Local meetings planned to provide updates about CWD control efforts

The 292 positive chronic wasting disease cases documented in Missouri seem like a statistical blip among the 210,000 tissue samples tested since the disease was first discovered in the state in 2011. It’s even less dramatic compared to the more than 2 million deer that have been harvested by hunters over those same years.

But locally in and around Jefferson County the numbers are significant and recent reporting shows the effort to control CWD going the wrong direction. Actually, a case should be made that finding more is better, because those diseased deer are no longer infecting others in their herd. It would be much worse to be in a state that refused or limited testing, because it seemed better not to know. Claiming something bad doesn’t exist, because you don’t look for it does not seem like a positive approach.

The incidence of chronic wasting disease in Jefferson County is concentrated south of Festus and east of De Soto.

Chronic wasting disease is a deadly infectious disease that eventually kills all animals it affects. There is no evidence that the disease can be spread from deer to humans who consume them, but it is similar to the degenerative brain disorders mad cow disease in cattle and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.

The state Department of Conservation works to investigate potential for the disease and to inform the public and hunters about efforts to control the spread among deer. Three public meetings are planned in the region, which has become a hot spot for CWD based on recent testing.

The first meeting is planned from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 9, at the Festus VFW. The second and third meetings have the same time schedule on Aug. 10 at the Ste. Genevieve County Community Center, and Aug. 16 at Perry Park Center in Perryville.

“If you’ve been to our public meetings before, these will be different,” said Matt Bowyer, administrator for the conservation department’s southeast region. “The goal of this meeting is to update you on management of CWD in the area and to provide landowners with different strategies to help manage the disease throughout the year.”

Among the new strategies will be opportunities for landowners and hunters to harvest additional deer during the regular hunting season. Emphasis in recent years has been on piling up samples in targeted areas after the hunting seasons have ended. From January through March this year, an additional 3,000 deer were taken for testing during post-season targeted culling in the specific areas where the disease had been detected.

A sick deer found in Cape Girardeau in January 2021 tested positive for chronic wasting disease. Most cases are discovered in healthy looking deer harvested by hunters. (Missouri Department of Conservation photo.)

Jefferson County reported 12 new cases this past season in an area south of Festus and east of De Soto. In the five previous years since the disease was first discovered here, there had been only nine total cases. Ste. Genevieve County had an even larger jump with 15 new cases this season.

The meetings will provide general information on chronic wasting disease and the steps the state is taking to monitor and manage the disease. Other topics will address proper deer-carcass handling and disposal to help limit the spread, how hunters can participate in the Share the Harvest program to provide lean meat to local food pantries, voluntary CWD testing efforts, and mandatory sampling in certain counties during the opening weekend of firearms deer season. Conservation department staff will be available to answer questions.

Landowners who receive notification letters may apply for management permits to allow hunters to take additional deer during the season. The letter includes information on the application process. Hunters who participate through cooperating landowners need to provide their names, birth dates and conservation ID numbers.

For more information about the local meetings call 573-332-4940.

Hunters everywhere in the state can help manage the disease by getting the deer they harvest tested. More information about testing options, and the map showing positive case locations, is available at mdc.mo.gov/cwd.

Originally published by Leader Publications on July 28, 2022.

Consider safety when enjoying time in the great outdoors

Having fun in the great outdoors is easy, but making sure you stay safe while doing it takes a little bit more attention.

Not too many years ago, relatively speaking, I would take on summer fun with more reckless abandon, but over time I’ve learned from a few mistakes and managed to survive a few close scrapes to be able to offer some guidance for those who don’t want to learn by trial and error.

Adequate sunscreen is a don’t-leave-home-without-it item anytime you are going to experience hours of exposure, but it is particularly important when highly reflective water is part of the activity. Reapplying is also important when the first coat washes or gets sweated off.

Paul Drury’s hat, like the rest of him, is way cooler than me and my wide-brimmed sun shade.

