All Outdoors, January 29, 1999

1. Fantastic Caverns: Endangered species success story
2. Topeka shiner questions and answers
3. Wildlife agencies respond to snow goose crisis
4. Outdoor Calendar

Available via Internet at: http://www.mdc.mo.gov/news/out

"Hunter and hunted are partners, the presence of each honing the instincts and senses of the other. The hunter possesses the skills to chase; the hunted the skills to evade. Each provides the other with an energy carefully balanced. Life, through death, provides life. The predator is integral to the prey." Ruth Rudner, "The Call of the Climb"


1. Fantastic Caverns: Endangered species success story

A cave remains environmentally healthy while both a business and a small endangered fish prosper.

SPRINGFIELD, Mo.--Missouri is said to contain about 5,700 caves. One of the denizens of these caves is a small, almost colorless, blind fish. Nineteenth century cave explorer and author Luella Owen floated through one flooded cave and, with only the light of a candle, saw the eyeless fish "in an astonishing multitude, as unconscious of any possible danger as bees in a flower garden."

In 1889, still another Missouri female cave enthusiast, Ruth Hoppin, sent a specimen of a blind fish to a Harvard scientist. He asked for more specimens from Missouri caves, and Hoppin, determined to do the job herself, discovered more of them by lantern light. She also sent him samples of blind white crayfish, crustaceans and insects.

Still other Missourians found cavefish in the wells from which they drew their drinking water; some came to call the fish "well keepers." Their presence was said to indicate that the water in the well was pure and safe to drink.

Long gone are the days when cavefish were as common as bees in a garden. The Ozark cavefish (Amblyopsis rosae) is now on the state endangered species list and is federally listed as "threatened." There are probably several reasons for their scarcity, including people collecting them, but polluted water flowing through caves is probably the main culprit.Surface water seeping through porous limestone formations can be sullied by septic tanks or by spills from oil, gas or ammonia pipelines. Runoff from livestock operations also can pollute cave streams that have run pure for untold years and make them unfit for sensitive wildlife.

Most landowners shrink at the thought of having an endangered species of wildlife on their property. They fear government regulators will severely restrict how they use the property. But that's not the case in southwest Missouri, where a commercial cave that sees thousands of visitors each year is also home to endangered Ozark cavefish.

Fantastic Caverns is just north of Springfield. The owner of the cave is not only proud to have the fish there, he has taken steps to manage above-ground development in the area to keep the water in the "underground" high in quality.

Several years ago a developer had plans to build 300 homes, all on septic systems, on 120 acres of land above Fantastic Caverns. Cave owner Russ Campbell worried that sewage from the planned septic tanks would seep into groundwater, threatening the cave, the creatures that live there and his business. He noted that a cave in another state had to be closed after dangerous methane gas, caused by sewage, built up inside.

Fantastic Caverns is listed on The Nature Conservancy's registry of special wild areas. That listing, combined with information provided by the Conservation Department, helped convince county planning and zoning officials to allow fewer homes in the proposed subdivision, reducing the chance that water percolating into the cave and the wells of 900 area residents would be polluted.

Fantastic Caverns not only coexists with rare and endangered species in a fragile environment, but thrives with them. Besides the cavefish, Fantastic Caverns is home to other rare and endangered species, including a cave crayfish and the grotto salamander. The definition of endangered is "declining to the degree that extinction (or extirpation) is likely in the foreseeable future."

"I think the presence of the cavefish in Fantastic Caverns is an example of where the Endangered Species Act works the way it should," says Campbell. "The relationship between business andthe environment doesn't have to be adversarial. At Fantastic Caverns it's a positive thing, and the cavefish is a barometer of the health of the groundwater resource here. The cavefish acts like the canary in the mine. If we lose the fish, we know the aquifer is in trouble."

Polluted water would spell trouble for Fantastic Cavern's commercial viability, too, and Campbell says he knows the recharge area for the cave is going to be developed. "I'm not anti-development," Campbell says, "but keeping the cavefish healthy is a sign the area can be developed in a sustainable manner."

