2008 was a year of extremes for wild Missouri and those who love the outdoors. High points included fishing records and record rains, while lows included weather-related woes for ground-nesting wildlife, such as quail and turkeys.
The Missouri Conservation Commission started the conservation year in January by inducting Nadia Navarrete-Tindall, of Columbia, into the Conservation Hall of Fame for her efforts on behalf of environmental education. Her diverse roles have included botanist, focus group facilitator, language trainer and environmental educator.
Also as 2008 got underway, Missourians were struggling to deal with the aftermath of devastating ice storms in January and December 2007. Those twin storms demolished countless trees and left millions of tons of woody debris on the ground, especially in southern Missouri. The Conservation Department launched a campaign to alert the public to the increased danger of wildfire this situation will pose for years to come.
The Conservation Department also responded to communities' needs to clean up and replace damaged trees by adding $250,000 to the Tree Resource Improvement and Management (TRIM) program. The partnership with the Missouri Community Forestry Council provides reimbursements of up to $10,000 to public schools, government agencies and non-profit groups for tree planting and management on public land.
Besides struggling with the aftermath of weather extremes in 2007, Missouri experienced another year of extreme precipitation. This time, the problem was not the kind of precipitation, but the amount.
Rainfall records maintained by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration show more rain fell in St. Louis in 2008 than in any year since official record-keeping began in 1870. Those records show the city received 57.96 inches of rain in 2008, compared to the long-term average of 38.75 inches. The previous record was 54.97 inches in 1982. Five of the highest annual totals in the past 130 years -- all above 50 inches -- have occurred in the past 25 years.
Amazingly, other places in Missouri had a far wetter year than St. Louis. Missouri State Climatologist Pat Guinan said the most rainfall recorded in Missouri in 2008 -- more than 72 inches -- fell near the town of Miller, in Lawrence County.
The rain gauge at Cape Girardeau collected 11.49 inches on March 18, establishing an all-time 24-hour rainfall record for the city. A gauge at Kirksville overflowed at 11.34 inches on July 25, making it impossible to know exactly how much rain fell there that day. Unofficial records around Kirksville showed that more than 12 inches of rain fell in the area the day of the great deluge.
All this rain caused residential, agricultural and business damage that still is being tallied. Nor were wildlife and conservation infrastructure spared. Ground-nesting birds and mammals, such as bobwhite quail, wild turkeys, rabbits and deer, suffered losses as repeated floods washed away nests or drowned young animals.
Quail and turkeys already were struggling to maintain their numbers in the face of awful nesting conditions over the past few years. They suffered a serious blow again this year, and hunters noticed the impact during fall hunting seasons.
Heavy rains that began in March and continued into April forced the closure of 11 conservation areas in southeastern Missouri during the spring turkey season, and flooding forced the cancellation of the managed deer hunt at Clarence Cannon National Wildlife Refuge in Pike County.
Besides curtailing hunting opportunities during the floods, high water reduced planting of crops and growth of native plants that normally provide food for waterfowl. That made Show-Me State marshes less attractive to ducks, geese and hunters in the fall.
Repeated flood tides on dozens of Missouri streams damaged levees and other structures, including those at many Conservation Department areas. Persistent flooding at Ted Shanks CA in Pike County killed an undetermined number of trees planted to replace mature trees killed by the Great Flood of 1993. Torrential September rain caused by the remnants of Hurricane Gustav pushed rivers back into areas where levees were breached by earlier crests.
Not all the year's events hinged on weather. On March 1, as Missouri's three-week spring turkey season approached, the Conservation Department rolled out the newest facet of ongoing efforts to remove barriers that prevent people from hunting and fishing. The $10 Apprentice Hunter Authorization allows those 16 and older who have not completed an approved hunter-education course to purchase hunting permits for two consecutive years as long as they hunt under the supervision of an appropriately licensed hunter who has completed hunter education. By year's end, the agency had sold more than 3,000 of the authorizations.
Another measure intended to make hunting more accessible to Missourians was the launch in July of online hunter education. The program combines Internet training with a field day where students must demonstrate their knowledge during a practical test. The electronic option is a great help for aspiring hunters who live far from formal class locations or whose schedules don't match those of in-person hunter education classes.
In March, Missouri's nationally renowned trout fishing at Lake Taneycomo celebrated its 50th anniversary. The lake's clean, cold water made it a logical place for the first trout stocking of 700 rainbow trout in 1958. Nourished by Taneycomo's abundant freshwater shrimp, the trout grew rapidly. Within 10 years, anglers were flocking to Taneycomo to catch 5- to 10-pound rainbow trout. Taneycomo's trout fishing continues to draw anglers from far and wide.