Whether I am fishing, hiking, or golfing in the sunshine, I pride myself on wearing the most ridiculous floppy hat on the course. Sunglasses are as helpful for eye protection as they are in cutting down glare allowing vision through the water.

Fair-skinned and freckled, I am certainly more susceptible to sunburn, but I know plenty of dark-complected people who turned a day on the water into a rock lobster imitation by the end of the evening.

Drink plenty of water and limited amounts of alcoholic beverages when out on hot summer days. Cold drinks and boating seem like a perfect combination, but operating a watercraft while intoxicated is a dangerous situation. When the temperatures soar and the humidity soaks your shirt with sweat, you almost can’t re-hydrate enough. Snacks like watermelon, cantaloupe, grapes, and tomatoes provide added liquid your diet. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty.

Wade fishing is my favorite summer outdoor activity, but rivers and lakes can be dangerous places to step off of the shore and into the water. The bottom surface is never consistent and can change rapidly. River currents can be sneaky strong just a few paces away from where you seem to be standing on firm ground.

Rivers usually provide clearer water that may provide a view to the bottom surface, but the depth can change by feet instead of inches in an instant. I consider myself a strong swimmer but swift water that is over your head can make reaching the shore challenging, especially while trying to hold a fishing rod and reel above the water level while you kick and pull with your free arm.

Personal flotation devices are required for each person on a boat, but wearing them is considered optional for adults. Anytime the “big motor” is providing power, wearing your like jacket should be an individual mandate.

Good insect repellent may not smell attractive, but fragrant lotions have never been as effective for me. When you are spending your day on the water or in woods this time of year, you are going to need a shower before the end of the day anyway, so be sure to liberally apply bug spray especially on your shoes and socks to avoid chiggers, ticks and mosquitoes. They can provide reminders of your outing for days, weeks, or even longer term in some cases.

Last but not least is attention to outdoor burning. Campfires are a staple of a great summer time outing, but the potential danger extends well beyond the fire pit. Getting too close to the flame is an obvious concern, but keeping that fire contained during dry conditions is important to the woods we enjoy.

Campgrounds usually have fabricated fire places, but when planning an outdoor burn site that isn’t predetermined, be sure to clear a wide area around the fire site. Never use gasoline or other flammable liquids to stoke or start a fire. Keep fire extinguishing options like a bucket of water close by, and always put the fire out at night before heading to the tent or camper.

Fireworks are fun for community displays, but they are too dangerous for places that are surrounded by dry grass, leaves and forest under story. Most public camping areas prohibit fireworks.

Enjoy the great outdoors, but remember to do it safely.

Originally published by Leader Publications on July 14, 2022.

Area offers ample opportunities for National Hiking Day

For 30 years the American Hiking Society has invited people to enjoy the outdoors on National Hiking Day on the first Saturday in June. Several of Missouri’s state parks are planning special events to mark the day, but finding a place to escape into the woods doesn’t require an itinerary or agenda.

Still, the planned events offer advantages of local experts and explanations. At Washington State Park south of De Soto, the National Trails Day program includes three distinct activities beginning at 2 p.m. on June 4.

The Senior Stroll will walk to the base of the 1,000 Steps Trail at Washington State Park.

Designated as a Senior Stroll, park staff will lead a half-mile hike along the base of the 1,000 Steps Trail, starting from Thunderbird Lodge. The walk in the woods welcomes participants of all ages and abilities. The natural surface trail is well packed and passable, and staff members will point out the features of the Big River day use area at the park.

At 4 p.m. a tour of the petroglyph site at Washington State Park will include a park naturalist leading the way through the covered walkway and interpretive panels to provide details about the Mississippian-era community and its inhabitants who made carvings in the stones.

Beginning at 7 p.m. a program on hiking at night will be presented at the park campground amphitheater. Following the presentation, a short hike will be held in the campground to put the night hiking safety tips into action.

The Stone Bridge at Babler State Park is one of many interesting features along the trail.

