“Governor Names Conservation Commissioners.” The large lettering and top-of-the-page position of this headline on Page 11 of the July 1, 1937, Springfield Daily News indicated this was big news.
Among the stories it had trumped for top-billing on the page was American tennis player Don Budge advancing to the men’s final at Wimbledon, and a Gene Sarazen-led U.S. golf team beating England to win the Ryder Cup.
On this day, the accomplishments of Americans overseas couldn’t overshadow the significance of what was happening for Missourians back here in the Show-Me State.
The appointment of Missouri’s four conservation commissioners brought the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) into existence. What this meant for Missouri citizens was that a ground-breaking method for state management of forest, fish and wildlife issues had begun.
People can learn about how the agency has progressed in 80 years and what the agency’s plans for the future are at MDC’s 80th Open House events on Tuesday, Oct. 10, at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center and on Thursday, Oct. 12. at the Twin Pines Conservation Education Center in West Plains.
MDC Director Sara Parker Pauley will be at both events to discuss the state of the department and to take questions from the public. Both events will be from 6-8 p.m.
The event at the Springfield Nature Center will be preceded by a program on Missouri’s black bears from 5 -6 p.m. The open house at Twin Pines begins with a pie supper at the Vann School House (located at the Twin Pines site) 5 p.m.
These days when the governor appoints commissioners for their six-year terms to Missouri’s four-member Conservation Commission, it rarely gets large headlines. Sometimes when appointees are named to this governing body which oversees operations of MDC, it doesn’t make news at all.
However, an organizational process that is routine today represented a new way of managing outdoor resources in the 1930s. At that time, fish, forest and wildlife issues in Missouri – and other states – had been administrated through positions that were part of the legislature. Thus, the stewardship of these resources was highly political in nature.
In September 1935, Missouri sportsmen met and formed the Restoration and Conservation Federation of Missouri. They drafted an amendment to the Missouri Constitution which was aimed at creating an apolitical conservation agency.
Overseeing the agency would be a four-member panel – the Missouri Conservation Commission. The Commission’s members would be appointed by the governor, but no more than two members could be of the same political party – a stipulation which would virtually guarantee the agency’s guidance would be non-partisan in nature.
Governance by commission was a legislative tool that was not unheard of at the time in state governments around the country, but having an organizational framework that prevented political favoritism was a new concept. What was being proposed in Missouri was the nation’s first non-political conservation agency.
On Nov. 3, 1936, voters approved Amendment 4 to the Missouri Constitution, creating the Conservation Commission and, along with it, the apolitical, science-based Missouri Department of Conservation that has authority over the fish, forest and wildlife resources of the state. On July 1, 1937 – the beginning of the state’s fiscal year – Amendment 4 took effect.
Thanks to the support voters gave to this revolutionary conservation idea in 1936 and the ongoing support citizens have given to MDC in the ensuing eight decades, Missouri has some remarkable conservation stories to tell in 2017.
Today, hunters spend more than $2 billion dollars in the state each year and fishing activities also contribute more than $2 billion to the state’s economy. Missouri forests that were in severe decline in the early 1900s contribute more than $3 billion dollars to the state’s economy.
No registration is needed for either of the upcoming 80th anniversary open house events. At both events, attendees are encouraged to provide feedback on MDC regulations, infrastructure, strategic priorities and statewide and local conservation issues.
The Springfield Conservation Nature Center is located at 4601 S. Nature Center Way in Springfield, and the Twin Pines Conservation Center is located at 20086 Highway 60 in Winona.
People can also offer comments at www.mdc.mo.gov/openhouse.
(Francis Skalicky works for the Missouri Department of Conservation in southwest Missouri. He can be reached at 417-895-6880.)