Also in March, the Conservation Commission extended permit exemptions to all qualifying disabled veterans and former prisoners of war, regardless of where they live. Exempt veterans must carry a certified statement of eligibility from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs when purchasing permits or exercising permit privileges.
In April, Twin Pines Conservation Education Center, near Winona, held its grand opening. Hundreds of visitors got an introduction to the uniquely Ozarkian blend of practical crafts, games and outdoor activities focusing on the region's rich natural and cultural history.
On April 9, Quail Unlimited presented its National Group Achievement Award to Scott County's farm and conservation community for making their county the first in the nation to meet habitat-restoration goals under the Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative. Later in the year, Cass County became the nation's second county to meet those goals.
Another April event was a demonstration of Missouri's first Archery in the Schools Program at the Shawnee R-III School in Henry County. So far, 35 Missouri schools participate in NASP.
A 40-pound black cat that frightened a woman in rural Newton County in May turned out to be an Old World leopard that had escaped or been released from captivity, not a mountain lion or "black panther," as initially rumored. A Newton County sheriff's deputy shot and killed the cat, which had been declawed.
Nicholas Wray angled his way into Missouri's fishing record book on July 9 when he caught a 2-pound, 3-ounce river carpsucker from the South Grand River in Cass County. Wray noticed that no one had bothered to register a state record for that species (Carpiodes carpio) and set out to catch a record.
In the sweltering heat of mid-July, thousands of spectators lined the banks of the Missouri River to see a record number of paddlers compete in the Missouri River 340. The canoe and kayak race from Kansas City to St. Charles is the world's longest nonstop water race. More than 200 paddlers from 18 states plus Canada, Belize and Japan, competed. The 2009 event will take place Aug. 4-7.
At its May, June and August meetings, the Conservation Commission heard presentations from the Regulations Committee concerning proposed changes in the state's hunting, fishing and trapping permits. Those changes were intended to maintain the agency's revenues, make the permit system more consistent and fair and make outdoor activities more accessible to young and new hunters, anglers and trappers.
In September, the Conservation Commission approved the recommended changes, which included raising resident and nonresident permit prices and changing the minimum acreage for no-cost landowner deer and turkey permits from 5 to 80 acres.
Thousands of citizens expressed their feelings about the changes following the September meeting. Those comments and dramatic changes in the nation's economy prompted the Conservation Commission to reverse some of the changes. At its December meeting, the four-member commission voted not to increase resident permit fees, and to leave the minimum acreage requirement for free landowner deer and turkey permits at 5 acres. It also rescinded plans for a new class of "senior forever" permits.
In the early morning hours of July 13, Greg Blair, of Bradleyville, caught a striped bass weighing 56 pounds in the upper reaches of Bull Shoals Lake. He and his son, Derek, stuck it out through a drizzly night until the younger fisherman caught a 35-pounder, but they had to settle for one state record that night.
During the summer, the Conservation Department released results of testing deer for chronic wasting disease (CWD) in 2007. The tests -- the second round since 2000 -- turned up no evidence of the disease. However, stepped-up monitoring will continue for two more years.
In August the Conservation Department wrapped up a six-month project to relocate prairie chickens from Kansas to suitable habitat in at Wah'Kon-Tah Prairie in St. Clair County.
In late August, State Herpetologist Jeff Briggler confirmed the discovery of a previously undocumented population of rare scarlet snakes (Cemophora coccinea copei) in southeastern Missouri. Prior to the discovery, only five scarlet snakes had been documented in Missouri.
September brought both good and bad news regarding potentially devastating invasive species. The Conservation Department reported killing 300 feral hogs at Ketcherside Mountain Conservation Area. Offsetting progress toward rooting out the hog infestation was the news that emerald ash borers had been discovered at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Greenville Recreation area at Wappapello in Wayne County. Conservation officials outlined plans to continue fighting Missouri's feral hog problem and pledged support for state and federal agriculture agencies' battles against the borers.
Happier news came later in September, when the Conservation Commission voted to remove three species -- the bald eagle, the barn owl and the Eastern fox snake -- from Missouri's endangered species list. Populations of all three now are considered stable or -- in the case of the bald eagle -- steadily increasing.
When the Conservation Department unveiled its 2009 Natural Events Calendar in November it also introduced a brand-new calendar. The first-ever Missouri's Outdoor Heritage Calendar is similar to the Natural Events Calendar, but with photos of antique hunting, fishing and trapping gear and outdoor scenes from yesteryear and today. Both are available at conservation nature centers and regional offices statewide.
You also can buy copies by calling toll-free 877-521-8632 or through The Nature Shop, www.mdcnatureshop.com.