Those looking for a traditional hiking experience would enjoy the two-mile excursion planned on the Dogwood Trail at Dr. Edmund A. Babler Memorial State Park in Wildwood from 10 a.m. to noon on June 4. The trail is moderate grade, so good hiking shoes are recommended, along with drinking water and insect repellent. Park staff will lead the hike from the Guy Park Trailhead.

Although it is not officially a National Trails Day event, the Rockin’ at Robertsville State Park free concert planned for 6 p.m. on June 4 should offer plenty of family fun. The show will be held in the park’s day-use area with some picnic tables available. The park has several excellent hiking opportunities for a pre-show walk.

Don Robinson State Park near Cedar Hill doesn’t have events planned for National Hiking Day, but the park has excellent trails, including an all-accessible, concrete path that travels from the parking into the woods.

In addition to being great outdoor exercise, hiking can be a link to history.

Mastodon State Historic Site in Imperial also has fantastic hiking trails without an official program planned for June 4. The museum is the major draw for the area, but the hiking trail in the lower park area south of Seckman Road provides an easy hike, and the trails on the north side of the county road offer more challenging treks.

The state Department of Conservation areas in Jefferson County have designated hiking trails that offer variety along side the fresh air and scenery. The most unique of these places are the Victoria Glades and Valley View Glades natural areas east and west of Hillsboro respectively.

Because of their geology the flora and fauna is specialized to the areas. Shallow soil over and around big rocks limits the ability for most plants to grow, so hikers are treated to naturally wide-open views. Closer inspection of the earth and its inhabitants will reveal plants and animals that are adapted to the harsh conditions.

The pristine LaBarque Creek in northwest Jefferson County is one of the most unspoiled wild areas in the St. Louis region.

The Hilda Young, Glassberg Family, and LaBarque Creek conservation areas in northwest Jefferson County combine forces to protect one of the most pristine wildlife areas in the St. Louis region. Hiking trails in each location offer everything from creek-side strolls to ridge-top river vistas.

Whether you are at a state park or on private property, hiking on Saturday will connect you with walkers across the country who have been recognizing the benefits of outdoor life for 30 years.

Originally published by Leader Publications June 6, 2022.

Dirty dozen: CWD cases spike in Jefferson County deer

When the deer I shot last fall tested positive for chronic wasting disease, I was sad but not totally shocked. At the time it just seemed unlucky that of all the deer sampled in Jefferson County, mine was one of only three with a positive/negative result.

With additional testing and post-season targeted culling, the number of new reports spiked for the 2021-22 hunting season. From the first discovery of CWD in a deer killed near Meert’s Tree Farm in 2016, through June of 2021, only nine deer had tested positive in the county. This fall and winter, 12 new infections were confirmed, all in south of Festus and east of De Soto.

Twelve additional locations in Jefferson County have been added to the map for positive CWD tests.

Between July 2021 and April 2022 the state Department of Conservation sampled more than 32,000 deer statewide and 86 tested positive for CWD. With 15 additional cases this year, Ste. Genevieve County had the highest total, followed by Jefferson and Linn counties with 12.

Ten new cases were also found this year in Macon County where the first free-ranging deer to test positive for the disease was discovered in 2011. Along with neighboring Linn County, it has been the hot-zone in the state, but when merging the totals with Franklin and Ste. Genevieve counties, things are more than just warm in Jefferson County.

The local trio is responsible for 101 of the 292 cases statewide. Linn and Macon counties account for 92 combined. Adair County in north central Missouri adds 24 cases to the overall total number of cases in that region since 2011.

Chronic wasting disease continues to show up in new locations each year. The results from the 2021-22 season found a first time positive test from Washington County near Blackwell, and new cases for Barry, Christian and Howell counties in southwest Missouri.

More than 18,700 of deer tested were sampled as part of mandatory submissions during the opening weekend of the November portion of the firearms deer season. Hunters who harvested deer in any of the 34 management zone counties during that weekend were required to present their deer for testing.

After the close of regular deer seasons in January, about 3,000 samples were collected from localized areas where CWD has been found. Landowners can voluntarily remove deer through the targeted culling program.