He says the well-being of the cavefish, his business and the wells that provide water for hundreds of people in the area can't be separated. "Those three factors let us wear the white hat when we are faced with land use changes," Campbell adds. "We work together with residents and conservationists to protect our water supply."

He says working with the Conservation Department has been beneficial; the agency provided information to the local planning and zoning commission when development was proposed near the cave and has also posted a sign explaining to visitors the importance of the cavefish.

The sign notes that "Springs and wells are important sources of water throughout much of Missouri and played an important part in its settlement. The quality of groundwater is important to both people and the aquatic life that rely on it. The Ozark cavefish is found in groundwater systems in a limited area of southwest Missouri." The sign goes on to explain how cavefish are indicators of water quality and that efforts are underway to ensure its survival.

Fantastic Caverns bills itself as the nation's only ride-through cave. Visitors travel in a tram drawn by a propane-powered truck for a one-mile, 50-minute tour. Campbell says the tram is a far less disruptive way of touring the cave than walking. Most of the rare and endangered species live in the cave's lower passage, an area inaccessible to visitors, but there is always the chance of seeing an Ozark cavefish or Ozark blind cave crayfish.

Fantastic Caverns is teaching young people about cave ecology and the importance of protecting it. Each year during the wintermonths, thousands of school children take part in the cave's Adventure Tour program, getting a special tour and learning about cave wildlife and the environment.

The Conservation Department is about to complete an action plan to restore Ozark cavefish. The goal of the plan is to secure a future for populations of these ghostly little fish in the state. Biologists want to reduce threats to the fish, inform the public of the fishes' presence and monitor known populations. Many of the places where the fish live are inaccessible to humans, and that will pose a challenge to those working with Ozark cavefish.

- Jim Auckley


2. Topeka shiner questions and answers

Conservation officials say they will work with , not against landowners, providing positive incentives for management practices that benefit the endangered fish and farmers.

JEFFERSON CITY-- On January 14, the Topeka shiner, a small type of minnow that inhabits some Missouri streams, was granted protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. The following information is provided to answer commonly asked questions about how endangered species listing will affect landowners.

Q: I heard that a fish that lives in Missouri has been added to the Endangered Species List. Is that true?

A: Yes. The Topeka shiner, a fish that inhabits some streams in northern and central Missouri, was added to the federal Endangered Species List January 14.

Q: Does the Missouri Department of Conservation support designating the Topeka shiner as an endangered species?

A: Yes. Conservation Department biologists have noticed a widespread, rapid decline of the species in Missouri. Recent fish surveys in Missouri have shown the Topeka shiner was found in only 19 percent of the sites where it formerly occurred. Based on this information, the Topeka shiner was listed as endangered in Missouri in 1996.

Q: Why is the fish endangered?

A: The Topeka shiner needs good water quality and suitable habitat to survive. Many of the streams in Missouri that once supported populations of the fish have been degraded by excessive soil erosion; nutrient-rich runoff from fertilizers, livestock manure and improperly functioning septic systems; unrestricted urbanization; and disturbance of the stream itself through channelization, improper gravel removal and headwater impoundment construction.

Q: How do you know the Topeka shiner is in trouble?

A: In 1992, the Conservation Department looked for Topeka shiners at 42 of the 72 sites known to have had the 1- to 3-inch minnows in the past. Only eight had Topeka shiners. In 1995, the remaining 30 sites were surveyed with only six sites having the Topeka shiner. An additional 64 sites of possible occurrence were identified and sampled with six sites yielding the Topeka shiner. In summary a total of 136 sites were sampled based on former presence and expected occurrence. Similar declines have been observed in Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, and South Dakota.

Q: When will the fish be officially classified as endangered?

A: The Topeka shiner was officially classified as endangered on January 14, 1999. The final rule to list the Topeka shiner as endangered appeared in the Federal Register (Vol. 63, No. 240) on December 15, 1998. For further information contact: William H. Gill, Field Supervisor or Vernon M. Tabor, Fish and Wildlife Biologist at: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Kansas Ecological Services Field Office, 315 Houston Street, Suite E, Manhattan, KS 66502. Phone 913/539-3474.

