2020 Missouri Conservation Wins
With your support, we worked across the state this year to make meaningful change.
This page was updated on December 22, 2020.
Note From Our Director
First and foremost, I hope this note finds you and your family safe and well. In no way has 2020 been a normal year—in the way we work, in the way we interact with colleagues, partners and with you, and in many cases our daily lives at home.
Throughout the pandemic, our priority has always been the safety of our staff and those we work with. The Nature Conservancy has taken thoughtful steps to ensure that we can remain safe, while still moving our conservation strategies forward, and I have to say that I am so proud of what we were able to accomplish this year despite the circumstances. Our staff are resilient, innovative and passionate about this work.
Below you will see why I’m proud. These 2020 highlights are just a fraction of the work that took place over the past 12 months.
I hope you take pride in our work too. We truly could not do this without your support, your guidance and your commitment to a world where people and nature thrive.
We Went Virtual
This spring, it seemed as though the whole world came to an abrupt stop—but as it always does, nature kept going. The prairie chickens returned to the lek, flowers began to bloom, bison calves started arriving and with that, brought some much-needed normalcy during a time where nothing seemed normal.
We realized that we had a unique opportunity to bring the wonder of nature into homes, classrooms and to fellow landowners—in a safe, fun way.
Bringing Dunn Ranch Prairie to You!
On Earth Day 2020, we officially launched our Dunn Ranch Prairie livestream. We positioned the camera on our main prairie chicken lek and let us tell you….the prairie chickens did not disappoint! What has always been a popular in-person event, became a popular at-home event.
Forbes Magazine even declared the livestream as a way to “save the world from your couch.” Since then, we’ve positioned the camera in various locations, most recently watching the bison roam around the snowy prairie fields.
Connecting Students with Nature in a Virtual World
Also during this time, many homes became classrooms, as over 850 million children and youth—roughly half of the world’s student population—had to stay away from schools and universities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an effort to support families and teachers and open up new worlds for young people, TNC and its 550 scientists launched Nature Lab, an online learning platform designed to help students from kindergarten through 12th grade learn the science behind how nature works for us and how we can help keep it running strong.
“Students and teachers across Missouri and around the world were faced with a very different learning experience in response to COVID-19,” said Kate Ireland, director of Youth Engagement Programs at The Nature Conservancy.
“I’m proud that TNC was able to offer the Nature Lab curriculum as a way to engage the next generation with the places, science and conservation stories of our work, helping them connect what they see on the screen to actions they can take in their own neighborhood.”
Demand for Nature Lab has been very high, with viewership on the Nature Lab Vimeo page reaching over 17,000 daily. Most viewership dips correspond with weekends, indicating that Nature Lab is successfully being used as a supplemental tool for virtual learning.
Hosting Virtual Field and Farm Tours
Inspiring change beyond our preserve borders is needed to accomplish our conservation goals. It’s common for us to host landowners, partners and other stakeholders on our preserves or at project sites to talk through different conservation practices or techniques that we have implemented. We can talk about why we did it, how we did it, how they can replicate it on their own land and get input and feedback.
This year was no different, but instead of canceling two field and farm Tours scheduled for summer and fall at Little Creek Farm, we took them virtual. Partners joined us in the field—safe and socially distanced—to discuss sustainable farming practices and in many cases, the cost-share programs that could help landowners financially.
The videos range in topics from soil health and testing to ways to stop eroding streambanks from harming the streams and creeks running through the fields.
We Advocated for Nature on Capitol Hill
Outdoor spaces play an important role in our daily lives—highlighted even more in recent months, underscoring the need to conserve, maintain and improve access to these places for everyone. July of 2020 brought forth a culmination of work years in the making and an incredible investment in nature and to the economy.
In a giant step forward, a bipartisan majority in the U.S. Senate and House passed the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA), making it one of the most impactful bills for conservation funding in decades.
The bill creates jobs and bolsters local economies through conservation and maintenance work on public land. Its passage provides full and permanent funding of $900 million each year for the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the amount it is authorized to receive from offshore oil and gas revenues—not tax dollars.
Additionally, the bill invests $1.9 billion annually for the next five years toward maintenance in national parks and other public lands.