“These landowners are critical in slowing the spread of CWD by removing additional infected deer from the landscape and reducing deer numbers in targeted areas,” said Jasmine Batten wildlife health program supervisor for the conservation department. “All meat from deer that do not test positive for CWD is either returned to the landowner or donated to Share the Harvest.”

I did participate in the post-season targeted culling effort, but never added to the statistics. I couldn’t bring myself to spotlighting or night hunting techniques that are approved, and my feeble attempts at baiting attracted only squirrels and crows while I was hunting.

Batten also thanked the hunters, taxidermists, and meat processors who helped with sampling.

“We are very grateful to the thousands of deer hunters who brought in their deer for CWD sampling, along with the 109 taxidermists and 34 meat processors across the state who collected and submitted more than 9,000 CWD samples,” Batten said. “These important partners provide critical surveillance data, give hunters additional opportunities to have their deer tested, and ensure that meat from deer harvested in CWD Management Zone counties is tested before venison donations are sent to food pantries.”

A number that stands out in the final report from the state are the 6,000-plus tests that were conducted outside the management zones statewide. Those can be credited to the taxidermists and processors who make the free testing available in places CWD hasn’t been found. In the 80 counties outside the management zones, it is likely that deer have the disease. Voluntary testing, particularly for older bucks, should lead to more discoveries.

Chronic wasting disease is a deadly infectious disease that eventually kills all animals it affects. Hunters can help manage the disease by getting the deer they harvest tested. More information about testing options, and the map showing positive case locations, is available at mdc.mo.gov/cwd.

Originally published by Leader Publications on May 5, 2022.

New book establishes authority as standard for bird identification

One of my favorite perks about this outdoor writer gig is the opportunity to review new books before they are available to the public. When I was given the chance to see an advanced copy of All About Birds Midwest, I jumped at the opportunity.

At first look, it reminded me of the Peterson Field Guide for Eastern Birds that had been at my mom and dad’s house. Roger Torey Peterson published his first guide in 1934, and the copy I have is dated 1980. I’ll still use it as a reference, but the book from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology sets a new standard.

Instead of Peterson’s illustrations, the new book features multiple detailed, zoom photographs of each bird. Every page has a range map, and description including details considered the keys to bird identification: size and shape, color pattern, behavior, and habitat. A special note about each species is also included.

Published by Princeton Press, the series includes All About Birds books for California, Texas and Oklahoma, Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, Southeast and the Midwest. Missouri marks the southern edge for the Midwest book, and includes states east to Indiana, west to Kansas and the Dakota, and into central Canada.

The Midwest book highlights 221 of the most common species for the region. The details and images are a collection of information from the AllAboutBirds.org website by The Cornell Lab, which also offers a free bird ID app called Merlin.

The introductory portion of the book includes tips for beginner bird-watchers, basics for good bird photography, tricks for attracting birds to your backyard feeder, features of a good birdhouse, and ways to get involved in protecting bird species.

According to the new book, “the ruby-throated hummingbird is the sole breeding hummingbird in the eastern US and Canada. These precision flying creatures glitter in the full sun, and are common at feeders, and in flower gardens in the summer. In the fall, they head south, with many crossing the Gulf of Mexico in a single flight.”

Hummingbird feeders come in a variety shapes and styles. Finding one with a look you like should be easy. An important consideration is ease of cleaning, because while filling the feeder is simple, keeping the feeder clean and nectar fresh is essential.

The standard sugar-water recipe calls for four parts water and one part sugar. Boiling the water is not required, and plain white cane sugar is the best bet. Homemade nectar should never be made with honey, brown sugar, fruit or other substitute. It can be stored in a refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Adding red food color to the water is discouraged, but most prepared nectar mixes include red dye. There is scant evidence that the artificial color is harmful for the little birds, but it is not necessary so why risk it.

Originally published by Leader Publications on April 6, 2022.

