of 1 percent sales tax, providing reliable funding for fish, forests and wildlife conservation.

“This citizen-led initiative created an interconnected and accessible network of public lands that conserve natural resources while providing the public with quality recreational and educational opportunities,” says MDC Deputy Director Tim Ripperger.

Prior to Design for Conservation, the Department managed 294,000 acres of public land. During the initial 20 years of implementing the Design, the Department purchased an additional 440,000 acres to serve as conservation areas. These early efforts were based on broad guidelines and willing sellers. While the combined acreage of Missouri’s conservation areas is remarkable, it totals less than 3 percent of the state.

Incredibly, a full 20 percent of MDC’s public land holdings were donations. “Donations of land are the ultimate expression of the commitment to conservation and to the future that a landowner can make,” Ripperger says.

Today the Department holds approximately 789,000 acres in public trust and manages another 197,000 acres owned by conservation partners, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, The Nature