Monday, June 22, 2009

Vision for Missouri outdoors emerges from summit meeting

By Jim Low
Conservation Department

In a historical echo, Missouri conservation leaders met in Columbia May 28 and 29 and hammered out a vision for the state’s outdoor future. Outdoor education, water conservation and connecting families with the outdoors topped the list of priorities that leaders agreed should guide conservation for the next three-quarters of a century.

The meeting mirrored one that took place in Columbia 74 years ago. On Sept. 10, 1935, sportsmen and conservationists from across Missouri met in the ballroom of the Tiger Hotel to discuss the sad condition of the state’s forests, fish and wildlife. Before leaving, they formed the Restoration and Conservation Federation of Missouri. That organization, known today as the Conservation Federation of Missouri, spurred the development of a conservation program that remains at template for other states.

Approximately 150 people attended the Summit on the Future of Missouri Outdoors at the Columbia Hilton Garden Inn. Attendees included the directors of the Missouri departments of Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources, the supervisor of the Mark Twain National Forest, the field supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and representatives of dozens of nongovernmental organizations. Three state legislators, Sen. Frank Barnitz (D-Lake Spring) and Reps. J.C. Kuessner (D-Eminence) and Charles Schlottach (R-Owensville), attended the meeting.

The summit’s stated purpose was to chart a course for the next 75 years of Missouri’s air, water, forests, fish and wildlife and the economic and recreational and economic activities that depend on them. The first day of the conference featured speakers who framed the discussion of the outdoors in the broadest sense.

Gov. Jay Nixon kicked off the event, exhorting attendees to go beyond conservation.

“The air needs to be cleaner,” said Nixon, who received the Conservation Federation’s Conservation Legislator of the Year award in 1991, when he was a state senator. “The water needs to be cleaner and more plentiful, and more people need to appreciate the simple joy of the outdoors and the nature that we all share.

“I ask you to go beyond what people did when they got together the first Conservation Commission 75 years ago. If we aim that high and work together, then in a room much like this, after all of us are long gone, there will still be a group of empowered and impassioned leading Missourians who dedicate their time and resources to passing this planet on as a better place than they found it.”

Nixon emphasized the importance of getting more Missourians involved in outdoor pursuits related to nature. He also noted the need for conservation groups with diverse and sometimes divergent interests to focus on shared values.

Following Nixon’s address, Yale University Professor of Forestry and Environmental Science Stephen R. Kellert spoke about why outdoor experiences are critical to Americans’ individual, physical, social and economic wellbeing. University of Missouri Professor Larry Brown spoke about how Missouri’s social geography has affected the state’s natural resources.

Before the summit, organizers surveyed influential Missourians about outdoor recreation and conservation. Survey results provided a starting point for discussions about top outdoor priorities.

On the second day of the conference, attendees separated into working groups based on interest in the following topics:

· Water

· Air

· Plants, animals and habitats

· Outdoor mentorship

· Conservation Funding

· Education

· Public land

· Private land

· Leadership structure

· Stakeholder input

Each working group developed a list of important conservation actions for the next 75 years. During the final summit session, the working groups presented their lists to the full group, and all attendees voted on the entire list. The top 10 priorities emerging from this process were:

1. Teaching Missourians about the outdoors

2. Ensuring clean, abundant surface and groundwater

3. Connecting families and communities to nature

4. Supporting and funding outdoor resources and activities

5. Conserving plants, animals and habitats

6. Acquiring public lands for outdoor uses

7. Helping private landowners

8. Ensuring clean air

9. Developing an organizational structure for outdoor leadership

10. Promoting stakeholder input

Conservation Federation President Glenn Chambers said the consensus that emerged from the gathering of conservation leaders was “Get the message out that quality, healthy outdoors is essential for life.”

D.J. Case & Associates Marketing Research Director Dan Witter said the message he carried away from the gathering was, “We as a people may be able to survive without the outdoors, but we will be a terribly impoverished people – spiritually and physically – if we track that direction. In other words, 10 out of 10 people need the outdoors, not just hunters and anglers, but everybody.”

The Conservation Federation organized the summit in cooperation with Audubon Missouri, Bass Pro Shops, D.J. Case & Associates, the George C. Clark Missouri State Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Missouri departments of Conservation and Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy and the Missouri Association of Municipal Utilities.

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