Whitewater racing returns to the St. Francis River

Scott Swafford paddles hard to turn his canoe into an upstream gate on the St. Francis River in the 55th annual Missouri Whitewater Championships.

I didn’t get a chance to see Mason Gagnon run the St. Francis River in the Missouri Whitewater Championships, but I did make it to Millstream Gardens in time to see my college fraternity brother Scott Swafford navigate the slalom gates in his open canoe.

The races appear to be quite a workout for the paddlers, and Scott told me his earlier run in a two-man canoe, took a lot out of him before his solo race that I was able to watch. What follows is the preview story I wrote for Leader Publications about Mason and the 55th annual championships.

Sixteen-year-old Mason Gagnon of Hillsboro in his kayak on the Ocoee River in Tennessee.

Since 2019 when he earned a medal as a novice in the Missouri Whitewater Championships, Mason Gagnon, 16, of Hillsboro, has been anxious to get back to the St. Francis River to compete in the expert division.

“There are two different races, downriver and slalom,” Mason explained. “In the downriver you go as fast as you can paddle. The course can be pretty long, from 3 to 4 miles. You get one shot at your best time.”

The downriver race on Friday evening goes from Millstream Gardens to the Highway D bridge at the Silver Mines Recreation Area, about three miles downstream. A Paddler’s Guide to Missouri from the state Department of Conservation describes that stretch of the St. Francis River.

A canoeist aims his boat downstream for a plunge through Tiemann Shut-ins at the location called Big Drop.

“A mile of continuous rapids with sharp drops. The steepest drop on the river is four to six feet depending on the water stage, but the chute has a difficult S-curve approach. Rocky rapids continue to Silver Mine Dam. A breech blown in the left side of the dam is runable, but in high water produces a wave at the bottom which would swamp an open canoe. A ‘rock garden’ run from here to the bridge.”

Slalom races are held Saturday and Sunday. The press release from the Missouri Whitewater Association described the set-up as “20 or so downstream and upstream gates that course designers never fail to place in the most diabolical parts of the river. Touching a gate with boat, paddle or person brings a five-second time penalty; missing one costs 50 seconds. Avoiding penalties is crucial because a fast run with no penalties usually falls in the range of 3.5 minutes, and winners can be decided by tenths of a second.”

Spectators scatter across granite boulders along the Tiemann Shut-ins section of the St. Francis River at Millstream Gardens Conservation Area.

The slalom course is in an area of Millstream Gardens known as Tiemann Shut-ins, which provides a natural amphitheater for spectators. Steep banks of pink, pre-Cambrian granite squeeze the river to form challenging rapids and give the audience unique scenery and perches to watch the races.

Attendance is free for the event and spectators are welcome to bring their own food and drink. Concessions are available in the park including burgers, bratwurst, burritos and beverages.

The association recommends dressing for the weather and especially recommends shoes that are appropriate for slick rocks that are everywhere near the river.

Millstream Gardens is south of Highway 72 in Madison County, about 11 miles west of Fredericktown and 11 miles east of Ironton.

Content originally published by Leader Publications on March 17, 2022.

Clean up and festival planned for Meramec River and area parks

The Meramec River draws most attention in the Jefferson County area when it escapes its banks, but a big event later this month is planned to provide assistance to the natural resources along the stream.

In addition to clean-up activities on the river, simultaneous events will take place at other public places along the watershed. After the work, some fun is planned with a festival and musical entertainment.

The Dome Life Stream Team Mid-Meramec River Cleanup begins at 8 a.m. on Saturday, March 19, in multiple locations including Don Robinson State Park, Pacific Palisades, LaBarque Creek, Hilda J. Young, and the Myron and Sonya Glassberg Family conservation areas in Jefferson County.

The boat launch at Robertsville State Park on the Meramec River will be busy with clean-up crews for a special event on Saturday, March 19.

Other nearby locations where clean-ups will take place are at Robertsville and Route 66 state parks, Catawissa Conservation Area and Allenton Access. Efforts will focus on land and water trash collections as well as invasive plant species removal.

