93-7; What Does That Mean?
By Charles Burwick, 2012 Chair , MoBCI Steering Committee
In a recent Audubon Magazine article there was an article about Tom Smith, a Missouri rancher business man, and his commitment to a prairie restoration project for which, in the beginning, he didn’t know a lot about. The project he was committing to would require a real investment of his time, and even putting his business on the line. It was easy to see, in his part of the state, the Greater Prairie Chickens had all but disappeared from the grasslands in his area.
However, the question to Tom was, could best management practices on his farm and ranch business be of a benefit to disappearing natural grasslands prairies, and associated wildlife at the same time? His experience was life changing, and now he is, what I would call, an environmental evangelist.
So what does his story have to do with the 93-7 odds? Most of us are involved with at least one, and many of us, several environmental and wildlife organizations that know exactly what those numbers mean in Missouri. However, most of our citizens do not. 93% of the Missouri lands are privately owned, and 7% are public land being owned and managed by Federal, State, or other county, city political sub-divisions. Organizations like Missouri’s Bird Conservation Initiative (MoBCI) and all of our other game, non-game organizations are fortunate to have great relations with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and especially having the best in the Nation conservation agency in the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC). However, the other 93% is where the really awesome story is located. The authors of this story are Missouri’s ranchers, farmers, foresters, and other passionate, and committed citizens; those providing the resources necessary to be able to properly manage, care for, and restore our State’s natural resources.
Since I have been a member of several wildlife organizations, I have continued to meet many committed private land owners. On our MoBCI steering committee we have a couple of members that are wonderful examples of private land management. Dr. Wayne Morton, and yes, he is a very humble guy, and would have preferred I didn’t refer to him as Dr., is well known in environmental circles. Personally, Dr. Morton has had a tremendous impact on grasslands restoration by committing significant physical and fiscal resources to restoration programs.
Also, Frank Oberle, who one day began to see a vision of his land, as a natural prairie grassland, and has been a restoration visionary ever since. His land management project did not only change him, but lots, and lots of people around him. He is a dynamo. Both of these individuals took a leap of faith and worked with conservation partners to assist them in their personal dreams to restore their native grasslands. These partnerships included financial assistance from the Missouri Department of Conservation through their landowner cost-share programs, funding from the USFWS through the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program which focuses on native habitats for migratory birds and endangered species, and through the Grassland Reserve Program administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service to conserve the lands for future generations.
I recently attended the “Ozark Summit” held at Missouri State University in Springfield, Mo. There were a couple of private land owners that were guest speakers about their farms, and how they managed their lands, and significantly succeeded in a land restoration program. One of the guest speakers was Connie Johnson, from near Galena, Mo. She shared her story of how, over time, they restored their long time family farm, and how now they operate a successful sustainable tree farm. Connie is a fellow member with me in the local Springfield Plateau Master Naturalist Chapter. We are fortunate to have such a loyal, committed private land manager of woodland resources in our chapter.
Another member of our local Master Naturalist Chapter is Dr. Bob Kipfer who is now retired from the CoxHospital system where he was a top level management guru, as well as a superb doctor of medicine. He and his wife now own a farm south of Ozark, Mo. where Bull Creek pretty much runs right through the center of their land. Over the past few years the Kipfer’s have been working with different MDC specialist to restore bottom land, riparian corridor, and forested land on their property. He isn’t really retired, he is just redirected. One of the great things is how he has given local Master Naturalists opportunities to come and share in some of the restoration projects.
The last bit of information I am pleased to share with you is a recent announcement from our local Springfield News-Leader. “Larry and Nancy O’Reilly, who are working to return their land along the river to its natural state, donated the permanent conservation easement to Ozark Greenways.” The family has been working to restore this land along the James River for several years, and it will give significant protection to some 3.5 miles of the river corridor. Yes, this is the O’Reilly family associated with the well-known auto parts business. Different members of the O’Reilly family have been active in environmental initiatives in our community for some time. And yes, the O’Reilly’s also worked cooperatively with the likes of MDC, USFWS, and NRCS on the same types of programs as Dr. Morton and Frank Oberle to help them realize their dream to protect and conserve Missouri’s ecological treasures.
There are big stories, and small stories about our many private land owners who, through their commitment to best land management practices, are helping to save, and restore our natural resources across the State. And, yes that didn’t even include the story about Mr. Leo Dry, and the history of PioneerForest’s sustainable forestry practices. All of these people are “Heroes, and unknown Heroes” to all of the citizens in Missouri.
In closing, this thought comes to my mind. There is no more powerful information around for caring, and saving our lands than the story of how some of our citizens are doing it through thoughtful, knowledgeable best land management practices. There are many environmental organizations in our State that hold meetings, summits, etc. throughout the year. They are great to attend, and frequently, like ours, have land owners as guest presenters. However, I believe it is time, somehow, some way, that we come together, and have a “Private Lands Best Management Practices Summit”, with an agenda that only has private land owners sharing their stories. I believe such a conference could deliver a very, very powerful message. What do you believe?
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