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As reported by the River Hills Traveler, the Missouri Department of Conservation filed a comment with the National Park Service opposing its proposed changes in the Ozark National Scenic RiverwaysDraft General Management Plan. There were a number of odd things about this move.

First, the comment was filed on February 4, only three days before the closing date for comments on the plan. The timing of this comment suggests one of two things. Possibly, the Conservation Department was acting under instructions from the Conservation Commission to go on record opposing the plan in order to keep state politicians off their neck, but to do so in a way that would not call attention to the opposition and thus not pose a serious threat to its adoption. The Conservation Department and its voter-approved separate source of funding (which I talked about in an earlier post) are subject to periodic attacks by those who would like to bring it under more political control, or who are reflexively opposed to government in general. The result has been that the Conservation Commission usually displays a fanatical caution when treading in political territory. Hollering about the National Park Service is the current favorite sport of Missouri politicians. The House Budget Committee recently set aside $6 million in the state budget to operate the Riverways as a state park, just in case the federal government decides to return the Riverways to state control. So perhaps the Commission felt the political need to add its peep to the chorus.

The other possibility suggested by the timing is that the Department didn’t want to allow enough time for its objections to be considered fully. I doubt this, but suppose it’s possible. The department’s objections range from weak to potentially meaningful but not significant, and some discussion of them would be good. But now that the comment period has closed, all discussion is presumably after the fact. But what the heck, let’s do it anyway.

The Department has five objections (actually four, since #1 and #2 are two parts of the same thing). They are: 1. current regulations on unauthorized trails, access points, and uses of the park are not being enforced. We should set up a working group to resolve the access issue. 2. designating part of the Big Spring area as a “wilderness” would hamper fire control. 3. restricting parts of the river from motorboat usage would hamper wildlife monitoring and conservation enforcement. 4. you should let people hunt, fish, and trap basically everywhere in the Riverways. Point 1 is the “we don’t need new laws, we just need to enforce the ones on the books” argument. It’s one of those statements that is both true and beside the point. The whole idea of drafting a plan and having public hearings was to air ideas. If the Department had wanted to contribute its opinions it could have done so, rather than proposing a “working group that includes local community members, resource agencies, and other interest groups”–i.e., us and our allies. Point 2 should be considered, because nobody wants to hinder fire management efforts. But would the plan actually do so? No. The plan states,”Wildfires would be controlled as necessary to prevent loss of life, damage to property, the spread of wildfire to lands
outside wilderness, or unacceptable loss of wilderness values.” Point 3, as I understand it, seems to be that the department doesn’t want to have to get out of its big motorboats to do game law enforcement and wildlife research. Oh, come on. If the person catching over the limit has to be in a canoe, do you really need a motorboat to catch him? Couldn’t you just call ahead to the next downstream access point–or paddle faster? Point 4 is a general “we like to hunt and fish” statement that doesn’t address any of the specific provisions of the management plan.

The Conservation Department has a history of doing good work for the citizens of Missouri, and I’m always inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. But this “comment” is just weird. The fact that the department didn’t even bother to issue a statement or news release about its comments in opposition, and that the Traveler had to ask twice before getting a copy of the letter, makes me think that they would just like the whole discussion to go away.

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