Robertsville State Park will host the post clean-up festival that afternoon and evening. Beginning at 3:30 p.m. food trucks will be available in the park along with educational and informational booths, nature programs, and activities for all ages. Live local music performances are scheduled from 7 to 10 p.m.

The event and festival are free, but participants must register online at https://short.mdc.mo.gov/4os to select an activity location.

The state Department of Conservation is coordinating the event along with the Missouri Stream Teams organization and Dome Life, a camping life-style clothing brand that commits 10 percent of each purchase to clean-up events at public campgrounds, trail systems and waterways.

LaBarque Creek is one of the St. Louis region’s most pristine wilderness areas.

With the exception of Pacific Palisades, the four other clean-up sites in Jefferson County will focus on improvements to the LaBarque Creek watershed. The stream’s headwaters begin near Don Robinson State Park and the LaBarque Creek Conservation Area. The stream flows northeast through the Glassberg and Young areas where the creek joins the Meramec River.

Considered one of the pristine wildlife spaces in the St. Louis region, the creek and its tributaries are home to at least 54 aquatic species, which is about three times greater than other streams that feed the Meramec River in the area.

Contrary to the wildness of LaBarque Creek, evidence of human habitation and development are often associated with the lower Meramec River. Clean-up and improvement efforts have made great progress, and this event is an opportunity to do more for a resource that has much to offer.

The scars of industrialization and so-called civilization are most evident on the Meramec from its confluence with the Mississippi River at Arnold and throughout most of St. Louis County. In the 26-mile segment designated for attention during the clean-up, the river begins its transition toward the more wild reaches of its upper flows.

Fishing on the river from its cold-water trout areas and along its entire length can be good. The smallmouth bass special management area in Crawford County was one of the first to be implemented in the state. Other popular game fish to target in the Meramec are largemouth and spotted bass, rock bass, catfish and suckers.

When the river floods, and it will again, the community’s attention will be drawn to its potential for devastation, but on Saturday, March 19, volunteers can pay it forward for all the good times the Meramec River is capable of providing.

Originally published by Leader Publications on March 10, 2022.

Antler scoring event takes guess work out of hunters’ deer tales

While fishermen are famous for fudging measurement estimates, deer hunters are not immune from stretching the story and size proportions of the bucks they bring home. I have a few sets of antlers that I measured myself and rounded up a little bit as I described them.

That was until I took them to the state Department of Conservation’s Antler Scoring Event a couple of years ago at the Jay Henges Shooting Range and Outdoor Education Center near High Ridge. Hunters can get the facts on their racks from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, March 19.

I had originally claimed the three mounts I have measured in the “range” of 120, 130, and 140. Once the official paperwork was completed, they had shrunk to scores of 109, 115 and 120 (still rounding up the fractions).

Conservation agent Josh Hallquist explains the antler scoring system to hunters who brought a deer to be measured at the Jay Henges Shooting Range and Outdoor Education Center in 2019.

The most common vernacular in discussing deer antlers is to simply count the number of points and call your deer an eight-pointer or whatever total you can identify as at least an inch long, big enough to hang a ring on, or any other guideline your conscience can allow.

The problem beyond the inconsistency in that counting system is that it doesn’t truly reflect the age or size of the deer. One of the biggest deer I’ve seen harvested was a six-pointer, and of the three racks I had measured in 2019, the smallest is a 10-pointer. The other two higher scoring antlers have nine ring-holders. A one-year-old deer can have an eight-point rack that is barely bigger than a large man’s hands.

Conservation agent Ben Pursley and volunteer Shawn Bevfoden take and tabulate measurements at the scoring event High Ridge in 2019.

The event at Henges will use the Boone and Crockett Club official scoring system for North American big game trophies. The measurements count the total number of points, but the final score takes into account the overall length of the main beam on both sides, the length of each point, the circumference at the smallest place between the each of the first four points, and the distance of the inside spread all added together.