Q: What can be done to help the Topeka shiner?

A: Fortunately, there are solutions that benefit all of us and can help preserve the Topeka shiner and its habitat. Land management activities that preserve the productivity of the land can also benefit our streams. Decreasing soil erosion and preventing nutrient and chemical runoff with improved farming methods keeps soils and nutrients on the farm and out of streams. The Conservation Department has completed an action plan to help the fish recover. The plan calls for Conservation Department biologists working with private landowners to promote practices that will protect and restore Topeka shiner habitat whileimproving agricultural productivity.

Q: Where do Missouri's existing Topeka shiners live?

A: They inhabit small headwater streams in north and central Missouri. Virtually all the streams they still inhabit run through private land. Recent collections have shown the strongest populations to exist in Moniteau Creek watershed (Cooper and Moniteau counties), Bonne Femme Creek watershed (Boone Co.) and Sugar Creek watershed (Daviess, Grundy and Harrison counties).

Q: Will people who own that land lose their property or have to follow government rules to protect the fish?

A: No. Missouri has a long and consistent history of working with landowners rather than fighting with them to ensure the survival of endangered species. The Conservation Department's nonregulatory approach has worked well for both landowners and endangered species.

The Topeka shiner lends itself perfectly to this cooperative approach, since management practices that help the fish also benefit farmers and ranchers by helping them get the most from their land and protect its productive capacity for the future.

Q: Are any of the known Topeka shiner populations on public land?

A: Yes, some of the population in the Bonne Femme Creek watershed is within Three Creeks Conservation Area.

Q: What specific land-use practices will help the Topeka shiner?

A: A wide array of agricultural practices benefit Missouri's streams and, therefore, the Topeka shiner. Specific land-use practices benefitting the Topeka shiner: --Conventional soil and water conservation practices including terraces, waterways, contour farming and no-till; --Good grassland management; --Filter strips and forest buffers; --Developing alternative water sources to keep livestock out of streams; --Following recommended pesticide and fertilizer application guidelines; --Plugging abandoned wells and other groundwater protectionmeasures; --Improved agricultural and household waste management systems; --Implementing sound conservation construction techniques in developing areas; --Proper bridge construction; --Proper stream gravel removal methods; --Proper septic system placement and function; --Minimize development of the flood plain; --Reducing effects of urbanization.

Q: What assistance will be available to landowners?

A: Technical Assistance is available through the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the University of Missouri-Columbia Extension Service, local soil and water conservation districts, the Missouri departments of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Environmental Protection Agency and regional resource conservation and development councils. Assistance programs include: --The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which offers cash incentives for taking highly erodible land out of production and establishing grass filter strips and riparian forest buffers. Tracts in watersheds containing Topeka shiners receive more points and are more competitive. --The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) offers competitive cost-sharing and incentives for implementing "total system" farm conservation plans. These are targeted in specific areas and small allotments for statewide use. --The Soil and Water Conservation Program offers cost sharing in each county through the Department of Natural Resources for conventional soil and water conservation practices. --The Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) offers competitive cost-share and incentives for implementing fish- and wildlife-friendly practices on the land. --The Partners for Wildlife (PFFW) Program is a cooperative program sponsored by Fish and Wildlife Service and the Conservation Department, providing cost sharing and incentives for habitat improvement projects benefitting threatened, rare and endangered species. --Agricultural Nonpoint Source Pollution Special Area Land Treatment (AgNPS SALT) Projects focus technical assistance, landowner education, and cost-share incentives on targeted areas for watershed-based soil and water conservation in the Bonne Femme and Sugar Creek watersheds. These projects are sponsored by the DNR and are led by committees of local landowners.--The Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) offers incentive payments for the development, protection and maintenance of wetland areas on private land. --EPA 319 grants are administered for various projects relating to improving water quality.

- Jim Low -


3. Wildlife agencies respond to snow goose crisis

Conservation commissioners say Missouri's snow goose harvest may be only a drop in the bucket, but state, provincial and federal governments from Hudson Bay to the Gulf of Mexico all must do their part to avert a growing ecological disaster.

