1,105 days. That is how long we have been on this journey together. I know that number is miniscule for some of you in this room who have been dedicated to this organization for many decades. Others of you are new to CFM. No matter how long you have been involved, thank you for being here.
For just over three years now, CFM has been so much more than a job to me. Conservation has become my vocation and I want to begin today by thanking all of you for allowing me this incredible opportunity to serve and represent you as the director of Missouri’s largest and most important citizen conservation organization.
Many of you probably don’t know my background. I took a non-traditional path to this role. My diversity of jobs before CFM includes selling auto-parts and pharmaceuticals. Working for a state agency, being the marketing manger of a hunting and shooting manufacturer, and self-syndicating a newspaper column. I didn’t study wildlife or natural resources in college. But I’ve been an outdoors enthusiast longer than I can remember. I was the guy hauling deer into my college fraternity, scaring the city boys who’d never seen a dead animal before. People come to be conservationist in many ways.
Both my undergraduate and graduate degrees are in Organizational Leadership. I studied leadership for six years, but books and classrooms can no more prepare someone for leadership than practice on a rifle range can prepare solider for the complexities of battle.
Leaders learn through experience. By having to make decisions that you know will please some while upsetting others. You learn to navigate the complexities of both allies and enemies. You learn to humbly accept praise knowing you are always a single decision away from despair, and you learn to deal with the hurt and confusion of those you respect and consider friends sometimes working against you.
You have to learn from the good and the bad, then put it behind you and continue moving forward. Leadership isn’t easy. But you all know that, because each and every one of you in this room is a leader.
Missouri is home to just over 6,000,000 people. Of those, 1.2 million people have a fishing license. Over 500,000 Missourians purchase a deer-hunting license each fall. And our state parks hosted over 20,000,000 visitors in 2016. These numbers prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the outdoors truly matters to Missourians, yet there are only a couple of hundred people in this room today. The fact that you are here, engaging in a process to help set policy and direction for the future of our natural resources makes you a leader and I thank you for that.
Look around this room. CFM is growing and we are changing. In the past three years we have grown by over 1,200 new members. Or Business Alliance has more than doubled. We currently have 89 Business Alliance members supporting CFM. Much of that credit goes to our Director of Corporate Relations, Rehan Nana.
We’ve grown with an additional 13 new affiliated organizations, and yesterday the Coalition for the Environment submitted an application to become the newest. Thank you Heather, for your belief in CFM.
We are becoming more inclusive. Our reach is becoming broader. We are becoming younger. Our continued lack of racial diversity is still disheartening, but we will continue to try new ways to reach demographics of Missourians who are non-traditional supporters of conservation and natural resources.
We are not an organization of democrats or republicans, or rich or poor. We are as diverse of an organization that exists. We are scientists and farmers. Teachers and students. We are hunters and animal lovers. Collectively, we hold dear our natural resources. We all love watching the sunrise over prairie. We all love the sound of a turkey gobbling. We all love seeing a bald eagle soar. No matter what our differences may be, we are bound in this love of the outdoors and we must work together to protect things as basic as clean air, clean water and healthy soil.
Thankfully, Missourians proved to us this past fall that they believe just as we in this room do. The Parks, Soil and Water Sales Tax passed with an overwhelming 80.1 percent of the vote. For the first time, it won in every county of our state. That is an unheard of show of support.
When each of you checked yes on 1, you were telling our government to take some of your hard earned money and protect your soil and water, and to keep our state parks open and pristine for all people, Missourians and our visitors.
But voting yes wasn’t the end of the process. It was only the beginning. Now we, as citizens, must engage with our elected leaders and respective agencies to ensure those resources are being used wisely and in ways that we, the taxpayers and their employers feel, best moves our state forward towards a healthier environment and with outstanding state parks.
Serving on the Citizens Committee for the renewal of the Parks, Soil and Water Sales Tax was a highlight of my career thus far. If only society to could join together the way that committee did.
The coming together of so many different organizations working towards a shared common goal was refreshing. Many of the organizations working together disagree at times. The Farm Bureau and the Nature Conservancy were instrumental partners working together to pass this tax. The Corn Growers, Soybean Growers, and the Pork Association were working alongside the Missouri Parks Association, Prairie Foundation and Audubon Society. A shared goal made the 80 percent vote possible. And no organization is better at bring people and organization together than CFM.