For symmetrical racks, the accumulated differences between the two sides, plus any a abnormal points, are subtracted from the total of the of all the measurements added together for length, spread and circumference.

The annual event at Henges is held in late winter because antlers are required to have dried for at least 60 days after harvest. Hunters are also welcome to bring shed antlers they have found or racks from deer they harvested in previous years. Hunters also have the option to drop off their antlers for measurement and to pick them up at a later date.

Reservations are not required, and there is no cost to have antlers measured. Participants will be asked to observe current social distancing and masking guidelines during the event. For more information, call 636-938-9548. The shooting range and education center is at 1100 Antire Road near the Interstate 44 exit 269.

The Boone and Crockett Club is the internationally-recognized standard for judging deer racks taken with firearms from any location. The Pope and Young Club provides the same kind of certification for antlers harvested by bow and arrow.

Missouri Show-Me Big Bucks Club recognizes trophy white-tailed deer harvested or found in the state, in both the typical and non-typical categories. The organizations charge a standard fee for entering scores in their record books.

Hunters are also asked to provide details on date, time and location of harvest. Record book entries require proof or certification that the hunter held a valid permit at the time of harvest.

Originally published by Leader Publications on March 3, 2022.

Comments sought until March 7 for compromise on scenic rivers motorboat restrictions

The proposed horsepower restrictions for the Current and Jacks Fork rivers in the Ozarks National Scenic Riverways seem to be a reasonable compromise, which is evidenced by the fact that extremists on both sides are screaming the loudest.

Fortunately the middle ground has the opportunity to be heard. Public comments are being accepted until March 7 at http://www.regulations.gov or by mail to Superintendent, Ozark National Scenic Riverways, 404 Watercress Drive, P.O. Box 490, Van Buren, MO 63965.

The online submission form is simple and all comments are viewable as part of the public record. Once on the website, comments are submitted by entering the docket number 1024-AE62 in the search field. After entering a comment, you receive a confirmation number and can get an email when your comment is posted.

In 1964 when the National Park Service established the Ozark National Scenic Riverways on 134 miles of the Current and Jacks Fork rivers, motorboats were part of the deal. Propeller driven motors needed deep enough water to get up to speed, but had to be tilted nearly out of the water to navigate through shallow stretches. Motors bigger than 20 horsepower were too heavy to lift.

With the introduction of jet-propulsion that allows boats to skim along on inches of water, depth became less of an issue and motor sizes kept getting bigger. Now the river runners have outboards up to 250 horsepower and can travel 50 miles per hour making large wakes and needing more space for maneuvering.

That speed and size causes safety concerns for swimmers and anglers who can appear to be just a speck in the stream. Canoe, kayak, tube and raft floaters routinely demonstrate their inability to steer or avoid even stationary obstacles. Those who enjoy the rivers for their peace and solitude are concerned about the noise of those big motors.

The loudest and most consistent argument against the new regulations don’t want any restrictions from the government about how they use the properties that have been a part of their family life for decades or more. They don’t need Washington D.C., St. Louis or the Sierra Club to tell them what to do.

The proposal regulates motor size in different segments of rivers and by seasonal use. The furthest upstream portions of the two rivers are the shallowest by nature and most difficult for motorized boats to navigate. From April 1 through September 15 only non-motorized boats would be allowed. Those dates are set to coincide with the peak floating seasons of spring and summer. Motorboats would be allowed during fish gigging and trapping seasons in the fall and winter.

Gigging and trapping boats on the upper sections, and all boats using the middle sections of the rivers year round, would be limited to 60/40 horsepower. That update to an existing but unimplemented regulation recognizes that a 60 horse jet boat has an output equivalent of a 40 horsepower propeller boat.

The third section involves only the Current River from Big Spring to the southern park boundary. On that section, which is much wider and deeper, jet boat motors would be allowed up to 150 horsepower and prop boats could be 105 horsepower.

I have submitted my comment through the website and ask those who have interest in the subject to do so too by March 7. I’m not suggesting you copy and paste my opinion, but here is what I said.

