As someone who has used this service, I must say it is one of the big benefits of owning land in Missouri.
Friday, October 16, 2009
Ten years after its creation, the Missouri Department of
Conservation's Private Land Services Division is taking
stock of its accomplishments and assessing new challenges.
JEFFERSON CITY They have visited with tens of thousands of Missouri landowners and dealt with thousands of nuisance wildlife complaints. They have delivered millions of dollars to benefit forests, fish and wildlife on private land and have helped channel millions more into improving the quality of drinking water in agricultural communities. They have put in enough bobwhite quail habitat borders to reach from Los Angeles to New York City and outstripped every other state in achieving the goals of the Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative.
Who are "they"?
They are the 50 or so field workers in the Missouri Department of Conservation's Private Land Services Division. They are the friendly faces and boots on the ground delivering conservation services on the 94 percent of Missouri land not owned by government agencies.
The Conservation Department has always recognized that its mission can only succeed with active involvement of private landowners. For many years, the agency delivered services to citizen conservationists through multiple divisions.
In September 1999, the Conservation Commission deepened its commitment to conservation on private land by consolidating landowner services in the newly created Private Land Services Section. Three months later, it underlined the importance of this mission by upgrading the section to a division equal to those for fisheries, wildlife, forestry and protection.
The new Private Land Services Division had a staff of fewer than 70 and ambitious goals:
Contact 48,000 landowners about caring for nature on their land.
Survey 250,000 landowners to learn how best to help achieve their conservation goals.
Leverage private landowners' resources with state and federal dollars to benefit forests, game and nongame wildlife[/ul]
"We have a lot to say grace over," said Private Land Services Division Chief Bill McGuire. "Our 49 private land conservationists (PLCs) cover areas ranging from one to four counties. It isn't a job where you have trouble staying busy."
Private Land Conservationists (PLCs) come from the ranks of foresters, fisheries and wildlife biologists and conservation agents. To prepare for their work with private landowners, PLC cross-train in other areas of conservation. When they encounter challenges beyond their expertise, they call in specialists.
In a typical day, a PLC might receive a call about creating quail habitat, timber-stand improvement, prescribed burning to manage prairie or planting trees to address stream-bank erosion.
Private Land Services Division also has grassland, wetland and wildlife damage experts that provide specialized support when needed. Community conservationists in Kansas City, St. Louis and Springfield work with local governments, developers and others to incorporate fish, forest and wildlife considerations as development takes place.
Over the past 10 years, this diverse challenge has led to an equally diverse set of accomplishments. McGuire said his division has achieved the following:
Made more than 50,000 site visits to offer advice and assistance to people who want to improve natural values on their land. Made more than 6,000 wildlife damage visits for everything from feral hogs to black bears.
Provided forest, fish or wildlife management information to 150,000 landowners through workshops, seminars or field days.
Helped another 20,000 people deal with wildlife damage through workshops and seminars.
Provided more than $9 million in Conservation Department-funded cost sharing to landowners for forest, fish and wildlife work.
Provided more than $2 million in Conservation Department funds to help agricultural communities improve drinking water quality through the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP).
Leveraged its own CREP funding with $4.2 million from other agencies, enabling landowners to implement quail-friendly management practices that also helped keep fertilizer and other agricultural chemicals out of the water supply.
Provided services to the agriculture community through 50 PLCs stationed at U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offices.
Enrolled an average of 10,000 acres per year in the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP).
Made significant strides in bobwhite quail restoration, helping Cass and Scott counties become the first and only two counties in the nation to achieve the goals of the Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative.
Used partnerships to achieve goals shared by other organizations, from Pheasants Forever and Quail Unlimited to the Missouri Cattlemen's Association.[/ul]
"One of the hallmarks of this division has been partnerships," said McGuire. "We use partnerships to do everything from providing cost-shares to help landowners create wildlife habitat to making special equipment available to landowners to improve habitat. We currently have over 60 active partnerships."
McGuire said partnerships multiply his division's effectiveness. In its decade of work, the Private Land Services Division has been engaged in as many as 100 partnerships at one time. He also attributes the success of the private land effort to excellent support when needed from foresters and conservation agents as well as fisheries and wildlife biologists.
A notable example is the ongoing effort to stop the spread of feral hogs. These animals are not native wildlife, so they are not the Conservation Department's responsibility. However, because they are not confined, they are not livestock and therefore not under the jurisdiction of the Missouri Department of Agriculture, either. Nevertheless, feral hogs are potentially devastating to both nature and agriculture.
The Conservation Department joined with the Missouri Department of Agriculture, the Missouri Farm Bureau and other state and federal agencies and organizations in the Governor's Feral Hog Task Force to eradicate established populations of feral hogs in 25 counties. The Private Land Services Division is at the forefront of developing feral hog control techniques to tackle the challenge.
"This problem is too serious to ignore simply because no one is clearly in charge," said McGuire. "Everyone government agencies, citizen conservationists and farmers has a stake in the problem, so we are tackling it together."
One valued partnership producing tangible results is cooperation with USDA agencies, including the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Farm Services Administration (FSA). This partnership has attracted national attention on many occasions regarding how the USDA and a state wildlife agency can work together with interested landowners to make a difference on the land.
Another noteworthy conservation partnership is the Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative. This effort brings together the Conservation Federation of Missouri, Quail Unlimited, Quail Forever, the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Ruffed Grouse Society and other groups to work with state and federal agencies in improving upland bird habitat.
"It is particularly gratifying to be part of the progress that has been made on private land to restore habitat for bobwhite quail and many other grassland birds that have been declining," said McGuire. "For the first time in my 34-year career with the Conservation Department, we are seeing habitat improvement take place on landscapes rather than individual farms. This is happening because of partnerships."
McGuire said federal farm bill programs, especially the Conservation Reserve and Wetland Reserve, will continue to be irreplaceable in fostering public-private conservation partnerships.
McGuire recently announced his plans to retire. Among challenges he says will extend beyond his watch are eradication of feral hogs, strengthening connections to rural and agricultural communities, continuing efforts like prairie chicken restoration and the Northern Bird Conservation Initiative and improving management of non-industrial private forest land, which makes up more than 80 percent of Missouri's forestland.
"Fish, forest and wildlife resources can be byproducts of the land when it is managed for other purposes," said McGuire, "but it seldom happens without up-front thought and attention. Our mission is to help landowners realize their land-management goals in ways that also contribute to conservation."
He said that mission will be extra challenging due to a shrinking budget, but he believes PLCs can maintain the 87-percent approval rating they currently enjoy among those who receive private land services.
"It has been a wonderful opportunity to lead Private Land Services Division," said McGuire. "I will be working to ensure that PLS Division continues to be able to provide the technical assistance and support that private landowners value most."