Investing in the outdoors is critical to reigniting local economies here in Missouri and across the nation. In Missouri, the outdoor recreation industry supports 133,000 jobs, generates $4.6 billion in wages and salaries, and produces $889 million annually in state and local tax revenue.
Continuing to Push for Good Fire in Missouri
The Missouri Prescribed Fire Act is a state legislative effort we have been taking a leadership role in for the past 2 years. This crucial legislation addresses barriers to landowners wanting to utilize prescribed fire as a land management tool.
In the 2020 legislative session, the bill progressed through both house and senate but unfortunately, due to halt of the session did not become law. The Missouri Prescribed Fire Act is already pre-filed in both the House and Senate for the 2021 legislative session.
We Showcased Nature as a Solution for Healthy Rivers and Streams
Water is the most important resource on the planet and in 2020, we worked across Missouri to protect our rivers and streams for our communities and for nature.
Giving the River Room
Rock Port, Missouri, located just over 100 miles north of Kansas City, is a small farming community on the Missouri River. After withstanding decades of repetitive floods, the local levee district knew they had to make a change after the flood of 2019 once again devastated their community.
Together with TNC and a host of partners, construction of a large-scale levee setback began in the summer of 2020—reconnecting and restoring over 1,000 acres of floodplain and providing more room for the river during times of high water.
This setback benefits the local community, those downstream and upstream, and the whole ecosystem that surrounds it. “It’s about preserving nature and coexisting with it. We both benefit when it’s done correctly,” says Ryan Ottmann, president of the Atchison County Levee District, whose board led the project.
“We want this to be a pilot project, to show other communities that it’s possible, and set a precedent so it will be easier in the future,” says Ryan.
Stabilizing Kiefer Creek
Also happening in the summer of 2020 but on the other side of the state, TNC, the State of Missouri, Missouri Department of Natural Resources and Missouri State Parks worked together to stabilize more than 2,000 feet of severely eroding streambank along Kiefer Creek, in St. Louis County.
While erosion is among the largest contributors to stream degradation in the Meramec River Basin, the good news is that there is a way to fix the problem. Using nature-based solutions and bioengineering techniques not only stops the erosion, but also to enhances habitat for fish and wildlife and improves downstream recreational benefits.
Throughout the next 2-3 years, park visitors will see thriving vegetation and plant communities surrounding the creek. Additional trees will be planted, pollinators will feed on a host of native plants and flowers, and the new stream bank will flourish and provide refuge to aquatic and other wildlife species.
This project will help keep Castlewood State Park a place where future generations can come to splash in the creek, hike the bluffs and enjoy the beauty of nature.
Inspiring Change in the Western Ozarks
In 2018, TNC partnered with landowners and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to stabilize 1,600 feet of eroding streambank on the Elk River in McDonald County, Missouri. Five demonstration field days were conducted after the completion of our Elk River stream restoration project involving over 100 individual participants from state and federal agencies, private landowners, and other key stakeholders. Thus, our project became a catalyst to inspire change across the state by changing the way conservation agency partners approach their work.
Mitigation by the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) for construction of the I-49 Arkansas-Missouri Connector (Bella Vista Bypass) project resulted in additional streambank stabilization along the Elk River, including upstream and adjacent to our 2018 project site.
Completed in 2020, MoDOT’s mitigation project complements and helps protect our successful streambank work, plus results in 3,140 feet of additional streambank stabilized and 7,155 feet of riparian protection. The mitigation project provides additional long-term stability and reduces nonpoint source pollutant loads to the Elk River system.
Conserving the 'right' way for farms and for nature
In 2018, stakeholders within the state’s agricultural industry, along with TNC and other organizations collaborated to launch a 4R program in Missouri. 4R focuses on nutrient, or fertilizer, management and conservation practices to improve soil health, and limit the amount of harmful runoff into our rivers and streams.
Fast forward to 2020, and that program is actively working with agricultural retailers to verify individualized plans for farmers to identify and guide their nutrient application to maximize crop production, reduce runoff and improve the farmer’s bottom line.
This year, over 2,000 acres have been verified and farmers participating in this pilot are engaged in conversations to implement practices on their fields that enhance the 4Rs, such as increased vegetation around field streams and no-till practices for their fields.
