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Your Opinion: Retain citizen-led conservation agency

Your Opinion: Retain citizen-led conservation agency

February 25th, 2014 by Ken Babcock, Jamestown in News

Dear Editor:

The Missouri General Assembly is considering legislation to change Missouri's unique system of a citizen-led Conservation Department. If approved by voters, Senate Joint Resolution 42 introduced by Sen. Eric Schmitt from St. Louis and House Joint Resolution 57 introduced by Rep. Jay Barnes from Jefferson City would give the General Assembly the trump card in setting hunting and fishing seasons, limits and other regulations.

There is no shortage of examples where political intervention into natural resource management has had negative results. Years ago, visionary Missourians mandated that management of fish, forest and wildlife be removed from the Legislature because political favoritism led to degraded and deplorable conditions.

The proposed joint resolutions would ask voters to amend the Missouri Constitution to create a permanent Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, thus placing legislators back in authority. This isn't a new proposal. In 1978 and 1982 the General Assembly approved similar ballot initiatives. In both instances, Missouri voters rejected them because they believed passage would create an imbalance in constitutional powers among the three branches of government. Current polls reveal legislators have a very low citizen approval rating. Giving this branch of government more authority is not good public policy.

If passed by a vote of the people, this constitutional amendment would give legislators, special interest groups and lobbyists in the halls of the state Capitol control over conservation. This would be a major step backward, giving partisan politics authority to manage Missouri's forest, fish and wildlife resources. Missouri is a model of conservation excellence, envied by nearly every state and considered number one by many people across the nation. I suggest the General Assembly focus on issues where Missouri ranks 45 or 50 and leave this number one team alone to continue its excellent work.

Our citizen-led Conservation Commission has made Missouri a national leader in conservation. The numbers speak for themselves. Hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation have huge impacts on our state's economy, supporting thousands of jobs and generating millions in revenue. The department's approval rating with citizens is unmatched. This didn't happen by chance. Missouri citizens value fish forest and wildlife and they demand professional management of these resources.

This process has worked for over 75 years. Why change it? Our current conservation system must stay as is. I encourage members of the General Assembly to exempt the Conservation Commission from the bill and keep us first in conservation.