Conservation gets new chief, focus

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June 1, 2002

Conservation gets new chief, focus

Department’s next director says deer disease, cost-effectiveness are priorities.

By Mike Penprase, Springfield News-Leader

A quarter-century after Missouri voters approved a conservation sales tax to increase public lands and wildlife-oriented programs, the Department of Conservation has to re-assess its job, the department’s next director said Friday.

“My problem is, how do we get better and what do we do,” John Hoskins said of a department he will start directing in July, succeeding Jerry M. Conley, who is retiring as the agency’s seventh director since its founding in 1937.

With many goals of the “Design for Conservation” accomplished, the department will plan for future activities, Hoskins said. The 47-year-old Van Buren native who started as a conservation agent spoke during the International Hunter Education Association Conference running through Sunday at University Plaza. More than 600 hunter education specialists and volunteers from the United States, Canada and Mexico were at the conference.

Since 1977, the department has tripled its land holdings, re-introduced several native species and built metropolitan nature centers, Hoskins said.

“Today, we have a different set of challenges,” Hoskins said. “One of the challenges is making our dollars stretch to do what we have to do.”

Another is protecting Missouri’s whitetail deer from chronic wasting disease, he said.

Hoskins said the fatal brain disease needs further study. The disease that causes deer to lose weight and become disoriented has been identified in Colorado, Wisconsin and other states, but not in Missouri. Although Missouri hunters donated deer heads for testing during the fall deer hunt, tests did not find the disease.

“It’s so perplexing because we have many more questions than answers,” Hoskins said.

Missouri and other states will get federal help to monitor CWD and to develop less expensive, faster tests than having deer brains analyzed and ways to dispose of carcasses, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director Steve Williams said Thursday.

More research also is needed to back up research indicating that CWD does not affect humans, he said.

State agencies are responsible for deer and elk, but Fish and Wildlife, the Department of Agriculture and other federal agencies are coming up with a plan to help, he said.

“At the federal level, we’re looking for ways to assist the states in dealing with chronic wasting disease,” Williams said.

On Friday, the Agriculture Department allocated $3.5 million to Wisconsin to deal with an outbreak of CWD, out of $43.4 million Congress authorized to fight the disease.

Hoskins and Wright also stressed the need for hunter education, and the role hunters play in contributing to wildlife programs.

That message took a sharper tone Friday when “In Defense of Hunting” author James Swan blamed the news media for creating an anti-hunting atmosphere, linking shooting sports and hunting with events such as the Columbine High School shootings.

Hunters have to convince the 80 percent of Americans who don’t hunt or who aren’t anti-hunting that hunting is necessary, he said.

While Swan said hunters are an “endangered species,” Conservation Department hunter safety coordinator Bob Staton said later the number of hunters in Missouri remains steady.

About 1.2 million people hunt in Missouri, contributing to the department’s work by paying license fees and excise taxes on equipment, as well as boosting the economy through such activities as deer hunting, he said.

Those attending the conference were not in need of being persuaded by Swan.

Larned, Kan., hunter education volunteers Dennis and Marsha Voelker said they promote safe, ethical hunting.

Bagging game isn’t the ultimate goal of hunting for him, Dennis Voelker said.

“Just getting out and chilling, stress relief,” he said of using hunting to get outside and appreciate nature.
 

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