Careers in Conservation

‘Learning About Careers in Conservation, Sustaining Habitats for Generations ‘ 

For the second year in a row, we were honored to host students and teachers from the collaborative program, “Careers in Conservation”. On this particularly warm November day, students had the opportunity to gain insight from our staff about their respective paths into the field of land and water management, participate in our ongoing restoration efforts at Valley Water Mill Park, and learn about the current and historical conditions of Missouri habitats.  

Much like the early settlers of the Ozarks might have done, students were given a unique task to repurpose felled cedar and other hardwoods, created from glade restoration and timber stand improvement efforts, into split rails to be used for protecting our most sensitive habitats and to create a saw log bench for the resting pleasures of park users. After a brief introduction, the enthusiastic group filled park with sharp sounds of heavy mallets (perhaps heavy enough to make even a lumberjack’s forearm tired) striking metal wedges to split cedar trees into rails. As one group of students and instructors methodically split rails, the other began construction on the saw log bench. Using hand saws, the groups diligently created the feet the bench would rest on. 

The visit was capped off with an interpretive stroll through our park. On this Wednesday afternoon, the sun was shining, birds singing, and thoughtful dialog was shared among students, instructors, and Watershed Committee staff. While a wide range of thought-provoking topics were discussed regarding natural resources management, the common theme persisted to be our (human) historical and current influences on Missouri habitats.  

 In many ways, the history of land management in Missouri is also a history of human population and how local culture changed in passing time. In Native American cultures, fire was a tool used to maintain the open environments they utilized. Thanks to the accounts of some of the Ozark’s first European explorers, including folks like Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, we have insight into what our current closed-canopy forests looked like in the early 19th century; they describe a landscape of prairies, glades, oak savannahs and oak-pine forests shaped by fire. Today, the role that fire plays in oak forests has been greatly reduced. Instead, prescribed fire, a management tool used to mimic the disturbance of wildfire, is used to in our wildlands to foster wildlife habit, plant diversity, restore glades and prairies, and even increase timber production. Timber stand improvement efforts reduce canopy cover and allow more sunlight to reach the forest floor which helps to create a more favorable environment for a safe and effective prescribed burn. Together, timber stand improvement and prescribed fire will help us to reach our management goalsgoals only possible with the generous help of groups like Careers in Conservation, within the appropriate parts of the park.  

As a member of a community tasked with shaping a land ethic for the 21st century and beyond, it brings me great joy to see programs such as Careers in Conservation provide young people in Springfield the opportunity to experience unique land management opportunities. After all, experiencing the outdoors is the first step in fostering a deep love for the habitats that we so are lucky to call home.  

-Seth Wheeler, Watershed Conservation Corps Program Manager