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Regional quail meetings set for April

Thursday, February 10, 2005

JEFFERSON CITY - A series of public meetings in April will give Missourians a chance to learn about plans to restore bobwhite quail numbers. Those who attend will be encouraged to express their ideas about the quail plan and other conservation subjects.

The meetings are scheduled in eight regions throughout the state. They will bring together leaders from the Missouri Department of Conservation and the citizen-led Quail and Grassland Songbird Leadership Council. At each meeting, Conservation Department representatives will explain plans for an interagency effort to restore numbers of quail and other grassland birds. Other organizations involved in the effort include the U.S. Department of Agriculture and nongovernmental organizations such as Quail Unlimited and Audubon Missouri.

Meeting dates and phone numbers for more information are:

April 2

--Southeast Region -- Maintz Wildlife Preserve in Cape Girardeau County, 573/290-5730.

The meetings are part of the Conservation Department's ongoing program of public meetings. They are held at locations around the state each spring and fall to inform Missourians about its activities and encourage popular participation in conservation program planning.

CARUTHERSVILLE - The creation of a new conservation area (CA) in Pemiscot County will benefit wildlife that has suffered from the loss of wetland areas. It also will benefit Missourians who treasure wild things and wild places.

The Missouri Department of Conservation recently acquired 2,087 acres in the Mississippi River flood plain north of Caruthersville and named it Black Island CA. The area comprises low-lying cropland and forested uplands.

Wildlife Regional Supervisor Harriet Weger said the Conservation Department will work to restore the bottomland hardwood forest that once covered the area.

Over the last century Missouri has lost 90 percent of the wetland acreage it once had. A special set of circumstances, including conservation-minded landowners and a federal wetland conservation program, allowed the Conservation Department to return a little of that land to its original condition, with benefits for wildlife and to Missourians.

Those benefits will include providing homes for such animals as the federally endangered least tern and the swamp rabbit, whose numbers have declined due to loss of suitable habitat.

Recreational opportunities at Black Island CA include hunting, fishing and birdwatching. All these activities will be enhanced by management plans that call for planting native trees such as cypress, cottonwood, willow and green ash. The Conservation Department also is exploring the possibility of building a boat ramp on a river chute that connects the area with Gayoso Bend CA.

Not all of Black Island CA's benefits have to do with wildlife and recreation, however. It also will serve as a holding area for rainwater that otherwise would run off immediately, pushing up flood crests on the Mississippi River. Instead, the water will seep into the ground, replenishing aquifers that feed water wells.

Like Missouri's historic wetlands, Black Island CA also will trap sediment and nutrients instead of allowing them to wash into the Gulf of Mexico.

The Conservation Department bought the area from the Wayne D. Shillinglaw Trust and the Lennie S. Watkins Jr. Trust.

First, however, the trusts sold perpetual conservation easements to the Natural Resources Conservation Service under the Wetland Reserve Program (WRP). WRP pays landowners to take flood-prone land out of production permanently and restore it to its historic vegetation and water conditions.

The foundations' choice to enroll their land in WRP was based partly on its marginal value for farming. Periodic flooding ruined crops often enough to make WRP enrollment economically appealing.

WRP also helped the Conservation Department. With the conservation easement, the land could no longer be farmed, lowering it's market value. The Conservation Department paid approximately $204 per acre for the land, much less than it would have cost before WRP enrollment. The restrictions on use don't pose any problem for the Conservation Department's plans.

By selling the easements and then the land itself, the sellers got a fair price for their property. The state got a bargain on a multitude of benefits for people, wildlife and the environment.

While it is widely known that the pallid sturgeon is endangered, many facts concerning the species' population distribution and trends are largely unknown. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Missouri Department of Conservation are part of a coalition of conservation agencies working to learn more about this elusive fish.

Several agencies are working together to assess the health of pallid sturgeon populations and a select group of other native Missouri River species. The study area extends from Fort Peck Dam in Montana to the river's mouth near St. Louis.

Other agencies involved in the project are the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

These agencies will conduct sampling to learn about sturgeon natural reproduction, to evaluate stocking efforts and to gather information to better determine changes in the ecosystem. This program is one of several efforts funded by the Corps of Engineers to learn about pallid sturgeon habits and habitats.

The Conservation Department's part of the assessment involves sampling fish from a 148-mile stretch of the river from Kansas City to Glasgow. The data being collected will provide information that includes pallid sturgeon survival and growth rates, long-term population abundance trends and habitat usage.

The Conservation Department also does data entry and manages the program's database.

The Conservation Department and the Corps of Engineers also are cooperating to increase Blind Pony Hatchery's capacity to rear pallid sturgeon for Missouri River restoration efforts. Renovations at the Conservation Department hatchery in Saline County are designed to improve the quantity and quality of the water supply and the facility's water delivery system.

Blind Pony Lake, the water source for the hatchery, will be dredged to remove decades of accumulated sediment. The dredging will help reduce the lake's nutrient loads and dissolved oxygen problems, as well as increase the amount of water for sturgeon production.

A new building to house rearing facilities for pallid sturgeon and new, upgraded water lines to deliver quality water to the building will complete the renovations.

The Corps of Engineers also is helping with hatchery improvements at Neosho National Fish Hatchery in Neosho, Mo., Gavins Point National Fish Hatchery in Yankton, S.D., the Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery in Riverdale, N.D., the Miles City State Fish Hatchery in Miles City, Mont., and the Bozeman Fish Technology Center in Bozeman, Mont.