Friday, December 6, 2013

Aldo Leopold in Missouri



Tina sent me a link to a speech made in Columbia, Missouri by Aldo Leopold on April 26, 1938.  Before you read the text, let us put it into perspective.  The whole concept of conservation as a social responsibility was just beginning.  Missouri was at the forefront of the conservation movement and has remained there ever since.  Let's review the history.
"The Missouri Department of Conservation was conceived at the low point of U.S. conservation history. Unregulated hunting, fishing and trapping and the abuse of forests had decimated the state’s natural resources. Missouri sportsmen devised a solution that was as simple as it was revolutionary. They drafted a constitutional amendment creating a non-political conservation agency. Voters approved the amendment in 1936 by a margin of 71 to 29 percent, one of the largest margins by which any amendment to the state constitution has ever passed. It gave Missouri the world's first non-political, science-based conservation agency with exclusive authority over forests, fish and wildlife."   MDC
Conservationist 1938- Click to enlarge
The first issue of Conservationist was published three months after the speech in July, 1938.  Its front page article was titled
"Conservation Commission Announces its Program as Second Year Starts."  The Missouri Conservation Commission, the predecessor of the Missouri Department of Conservation was formed in 1937, right after the enabling legislation.

Leopold's speech, "Whither Missouri", both congratulated the steps taken and warned of the challenge of getting landowners to take responsibility for their land.  This should all sound familiar.  He emphasizes the need for erosion control, soil conservation, and many of the issues we continue to face today.  In some ways, he seems to have had a crystal ball set for 2013.  Consider these quotes:
  • Conservation agencies future ownership of land.  "I would call it an optimistic guess to say one-fifth of Missouri, that is to say, the combined area of national forests, state forests, parks, refuges, etc., can hardly, even in the remote future exceed a fifth of the area of the state."  Currently 85% of forest lands are privately owned.
  • Prairie chicken population.  "Until the majority of our farmers are as proud of having a flock of prairie chickens as of owning a new car, we shall not have the chickens."  
Starker Leopold
Soon his son Starker Leopold would be working for MDC at the newly acquired Caney Mountain Conservation Area where he prepared the first wildlife management plan.  It was purchased as a turkey refuge and 30 deer were released in 1940.  "This area then provided both deer and turkeys to restore populations in the rest of the state." Starker worked here from 1939 to 1943, early steps in what became an illustrious career of his own.

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