I am more secure than ever in my belief that conservation management must be left up to a well-funded, science-based agency with highly educated professionals, instead of armchair opinions passed off as reality on Facebook.

The concept behind social media is sound. And when actually used to stay connected with family and friends, it really can be a means of positivity. But sadly, many members of society have taken this opportunity to share joy and happiness, and turned it into a tool of divisiveness through the unregulated spread of lies and hate and vitriol. I do my best to ignore the trolls, but sometimes, I just can’t help myself.

Case in point. A couple of weeks ago there was a legislative hearing in the Missouri House of Representatives on a bill (HJR18) to sunset the conservation sales tax. The anti-conservation crowd, a small but loud contingent, took to Facebook to share their misspelled messages of ignorance and outright lies. Thankfully, dozens of civic minded Missourians who understand the Department of Conservation (MDC) does a phenomenal job of managing conservation as a whole, filled the hearing to standing room only and once again rose to defend our state’s system of science-based decision making supported by dedicated funding.

This Missouri Model of Conservation was established by the will of the people through two constitutional amendments and has served the citizens of this state beyond expectation for last 85 years. Healthy fish and wildlife populations, access to vast public lands and waters, educational resources and support on private land are just a few of the reasons why I wholeheartedly believe my statement is not arguable. But that doesn’t stop some from trying to destroy the special system we have. 

In a Facebook thread on the topic of the Conservation Sales Tax sunset proposal, one very vocal fella, spouted off the typical banter about what the MDC does wrong. These were his opinions that he mistakes for facts. So I challenged him to provide one example of the MDC making a decision that wasn’t scientifically sound. Now first of all, MDC is not perfect. I’m certainly not saying they are. But having worked in the executive office of another state wildlife agency, I know first-hand how well we have it here in Missouri. What he came back with of course had nothing to do with science. His points were either selfish to his specific interests or purely false.  

First, he claims, “MDC'S prime function: to ensure that it continues to not just exist, but grow in size and budget.” The prime function of the Department of Conservation is to protect and manage the fish, forest and wildlife resources of the state, and to facilitate and provide opportunity for all citizens to use, enjoy and learn about these resources. All citizens. Not just those who enjoy the same activities as you. This means people who simply like to walk in the woods and breath fresh air, enjoy bird watching, love to fish, are happy visiting urban nature centers, appreciate educational resources, look for opportunities to camp in primitive settings and collect mushrooms. All citizens. Appeasing a crowd that size is an impossible job, but when you look around the state, opportunities to enjoy nature are vast, because of MDC and their wise use of the dedicated funding we provide them. It’s not just about you and your interests.

His next gripe is river otters and his claim they have decimated game fish. To be blunt, river otters belong in our rivers. They were here long before we were, swimming alongside smallmouth and goggle-eye. My love of fishing is bone deep, but I’m excited when I see an otter because they are amazing animals. Native species can co-exist just fine. We are usually the culprits of conflict. Otters have not decimated our fisheries. Sure, they have put a hurt on some small ponds, but there are means, like legal trapping, to remedy those rare problems. The 1.2 million Missourians who hold fishing licenses annually can attest to the fact that our game fish populations are generally thriving.

He goes on that MDC has ignored the plummeting turkey population. Well, just last week MDC announced hunters killed 38,777 this spring, up from last year’s 35,801. Doesn’t sound like much of a plummet to me. What he ignores is how science tells us populations are leveling off to the actual number of turkeys suitable for the available habitat. This is happening all across the country where turkey reintroductions led to exploding populations too large to be sustained. But he doesn’t credit the MDC for the work they did to restore the turkeys he’s complaining about. Nature alone didn’t return these magnificent birds to every county in the state where unregulated hunting wiped them out. Biologists armed with tax dollars did.

Next he complains about the elk reintroduction, claiming “they can't keep the population growing enough to have some kind of season and have no intention of allowing the population to grow enough to actually afford the average Missouri resident a realistic opportunity at being able to hunt them.” So he’s saying what’s the point of having elk if he can’t kill one. In reality the population has more than tripled and the herd is doing very well. If we can stop the poaching of these animals, it’ll grow faster. But his only concern is with killing elk. Himself specially.

MDC has announced an elk season to likely start in 2020, and just like every other state with elk, “average residents” will be able to enter a drawing for a tag. He also completely ignores the economic impact the elk are having on small Ozark towns, like Eminence and Ellington, where people actually find it a thrill just view elk and hear a majestic bugle. Wildlife has value outside of hunting, but I do dream of one day hunting a Missouri elk. I’ll just have to take my chances with all my fellow average citizens in the tag lottery.

He contends, “I know they constantly talk about restoring roughed (ruffed) grouse and bobwhite quail, but I can't remember the last time I heard either calling in the wild.” Well, a ruffed grouse restoration is underway currently. A couple hundred ruffed grouse have been relocated to Missouri from Wisconsin, and I can sit on my back deck and listen to quail almost every night in the summer. Quail are doing better than they have in many years. But hey, he hasn’t heard them so they must not exist.  

Then he goes to CWD. “They plan to kill the deer to save them.” If you think Missouri is making a mistake with CWD management, take 10 minutes to research what has happened to Wisconsin, a state that chose to do nothing about the disease. There are areas in Wisconsin now where 50 percent of the harvested bucks test CWD positive. MDC has done a great job fighting a fight that can’t be won. The disease is progressing very slowly thanks to culling, compared to states where the strategy is to throw up their hands and do nothing.

His last point is feral hogs. “Report, don't shoot has proven to be the instrument for a feral population boom.” I’m going to have to go with have trailers behind pickup trucks as the instrument for a feral hog population boom. If it wasn’t for the illegal transportation and release of feral hogs, we wouldn’t have the problem we do. With feral hog hunters heavily invested financially in equipment and dogs to pursue these hogs, they need hogs to hunt, right? See the circle. Hog hunting is fun. Especially behind dogs. The chase is an amazing thrill, and hounds baying is an awesome sound, but feral hogs are horribly destructive to land and outcompete native wildlife for food and habitat. They need to be wiped off the landscape, and creating a hog hunting culture isn’t indicative to eradication. MDC in partnership with the USDA is making progress through trapping.

To wrap up his rant, he says, “In light of these and other factors, I think it's reasonable to put their funding to a vote every six years.” To which I reply, in light of the fact everything you said is utter nonsense, I am more secure than ever in my belief that conservation management must be left up to a well-funded, science-based agency with highly educated professionals, instead of armchair opinions passed off as reality on Facebook.

See you down the trail…