SIKESTON - When Ted Glastetter decided to turn his north Scott County farm into a managed wildlife habitat four years ago, he went against the norm in the farm community he has lived in all of his life.
Since then Glastetter's land, located about a mile west of New Hamburg, has reinvented itself into a wildlife refuge full of quail, rabbits, geese and ducks.
"I wanted to farm and my machinery was getting too old," Glastetter recalled about his decision in 2000.
"I was too small of an operation to afford to keep my machinery up and looked at managing wildlife. You could make more money letting somebody come in and farm your land, but my family likes the wildlife. I like to hunt what we have on the place so we thought we'd try it."
Glastetter signed up for the federal Conservation Reserve Program at the Farm Service Agency in Benton. Landowners enrolling in CRP receive an annual rental payment for establishing semi-permanent cover, such as grasses, legumes, trees and shrubs, on erosion prone cropland and leaving it for 10 to 15 years.
"It's just a different way of thinking," Glastetter admitted about the technique. "To come from a farm community and have to let the place grow up to benefit the wildlife is different. Farmers take pride in keeping their land trimmed up, and the idea with CRP is working the ground until you get a ragweed and other weeds growing to create your habitat."
Prior to the CRP, about two or three coveys of quail and a few rabbits inhabited Glastetter's land and when Glastetter would walk around after a harvest, everything was in fence rows. With the CRP in place, his land is more of a patchwork, he said.
Today, about four or five coveys of quail and close to 30 rabbits inhabit the land. In the evenings, Glastetter said as many as 75 Canadian geese and about 50 or 60 mallards roost on his land.
A class from Southeast Missouri State University even paid Glastetter's land a visit when they were discussing state/federal land conservation versus private land conservation.
According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, 93 percent of the land in Missouri is privately owned.
Landowners longing for a change can seek guidance through their county's private land conservationist located at the USDA office. Private land conservationists' primary mandate is to work with landowners and assist working in ways that enhance the conservation of natural resources.
"When dealing with wildlife, you're not dealing with the animal itself," noted Private Land Conservationist Jim Schultz for Mississippi, New Madrid, Dunklin and Pemiscot counties. "You need to create the habitat to get the various forms of wildlife."
Private land conservationists assist landowners with several issues like managing croplands, ponds, grasslands, wetlands, forestry, streams and wildlife.
"There's a lot of aspects to this job," said Dave Wissehr, private land conservationist for Scott, Stoddard and Butler counties. "There's all types of levels of interests and understanding and a lot of misconceptions about wildlife. That's one reason education is a very important part of what we do."
A popular misconception about wildlife management is that too many predators are the reasons for a low quail population on land.
"Yes, the fact that predators have an impact on small game populations stands to reason, but the real fact of the matter is if you have to have a good habitat. With a good habitat, you will maintain the population despite the fact of predation," Wissehr explained.
Another misconception is it's not necessary for landowners to decide if they're going to have production on an acre or have wildlife, Wissehr said.
Private land conservationists also work through a lot of federal programs such as the CRP and Environment Quality Improvement Program, or EQIP.
"EQIP is for production farmers, like chicken growers and hog producers, and looks at helping with problems on their farms. It also helps with waste management and irrigation," Wissehr said.
Various workshops on private land conservation are also conducted frequently in the area by the Missouri Department of Conservation.
"We have a really diverse field of up and coming landowners," Wissehr said. "More and more people are becoming interested in wildlife on their land.
Private landowners are more prosperous and more people are wanting recreation, Wissehr observed. There's just that priority for them to see wildlife on their property, he said.
Just ask Glastetter.
"I'm happy with the program and my kids enjoy it," Glastetter said of his 9- and 11-year-old children. "I don't regret anything."
For information on private land conservation or upcoming workshops, contact Schultz at (573) 649-9947, ext. 108 or Wissehr at (573) 785-6160, ext. 125.