The collaboration was truly inspiring and affirmed something I have learned. Missourians, including all those across industry and agriculture, want to do right by our natural resources. They want clean air, clean water and healthy soil. That’s why I am proud of the work we are doing at CFM to partner with non-traditional supporters of conservation. To bring these folks to the table and work with them to ensure we are looking for ways to move forward together, while always looking for opportunities to benefit our state while showing a stronger more unified front in the fight to protect our natural resources in the political arena.
Politics is a strange dichotomy. On one hand people are drawn to politics like a moth to flame, but once the heat of the flame is felt, people retreat to watch in comfort from a distance. Very few people want to join the fray in the arena.
And when they do for the first time, and find the sludge unappealing, they certainly don’t want to do it again. Choosing instead the safety of being spectators from the stands allowing the battles to be fought by others. But no one wins wars alone. It takes an army. And if we are going to continue winning battles for conservation and natural resources, then we need a bigger and stronger army.
Engaging in the process isn’t easy. And frankly, we as an organization are not doing nearly as good of a job as we could or should be doing. Too many people remain unaware and un-engaged in state politics.
When I go around the state and talk to various groups, I always ask the same question. Can you name your state senator and state representative? Very, very few people can. So then I follow up with, if you do not know who they are how do you know what they are doing as your representative? I’ll ask you the same question right now, do you know who your state senator and state representative is, and do you know what they are doing to represent you in the legislature? Think about. And if the answer is no, then you must fix that.
So if we are asking you, as members of this organization to stand with us, what are we asking you to stand for?
First and foremost, CFM believes in the foundation of our organization, which the constitutional authority of the Department of Conservation and the dedicated funding the provided by Conservation Sales Tax.
We know that what we have here in Missouri is special. We have incredible professionals at the Department working every day to manage the incredible resources we have at our fingertips, including healthy fish and game populations and public land on which to recreate.
But we also know the department isn’t perfect. And at times we may not fully agree. But like in any strong relationship, there is no line in the sand. No you are either with us or against.
We must work together to help steer the direction of this state and that’s what we are doing here today. We have to be together even when we disagree if we are going carry this amazing conservation story into the future. And we are going to have to take some stands.
One of the big issues of our time is Chronic Wasting disease. And sadly, our legislature has turned its back on the science of this devastating disease. MDC biologists have presented all the facts, supported by leading researchers across the country, to prove the spread of CWD is directly impacted by the movement of captive cervids (deer).
Yet, certain legislators are working, right now, to make the process of moving cervids into our state easier and they are looking for ways to pass laws to bolster and grow the privatized wildlife industry. They ignore science, otherwise, there is no question they would close our state’s borders to the importation of cervids tomorrow, just as Texas, Florida and over 20 other states have done.
So, if our politicians are committed to failing us on CWD, to failing the white-tailed deer, our state’s most sought after wildlife species, then we will take matters into our own hands.
A new group of dedicated conservationists, Missouri Hunters for Fair Chase, is committed to passing an initiative petition that bans the sale of canned hunts and cuts the private wildlife industry off at the knees.
Some are saying CFM shouldn’t support this because it may upset the legislature. Well I'm pretty sure the legislature was upset in 1935 when the people decided to form a new state agency free from politics and political favor.
And I'm pretty sure the legislature was pretty upset again in 1976 when the people voted to send tax dollars free from political control to that agency. But you know what, upsetting the legislature was worth it then and it’s worth it now.
The brave visionaries of those initiatives, including some of you in this room created change that has led our state to the top of the conservation mountain.
The word “best” is thrown around a lot, and it is hard to define, but there's no argument over how incredible our natural resources are in Missouri. We are truly blessed. So when our political process fails us we have to step up and be the change we seek. History tells us we can do it, and today, if we hope to have a wild deer herd for our grandchildren to hunt 50 years from now, we must stop the privatization of deer and the transportation of them, and their potential diseases into our state.
Today is so important. We are about to break up into 10 different committees.
You are the leaders of your community. And leadership demands you make hard choices. It demands you do the heavy lifting. And that is what each and everyone of you in this room must do if we, as the conservation community of Missouri, are to collectively protect the natural resources of this state in a time when others are determined to see them diminished.
No one is in this room because you want to be told what to do. You are here because you want to be part of the discussion. You want to be part of the decision making process. Citizens do not want to be talked at. They want to be talked with and I applaud you for being here and representing that principle.
So now I hope you go to your respective committees. I hope you will offer your insights and I hope you will listen to the insights of others, and that you will work together to create plans of action for this organization to take forward to positively impact your areas of concern. But more than anything, I hope you don’t leave here today thinking the work is over. Today is when the work begins.
Thank you very much.