Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Solutions…. (MDC)

This could be ended in a few weeks  if the MDC would just meet with this landowner!

Analysis of this floating junk will tell you that swimmers in the river downstream should not be in the water.  But there is a way to get this out of the streams

     I walked into Readings Fly Shop over on the other side of the Niangua River the other day and visited with the owner for a short while.  He said one of those Bennett Springs trout fishermen from the city had been in and had expressed disappointed in what I write because my criticisms gave no solutions.  He said I wrote too much in the past.

     I do write much about my experiences as a kid and those I have had over the past fifty years in the outdoors.  But that is because those recollections are what my readers tell me they like best, and down in the nearby gift shop at Bennett Springs State Park, I sell a good number of my books because I write those stories from my past and my experiences.  I write no criticism of the Department of Conservation which I cannot back up with solid facts, and I write about solutions to those problems constantly.

     So let me present here, some feasible solutions, and you tell me, why are these proposals beyond the realm of possibility.  These are all things I talked about when I had a four-hour meeting with the MDC director at my place on Panther Creek a year and a half ago.
     Mrs. Pauley agreed that the Department and I should work together on all three proposals. After all, I have a wildlife biology and management degree from M.U. too.  The main difference is, most of the MDC biologists hired in the last few years grew up in suburbs, while I grew up on the river in the heart of the Ozarks. I was running around with old-time biologists for the Conservation Commission before these modern biologists were born, writing about them and what they were doing and learning from them.

     I would like to sit down with some of today’s biologists and MDC decision makers and discuss solutions I have seen work, solutions they have never even thought of. Since then I have heard nothing from Mrs. Pauley. Our handshake agreement apparently didn’t mean much.

     The first solution I proposed to her is in regards to the constant degradation and filling of our Ozark Rivers.  I have talked with landowners who have large numbers of their cattle watering in some of the best of our streams, and none of them resist the idea of fencing cattle out of the river, drilling wells to water them away from the river and planting the ground between the fence and stream, in trees or erosion-controlling grasses and shrubs.

     If anyone thinks this will not work, come meet with me and we will talk to a neighbor of mine, Jim Hacker, who has done this very thing on a couple of miles of the Pomme de Terre river.  Jim promotes this kind of river protection and he can show anyone how it will work to make things better for river bottom protection.  Most of what he did was paid for by the Federal Soil Conservation Service, who reimbursed him AFTER JIM HAD IT DONE AND PAID FOR.
     That’s the problem for most of the men I have talked to. “Sure”, they say, “but Jim had the money up front and I don’t.  If I could make an agreement to get most of my investment back, I’d do it in a minute.”

     That’s where I, working with the Department of Conservation, could in only one year change the fate of many of our best rivers. If the MDC, with their millions of dollars (which I feel is often wasted), would put up just a few million we could do what Jim Hacker has done with other rivers, the Niangua, Gasconade, Big Piney and others.  We could stop the erosion of our Ozark streams, much of the pollution, almost overnight in dozens and dozens of critical places.  Then the MDC could recover what is spent through payments the Soil Conservation Service returns to the landowner.

     Tell me why the MDC won’t even discuss it?  Couldn’t it at least be considered?  I offer my time working with cooperating river-bottomland owners free of charge.

     This column, offering a solution that reader calls for, has to go before the public through various news media, who often will not use this column for fear the MDC doesn’t like it.  But until I die, I will keep putting it out there.  This is not criticism of the MDC, it is a solution offered for a tremendously severe problem.  As to the few million needed to accomplish this, they operate each year on a budget of almost 200 million dollars, and millions of that is given away, or wasted on projects that go nowhere.

     In my winter magazine I will publish a story about working with a very good MDC biologist who is in charge of bringing back small game on 30 thousand acres of public land in the center of this state. I am doing this because I promised Mrs. Pauley I would, during our meeting.  And when I give my word, I keep it!!  Don’t miss that article about his work if you want to see more solutions offered.
     That St. Louis man will never see it! But somehow the news media…television and small and large newspapers have to get in on this attempt to accomplish some positive things.  If there is some things wrong with the MDC’s management of our public lands, if there are things they can easily do which helps fish and wildlife and wild places, we need to push it and get it done before it is too late.

