Elk, bears on the move in Missouri

Elk and bear numbers are on the rise here in Missouri, but it hasn’t always been this way. In the early 1800s, settlers described the abun­dant wildlife they witnessed while traveling across Missouri. Bear and elk were accounted for numerous times in their recordings. Unfortu­nately, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, most of these animals—if not all—were eliminated from our state’s landscape. Over-hunting and loss of habitat were the main causes of bear and elk decline.

About a decade ago, the Mis­souri Department of Conservation (MDC), which is tasked with pro­tecting and managing the fish, for­est and wildlife of Missouri, made a concerted effort to do more research and to promote these two species. As a result, both elk and bear popu­lations are making a comeback.

Wild elk populations in Missou­ri were nonexistent before recent reintroduction efforts took place. From 2011-2013, along with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, MDC staff built large enclosures and corrals to capture elk in Kentucky and bring them back to Missouri. After appropriate testing, vaccinations and quarantine period, the first 100 elk were transported to Missouri and released in the MDC Elk Resto­ration Zone, which covers portions of Shannon, Reynolds and Carter counties in the south-central part of the state.

This area was chosen for sever­al reasons. The zone covers 346 square miles (79% public land) to allow the elk population to grow and to have minimal negative impacts to private property, while providing the type of habitat that these animals need for survival. This large public land holding al­lowed conservation agencies to put forth massive management efforts and to ensure suitable habitat re­mained while the elk herd grew.

From the base herd of around 100 animals in 2013, Missouri’s elk pop­ulation—prior to the 2021 calving season—has grown to 241 individu­als. The elk reintroduction program had a long-term population goal of 500 animals and benchmarks set to institute a hunting season to help manage the herd. In 2020, the elk herd reached those benchmarks, and Missouri’s first modern-day elk-hunting season began.

Not only have elk made a come­back, but black bears in Missouri have also been on the rise. Like elk, bear populations in Missouri had been nearly wiped out in the early to mid-20th century. Very few sightings occurred from early 1900s to the 1950s. In 1959, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission initiat­ed a restoration program in which 254 black bears were caught and released over a period of eight years in the Ozark and Ouachita moun­tains of western Arkansas. From the 1970s to 2017, bear sightings in Missouri increased and then grew exponentially over the past decade.

Starting in 2010, MDC made it a priority to better understand bear habitat use and the dynamics of this growing population. In 2012, it was estimated that the bear population in Missouri was just around 300. In 2019, the state had between 540 and 840 bears with an annual growth rate of 9%.

Like elk, Missouri’s Black Bear Management Plan had population benchmarks established to explore whether a limited and highly regu­lated hunting season could be put in place. In 2021, those levels were met, and Missouri began to allow black bear hunting.

It’s hard to believe that in fewer years than I have been alive, Missouri has gone from essentially no elk or black bears to a viable hunting population for both spe­cies. This success story shows the value of our conservation depart­ment and its partners. This valiant effort could not have been a success without these agencies as well as public support from the residents of Missouri. There continues to be great effort put into these programs to learn more about bear and elk and ensure they do not fade away.

Missouri’s hunting heritage is another reason for the success of elk and bear reintroduction. Sportsmen are conservationists at heart, and conservationists want to protect the species they love to chase. Without support and help from hunters in Missouri, these efforts would not have achieved the favorable out­come we are seeing today.

The 2021 black bear hunting season was Oct. 18-27, with a limited number of permits issued to eligible applicants through a random drawing. For elk hunting in 2021, MDC designated a nine-day archery portion running Oct. 16-24 and a nine-day firearms portion running Dec. 11-19. Five permits for bull elk were assigned through a random drawing of eligible appli­cants. The application period for managed hunts of both species runs from May 1-31 with the drawing held July 1.

Learn more about bear or elk hunting at huntfish.mdc.mo.gov.

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Biodiversity pilot project allows farmers to cash in on conservation

Missouri corn and soybean farmers have a new opportunity to expand pollinator-friendly landscapes through a first-of-its kind pilot program that quantifies and certifies biodi­versity credits. Growers working to create or enhance pollinator habitat within existing or new field borders, buffers, waterways or other non-productive agricultural ground are eligible for the two-year project.

