In 1935, a handful of Missouri sportsmen realized we were losing part of our natural heritage. Deer, turkey, and other game animals teetered on the brink of extinction. The state’s vast forests were depleted. Once-pristine streams were choked with mud, gravel, and worse.
Missouri’s conservation visionaries knew something had to be done. These farsighted sportsmen asked themselves how they could change things—permanently.
- They knew they could get good conservation laws passed, but experience showed that such laws were easily repealed the next year.
- They decided to put Missourians’ desire for healthy forests, fish, and wildlife into the state constitution.
- They circulated petitions and got a constitutional amendment on the ballot in 1936. Nearly three-quarters of Missouri voters approved the measure. In doing so, they created the first apolitical, science-based conservation agency in the history of the world.
Missourians wanted politics out of daily conservation decisions, but they also wanted the new conservation agency to be held accountable. To do this, they set it up to be governed by a Conservation Commission consisting of four citizens with a commitment to conservation.
- The commissioners are appointed by the governor and must be approved by the state senate.
- To ensure a balanced commission, no more than two commissioners can be from the same political party.
Over the next 50 years, the “Missouri Model” for conservation became an example for other states and nations. Game and fish populations rebounded. Forests were on the mend. Seeing that their original commitment to conservation had paid off, Missouri voters went back to the polls in 1976 and amended the state’s constitution again, establishing a 1⁄8 of 1% sales tax to provide stable funding for continued conservation work.
What do Missourians have to show for the faith and resources they have invested in conservation?
- More than 1,000 Conservation Areas across the state provide access for all citizens to hunt, fish, and enjoy nature.
- In major metropolitan areas, Nature Centers, Interpretive Sites, Shooting Ranges, and Outdoor Education Centers help Missouri’s urban residents learn about conservation.
- Hundreds of public boat ramps, river accesses, and community lakes give residents opportunities to go fishing close to home.
- Hunters harvest over 300,000 deer and 50,000 turkeys annually. In addition, Missouri’s streams, rivers, and lakes are stocked with millions of fish each year.
Conservation pays because Missourians care about conservation.