JEFFERSON CITY--Subject to final action by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), The Missouri Conservation Commission has amended state waterfowl regulations to help address an environmental crisis. Commissioners voted Jan. 21 to liberalize hunting regulations and extend hunting for blue, snow and Ross' geese beyond the end of the regular snow goose hunting season March 10.

Part of the new rule approved by the Conservation would allow the use of electronic calls and unplugged shotguns during the portion of the regular waterfowl hunting season when only "light geese" may be hunted. "Light geese" include blue, snow and Ross' geese.

The other part of the rule would allow Missouri hunters to participate in a "conservation order" March 11 through April 30. The FWS has proposed the action to reduce snow goose numbers.

Hunters are cautioned that the new state regulations will only go into effect after the FWS rules become final. The sole purpose of the conservation order is to achieve an imperative management objective. This management action is aimed at averting the growing ecological calamity that is occurring because of unprecedented snow goose numbers.

North American snow goose numbers have grown so large in recent years that their nesting habitat around Hudson Bay no longer can support them. Wildlife biologists say the animals literally are eating themselves out of a habitat. An example of this can be found along a 1,200 mile stretch of Hudson Bay lowlands. A third of the area is so heavily overgrazed that biologists believe itis unlikely to recover in our lifetime, and the remaining land could suffer the same fate soon.

Federal, state, provincial and private conservation groups agree that habitat damage will grow worse until snow goose numbers decrease. All agree that waiting for this reduction to occur naturally runs the risk of massive environmental damage that will affect a multitude of other wildlife.

Wildlife experts have documented local declines of as many as 30 other bird species in the most damaged areas. Other waterfowl and a wide variety of shorebirds that nest in the arctic wetlands are among the species threatened by snow goose overpopulation. Arctic mammals also could be affected.

"This is not just a snow goose problem," says Missouri Department of Conservation Wildlife Research Biologist Dave Graber. "If it were, we could let the species continue its activities until the population adjusts itself. But many species of waterfowl, shorebirds and other wildlife use the same habitat. If snow goose populations were allowed to crash, they could take many other species along with them."

Existing hunting regulations have failed to bring about the needed reduction in snow goose numbers, so federal officials have called for further liberalizations during the regular portion of the light goose season. The proposed conservation order also extends hunting beyond the normal season to encourage hunters to take more of the overpopulated geese.

To encourage maximum harvest of snow geese, the Conservation Commission, acting within the guidelines of the federal rules, has approved the following regulation changes for hunting light geese, but these rules will take effect only upon final action by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: From Feb. 1 through March 10 --Use of electronic calling devices --Use of unplugged shotguns capable of holding more than three shells From March 11 through April 30 --Use of electronic calling devices --Use of unplugged shotguns capable of holding more than three shells --Shooting hours from 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset--Unlimited daily and possession limits --A Missouri Migratory Bird Hunting Permit will be the only license requirement.

Normal regulations will remain in effect during the extended light goose hunting season. Furthermore, snow goose season dates, bag limits, shooting hours, and other regulations published in the 1998-1999 Migratory Bird Hunting Digest still apply prior to March 10.

Hunters should remember that the regular season is not open in the North Zone from Feb. 1 through Feb. 18, and it closes in the Swan Lake Zone on March 7 and is closed for three days before reopening again March 11.

Graber says a 50 percent reduction in snow goose numbers from 10 million to 5 million is needed to lessen the species' detrimental impact on the environment. Liberalized hunting regulations are a cost-effective way to attempt to accomplish that goal.

Recent regulation changes that increased bag limits and lengthened the snow goose season to 107 days have helped Missouri hunters double the annual snow goose harvest. For the past two years Missouri's snow goose harvest has topped 40,000 birds. Hunters nationwide have harvested approximately 600,000 snow geese annually. Wildlife officials are optimistic that the liberalized regulations can increase the annual snow goose harvest to a million birds.

- Arleasha Mays & Jim Low -

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