Most weeks, I have the good fortune to write about positive adventures and activities in the outdoors. I wish all I had to share were fun times and good news, but I wouldn’t be doing you justice if occasionally I didn’t take you deeper into political issues and other roadblocks to a brighter future for our natural resources. I wish there were no threats, but sadly, there are many. If we hope to maintain fish, forest and wildlife for generations to come, we must be vigilant about protecting what we have in Missouri. Because believe it or not, there are efforts at hand to erode what you and I hold so dear.
This past week, there was public hearing on a bill in the House of Representatives that if passed would give non-resident landowners free hunting, fishing and trapping licenses. The fiscal impact of this bill would be approximately $500,000 of lost revenue for the residents of Missouri to be used for conservation.
Would it surprise you to learn the state representative who filed this legislation has a brother living in California who owns land in Missouri? This person may love Missouri, but chooses not to live here. For whatever reason, California is home. But California doesn’t offer Missouri’s abundance of hunting and fishing opportunity. So even though this person chooses not live and work in Missouri, he feels he should not have to pay to take fish and wildlife resources from those of us who do. And to his good fortune, he has a brother in the legislature willing to make that argument.
There’s an old adage about not wanting to see how sausage or legislation is made. This bill sheds light on why. The same representative filed a very similar bill in 2016, but as a freshman legislator, had yet to acquire the proper legislative speak often used to pull the wool over voter eyes. In the public hearing for the 2016 version of this bill, the representative flat out told the committee he wrote this bill for his brother. Committee members couldn’t distance themselves fast enough. Fast forward to 2018, and now with a couple of years of experience under his belt, the representative no longer touts this as a bill “for my brother.” Now it is a private property rights issue. So there you go, right out of the playbook.
More than a half-million dollars striped from you and me and everyone who chooses to live in this state. Where would the Department of Conservation make $500,000 in cuts? Would they no longer plant the sunflower fields so many of us dove hunt at Davisdale and Franklin Island? Would there be fewer trout stocked in Lake Taneycomo? Would habitat work end on our few remaining native prairies? Perhaps fewer staff at our urban nature centers? Should a few Missourians lose their jobs so non-residents can hunt for free? Wherever the cuts would be made, it would negatively affect us, the people of Missouri.
It’s 2018, but a bill like this sure makes it feel like 1918. There was a time in our state’s history when it was common for legislators to hand out political fish and game favors to family and friends. This bill, more so than any I have dealt with in the five years I have been involved with conservation policy, shows why we are so fortunate in Missouri to have a system of conservation management free from political manipulation.
Over the last 80 years, science-based conservation decision-making has taken our wildlife from the brink of disaster to thriving. Missouri has gone from 400 deer to 1.3 million; from 2,000 turkey to 500,000. Our black bear are repopulating. We have wild elk once again roaming our Ozark Mountains. Bald eagles are a common sight. Waves of waterfowl descend on our state. Our lakes, rivers and streams teem with fish.
The Missouri Model of Conservation is the envy of America. As I engage with conservation and natural resource leaders across the country, the common theme I hear is how they wish their state operated like ours. We cannot allow our state to return to the dark ages of wiped out forests and decimated fish and game populations by chipping away at all we’ve accomplished.
As a proud Missourian, who travels the country to pursue fish and game, I am happy to pay my way every time I pick up my shotgun or fishing rod. I am a resident landowner who chooses not to use my privilege of resident landowner tags. I hope the little it costs me to buy my licenses each year will be reflected in the joy of a young Missourian 100 years from now when they hear a wild turkey gobble for the first time.
I choose to live in Missouri. I wasn’t born here. I live here by choice, knowing full well if I moved to either coast of this country I could likely double my salary. But money isn’t everything. The rural way of life afforded by this beautiful state is unmatched in my book. How anyone could support giving our resources away for free, and ripping $500,000 from those of us who make our home and our living here, is far beyond my understanding.
See you down the trail…
Brandon Butler is a columnist and the Executive Director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri. Views do not necessarily reflect those of the Lake Sun.