MFA Incorporated is among the agricultural and conservation entities that are collaborating to offer this program to interested producers. Other partners in the pilot are the Missouri Corn Merchandising Council, Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council, Missouri Department of Conservation and the Ecosys­tem Services Market Consortium (ESMC).

The pilot offers farmers a way to earn biodiversity credits along with agricultural carbon and water quality credits as part of ESMC’s national ecosystem services market program. Once credits are quantified, verified and certified, they are made available for purchase to interested buyers by ESMC, a nonprofit member-based organization.

“This pilot project will benefit the natural resources of our state while recognizing the efforts of farmers working to improve sustainability practices on their farms,” says Clayton Light, conservation manager for the Missouri Corn Merchan­dising Council and Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council. “It is exciting to offer farmers the opportunity to participate in a new, voluntary private market program designed to help improve the land and wildlife habitat.”

Though not essential to production of corn and soybeans, pollinators such as native bees commonly forage in these fields. As more farmers adopt precision technology, information from the biodiversity pilot project can help make informed decisions on land management in less-productive areas.

“Agriculture can play a key role in increasing the diversity, quality and quantity of pollinators and wildlife,” said Bill White, community and private land conservation branch chief with the Missouri Department of Conservation. “By incorporating certain practices on areas of the farm otherwise not used in production, farmers can help provide for species such as monarch butter­flies, bobwhite quail, migrating grassland birds and native bees while supporting sustainable agricultural systems.”

The biodiversity pilot is the latest in a portfolio of more than 10 projects ESMC has established to test and refine its market program for full launch in 2022. Earlier this year, MFA and partnering organizations began working with ESMC on a pilot program to explore carbon and water quality markets.

“Our members have asked for opportunities to invest in increasing biodiversity through their agricultural supply chains,” ESMC Executive Director Debbie Reed said. “Through ESMC’s unique nonprofit public-private partnership, we’re creating an opportunity to increase biodiversity while adding to current de­mand for carbon, water quality and water conservation credits.”

Missouri farmers interested in learning more about the pilot biodiversity project are encouraged to visit www.mocarbonpilot.com.

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Council honors successful forage managers with "Grasslander Award"

Landry Jones, MFA Incorporated conservation grazing spe­cialist, was presented the industry “Grasslander Award” Nov. 3 by the Missouri Forage and Grassland Council (MFGC) at its annual conference in Springfield, Mo.

The award is given to active participants in Missouri grassland agricul­ture who have made significant contributions to the industry. Awards are also presented to a producer and agency representative each year.

Jones, whose position is a joint partnership among MFA, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Missouri Department of Conservation and Missouri Department of Natural Resources, works with growers throughout the state to promote awareness and educate producers about on-farm grazing management strategies. In this role, he encourages practices that incorporate soil, water and wildlife conservation tactics to achieve the producer’s agronomic and economic goals.

“Delivering relatable technical service to growers is chal­lenging with all the information available today,” said Allen Huhn, MFA Farm Supply Division director and MFGC past president. “Landry continues to excel in synthesizing that information and providing it to production-minded farmers across Missouri, equaling more acres of diversified, well-man­aged systems.”

Other winners of the Grasslander Award this year were Megan Rudroff, soil conservationist with USDA-NRCS in Linn, Mo., and August and Kayelyn Horstman, livestock producers near Owensville, Mo.

Rudroff’s nomination described her as an “instrumental part of cost-share for both Maries and Osage counties.”

“She makes herself readily available to landowners so that they can freely ask questions or converse about the newest ideas,” the nomination continued. “Megan is always willing to make a visit…and then collaborate with them to make better management decisions or implement new practices to make their operation run more smoothly.”

The Horstmans, who raise beef, pork, chicken and lamb, have used several cost-share programs to convert their land into an intensive grazing system. They move their cattle on a daily basis, allowing adequate rest peri­ods for forage growth. Their sheep and cattle are 100% grass fed, and pigs and chickens are raised on pasture.

“Their passion is to teach others about soil health and why regenerative farming is so important,” said nomi­nator Diana Mayfield of the Gasconade County Soil and Water Conservation District. “This young couple is a prime example of grassland managers with the desire to provide a quality product to American homes.”

The MFGC consists of producers, researchers, profes­sors, agencies, industry representatives, legislators and conservationists who share a common goal—speaking for the Missouri forage industry. The organization is part of the American Forage and Grassland Council (AFGC), which represents the interests of forage production and use across the United States.

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