These plans promote and improve soil quality which provides benefits in time of drought by helping to hold water in the soil, and during times of heavy rain by decreasing the amount of harmful nutrients leaving the fields and entering our rivers and streams.
“Our goal is to verify 250,000 acres statewide through 4R nutrient management plans by 2025,” says Adam McLane, Missouri State Director. “This will make a significant impact on the quality of our rivers and the communities that rely on them here in Missouri and all the way to the Gulf.”
We Sought Equity in Nature
Providing Opportunities for a More Diverse Workforce
The fire workforce has long been dominated by men, with women comprising a mere 10 percent of the national wildland fire workforce. This spring, TNC led a prescribed burn training workshop in Missouri that was specifically designed to help women and minority staff receive specialized training and further their knowledge of fire management and leadership.
“We are committed to building a more diverse and inclusive fire workforce and culture. Events like the Missouri Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Fire Module provide prescribed burning professional development opportunities to people from groups underrepresented in our current ranks at TNC, such as women, professionals of color, LGBTQ, veterans, professionals under 30, indigenous, and others,” says Blane Heumann, TNC’s director of fire management.
The first of three, two-week sessions began on February 24th and while the workshops had to be canceled in early March due to travel restrictions and precautions with COVID-19, a foundation was established that this program was needed, wanted and can provide the space for growth and a more diverse workforce.
Greening Our Schoolyards
Green spaces play a key role in the development of sustainable, vibrant and livable communities, providing positive social, economic and environmental outcomes. Access to nature can also provide numerous health benefits, including lower stress levels, relief of ADHD-related symptoms and lower prevalence of asthma.
In the urban core, welcoming, naturalized outdoor spaces can be limited, especially for children. In 2020, TNC partnered with Saint Louis Public Schools (SLPS), the Missouri Department of Conservation and other local stakeholders to launch a green schoolyard pilot program.
“All too often, our students lack access to safe outdoor spaces where they can dream, explore and play,” says SLPS Superintendent Dr. Kelvin R. Adams. Froebel Literacy Academy, an elementary school in south St. Louis, will receive the first-ever green schoolyard in the St. Louis region.
“Establishing a sizable green space at Froebel, which has been an integral part of the city for 125 years, will enhance the learning experience for our students and be a welcome addition to the Gravois Park neighborhood,” says Dr. Adams.
The project provides a framework for equitably siting green schoolyards with the greatest potential to create environmental, social and economic benefits, combining intentional community partnerships, meaningful community-led decision-making and multi-stakeholder dialogue.
Collaborating with our faith-based partners
In 2019, St. Louis hosted the Green The Church (GTC) annual summit, which TNC was proud to sponsor. The summit helped make valuable connections with local partners and places of worship, identify and uplift current environmental leaders in the St. Louis region and provide resources for other faith-based institutions to kick-start their own sustainability projects.
Out of the summit came the first-ever Growing Green Solutions Seed Funding Program, funded by TNC in Missouri. This year, leaders from TNC and GTC selected ten proposals from St. Louis faith-based institutions to fund. The ten projects include the development of local green teams, the reutilization of vacant land for food production and community green spaces, increasing building energy efficiency, nature-based education, permaculture design programs, and a green bus tour that aims to expose additional faith leaders to the sustainability movement as a way to grow the local GTC network.
We Leveraged our Lands
This year, we welcomed new guests onto a portion of Dunn Ranch Prairie for a very specific purpose—to increase native habitat across the Grand River Grasslands. TNC partnered with two local ranchers, whose cattle will graze on two specific pastures on the prairie for the next three years. In return, those ranchers have selected and are implementing sustainable grazing practices on their own land, such as removing fescue and planting native grasses.
While this is TNC’s first grassbank in Missouri, the idea is not a new one. “Grassbanks are a time-tested way to enhance management flexibility, build larger-scale collaboration, and efficiently support conservation of important lands and waters,” says Sasha Gennet, TNC’s North America sustainable grazing lands director.
This grassbank gives ranchers the ability and time to adopt and establish sustainable practices on their land, while keeping our grasslands ecologically intact and economically productive.
We couldn't do it without you
This year and every year, we thank you for supporting us in our mission and all the work you make possible. You are helping move conservation in such amazing ways.