Spring turkey season, Earth Day and Arbor Day a reminder to appreciate the outdoors
Seldom are spring turkey season, Earth Day, and Arbor Day tied together in the same sentence.
However, these three special events – all of which occur in the latter half of this month – have more similarities than may appear at first glance. Each one offers both a promising message and a cautionary tale of outdoors stewardship. All remind us how wonderful – and fragile – Missouri’s outdoor resources are.
April 19 was the first day of Missouri’s spring turkey season. This season, which runs through May 9, is the state’s second-biggest hunting event (next to the November firearms deer season). In addition to connecting thousands of citizens to the outdoors, it pumps millions of dollars into the state’s economy in the form of gasoline, lodging, meals and all the other expenses that are associated with the pursuit of this popular game bird.
Today, Missouri’s turkey population is estimated to be somewhere between 350,000 and 400,000, but they weren’t always so abundant. In the early 1900s, habitat destruction and poorly regulated hunting had reduced Missouri’s once-numerous turkey population to a small number of birds that were sparsely scattered across remote areas of the state. However, sound conservation management coupled with citizen cooperation stopped the wild turkey’s slide in Missouri. Several decades of trapping and relocation of existing birds by Missouri Department of Conservation personnel and several years of closed hunting seasons followed by more years of limited hunting opportunities resulted in the re-establishment of the state’s turkey population, the eventual resumption of a state-wide spring season, and the turkey abundance we enjoy today. Though those lean years are distant memories, they still provide clear reminders of how an outdoor resource can dwindle if it’s abused.
Earth Day, which is April 22, is another event spawned from a history of resource mismanagement. Growing problems caused by increasing pollution and poor natural resource stewardship at a number of locations around the country gave rise to the country’s first Earth Day in 1970. Since then, the day has become an opportunity to reflect on our wonderful outdoor resources and the role we play in caring for them.
National Arbor Day, which is April 30, has a slightly different history. This day, which focuses on the benefits of trees, began in Nebraska. Because it started in a state where open grasslands were always more predominant than forests, Arbor Day didn’t spring from a long history of resource misuse. Nevertheless, this day has given impetus to tree-planting efforts around the country and has helped remind people of the problems that arise when trees begin to disappear from our landscape.
Thus, as unrelated as they may seem to one another, Missouri’s spring turkey season, Earth Day, and Arbor Day have a connection: They help keep environmental stewardship and habitat management in the forefront of things we think about. They also emphasize what surveys have shown repeatedly – that Missourians care about conserving forests, fish and wildlife. Each of these three events would not be possible without citizen involvement. Natural resource success stories aren’t only about biology and science. Today’s turkey abundance would not have been possible without the cooperation of many rural landowners who allowed birds to be placed on their property.
If you want another example of citizen-driven conservation success, look no further than Missouri’s state bird – the eastern bluebird. By the mid-1900s, bird experts were concerned about the reductions in the number of bluebird sightings in this state and elsewhere around the country. One of the reasons for this was that starlings and house sparrows – two non-native birds – were out-competing the less-aggressive bluebirds for cavity nesting spaces. To make up for the shortage of nesting space, many people began to put up bluebird houses. Today, bluebird numbers appear to be on the rebound and bird experts agree a big reason for this comeback is the increased amount of nesting habitat provided by man-made bluebird houses.
So, whether you plan to hunt turkeys, pick up litter, plant trees, take time to admire bluebirds – or do all four – in the days ahead, remember we all have a role in caring for our natural resources. Whether you live in a rural or urban area, conservation-friendly land management tips that can help you can be found at mdc.mo.gov or your nearest Missouri Department of Conservation office.
Francis Skalicky is the media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Southwest Region. For more information about conservation issues, call 417-895-6880.