Bills could impact Missouri's conservation department

March 1, 2014

POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. (AP) — Sportsmen and conservation groups are raising concerns about legislation that could change the way the Missouri Department of Conservation operates.

Legislation in both the Missouri House and Senate would require the conservation department's rules and regulations to be approved by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, which consists of five lawmakers from each body, the Poplar Bluff Daily American Republic reported. Currently, a conservation commission provides that oversight.

If bills pass in both houses, it would go to a statewide vote as a constitutional amendment because Missouri's current system in which a four-member citizen commission provides oversight of the department was approved as a constitutional amendment in 1936.

Supporters say the goal is to improve oversight of the department. State Rep. Todd Richardson, a Republican from Poplar Bluff who serves as vice chairman of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, said the proposals are not driven by concerns about the conservation department.

The idea is for checks and balances,'' Richardson said.

The conservation department has faced some pressure from hunters unhappy with the 2013 deer season, and from deer breeders who feel the department is trying to overregulate their industry.

Department of Conservation director Bob Ziehmer said his department is unique and the oversight isn't needed.

"We serve 6 million people with a citizen-driven conservation system," Ziehmer said. "Missouri's citizens have created a national model, and it works."

Bill Cox, Missouri state chairman of Ducks Unlimited, wrote in an email to volunteers that the bills would "propose an amendment that would inject politics into Missouri's system of conservation ... allowing special interest groups or politicians to dictate management and regulations."

John Burke, a regional biologist for the National Wild Turkey Federation, said his organization, Ducks Unlimited and Quail Unlimited are jointly drafting a joint letter to politicians opposing the bills.

Richardson said he's heard the voices of opposition and some wording may be changed to preserve the department's constitutional authority.

"We don't want to take conservation backward in Missouri, and there's certainly going to be some language which would treat conservation differently than we treat other agencies," Richardson said. "My strong speculation is a lot of this will be clearer in a week."

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Information from: Daily American Republic, www.darnews.com