“The proposed horsepower regulations seem like a reasonable compromise between no restrictions at all and no motorized watercraft at all. I have floated the Current and Jack’s Fork rivers multiple times in the Ozarks National Scenic Riverways and have found that jet boats and canoes can enjoy the rivers together, but limitations are appropriate. The seasonal restrictions during peak floating seasons, and low water days of the summer make sense, as do limitations for 60/40 horsepower. The 150 horsepower limit on the downriver portion of the Current allows fast boats, but begins to address noise and erosion concerns.”
Of course you can submit your comments like, “We don’t need no government.” Or “Get those noisy things off my quiet river.” But finding middle ground (or water) ought to be how we decide things in America.

Originally published by Leader Publications on Feb. 17, 2022.

Workshop offers certification for using prescribed fire as management tool

Controlled burning is a very useful tool in land management, but its use requires careful planning and preparation.

Guys like to play with fire. I know this from years of observation and plenty of personal experience. I have helped to build brush piles nearly as big as a barn, and on at least one other occasion, burned an old barn that more closely resembled a brush pile than a building.

The desire to stoke flames may be attributable to some caveman ancestry, and I know I’ve been willing to poke a fire since a very young age. I vividly recall being told by my uncles that I risked wetting the bed for playing with the fire. I also remember that the warning barely deterred me.

A well placed hollow log can provide a chimney effect on a standard campfire.

These days I can hardly sit around a campfire without looking for ways to rearrange the logs and coals to generate more heat or flame. I address finding the perfect place for the next piece of firewood as an art form or modern marvel of structural engineering.

Fortunately I have never been a party to a fire that got out of control, but I have personally seen the devastation that a wildfire can do to a landscape. Two different farms where I have hunted were affected by blazes about 20 years ago. Those two incidents were nothing like the destruction caused in places like California and Colorado in recent years.

While the scars of the fires we experienced two decades ago can still be found in the woods, the blackened forests recovered and benefited from the burning. We annually use fire as a tactic to manage native grass growth in the largest field on the farm. None of us has formal training for the activity, but certification is available.

Plowed furrows as a fire break, water sprayers and other tools, with plenty of help are key components to managing a controlled burn.

The state Department of Conservation is planning several upcoming workshops in the St. Louis region offering training for anyone interested in learning how to properly utilize prescribed fire for land management. The program in Jefferson County is planned from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, March 18. Online registration is required at https://short.mdc.mo.gov/4ZC.

Unfortunately all of the spots at the Jefferson County program are already spoken for, but adding your name the waiting list could increase the opportunity for another program, or set you up for alerts further in advance of future events.

Fire can be a tool for controlling growth in grasslands, glades, prairies and woodlands. Workshop participants will learn about how to safely utilize fire to benefit natural habitats.

The prescribed burn certification consists of an online training program which can be completed at the participant’s own pace, but must be finished prior to attending the in-person field event. After signing up for the field portion, information will be sent on how to complete the required online portion of the training.

The field event portions of the workshops are all scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and each has its own registration link. Other regional sessions are planned in Lincoln County on Wednesday, Feb. 23, https://short.mdc.mo.gov/4ZD; on Friday, Feb. 25, 1 in Franklin County, https://short.mdc.mo.gov/4Zz; and on Friday, April 1, in Warren County, https://short.mdc.mo.gov/4ZK, and Crawford County, https://short.mdc.mo.gov/44k.

The workshops are free to private landowners but cost $25 for contractors. Advanced online registration is required using the links provided. Upon successful completion of the field events, participants receive permanent certification.

I am sure there is nothing in the curriculum that addresses the other tool that we use fire for on the farm. We always pack out the trash we bring in, but over time we have had the need to eliminate old furniture or other flammable materials. The cabin fire-ring has eliminated items from dresser drawers to dog houses. An old sofa is awaiting its turn on the burn pile when the weather conditions are favorable and enough responsible adults are available to keep the blaze in check.

Originally published by Leader Publications on Feb. 10, 2022.