     Solutions!  Yes, I have them, and in some future columns, I will tell you how the millions spent on trying to bring back a vestige of quail hunting has failed miserably.  But is there a way that thousands of quail hunters can hunt coveys again like I saw it in the 50’s and 60’s?  YES-- and I know how it can be done if the MDC will meet and discuss it and use some of those millions to make it come to pass.  Before you laugh read this column next week, for another fail-proof SOLUTION.  If anyone out there wants to see good things happen in the outdoors for a change, contact me and help us.  Just call me at 417-777-5227.  We need leaders.

Thursday, August 22, 2019



         After what I wrote about snakes a couple of columns back I got many letters and emails that basically asked me why a professional naturalist would kill blacksnakes on his place.  It goes back to the fact that we have few natural ecosystems nowadays, and I am trying to improve the one I live in.
         Here on Lightnin’ Ridge, I try my best to protect and propagate the desirable native species of wild things that are hard-pressed.  That includes all ground nesting birds; quail, woodcock, wild turkey, whipporwills and others. All these species are declining almost everywhere in the Ozarks. Yes, even the wild turkey.  I don’t think biologists know that, if they do they don’t seem to want to do anything about, and there IS urgency to it. The greatest reason, I believe, is the increase to high populations by predators like feral cats and birds of prey. But real damage to those birds listed is done by egg-eaters.  I really think that whipporwills and chuck-wills-widows are in danger of being extinct or near extinction within 20 years.  Their numbers in the Ozarks are likely down by 50 percent over the last ten or fifteen years.  Only a small percentage of people know this, because the majority of our populations are city dwellers who have seldom heard one of our nightbirds.  If you get right down to it, nighthawks and whipporwills themselves are creatures only a small percentage of Midwesterners today have even seen. Of course, black snakes are not the only culprits, but here on Lightnin' Ridge, this small ecosystem I watch over has a big problem with armadillo’s, possums, raccoons, skunks and black snakes, all efficient egg eaters.

          Now a farmer with a barn where grain is stored likes having a black snake around to eliminate house mice and perhaps Norway rats.  Neither of them are even present on this wooded ridgetop where I keep watch.  Blacksnakes here are not mouse and rat eaters, they eat baby birds no matter how high the nest is, they eat rabbit babies in their nests, and they eat every egg they get close to.  Biologists today are at a loss to understand all this because they are folks who, in general, grew up in city suburbs.  But I tell them, take four or five chicken eggs out into the woods up here on my ridge and place them well covered in a place in the woods and see what happens.  They will be gone in about 12 to 48 hours.  Folks with hen houses do not tolerate black snakes for that very reason… you cannot keep them out… and they don’t eat just one.

        Just last year I sat on my back porch and watched a six foot long black snake ascending a big oak toward a dove nest on a limb about eight foot above the ground.  I took photos of him and then shot him.  We do not have a shortage of them here. I have made the mistake of leaving a basement door often and having to deal with the mess one or two blacksnakes leave behind, similar to that you might expect of a pigeon roost.

          Every time I have an omelet I realize that I am also a threat to a hen house.  Heck, I even eat the chickens!  But I am not a threat to the exposed eggs of whipporwills or quail or woodcock and turkeys.  Black snakes and armadillos are.  They will both continue to exist here, but I will keep their numbers as low as I can.  If I was a dairy farmer, I might be a bigger friend of the black snake.  I should add that while I kill any poison snake here on Lightnin’ Ridge, I was a contract naturalist exploring and reporting on wild and natural areas a few decades back for the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission. I never killed anything in those wild areas.  Even timber rattlers were safe from me because it was their habitat, not mine.

      One reader voiced concern with my black snake elimination campaign because he had heard they eat venomous snakes.  They do not!!  That snake, which eats copperheads nearly as big as they are, is the king snake, of which the
most common subspecies here is a salt-and-pepper on a black body appearance and a different body shape entirely.

           I think one of the greatest threats to our natural ecosystems here in the Ozarks is feral cats and armadillos.  If you truly want to be a help to quail and woodcock, whipporwill and other ground nesting birds, never leave an armadillo alive.  On the highway, run over any that you see.  There are millions of them around us now… intruders that show what ‘diversity’ really does.  Among our diverse invaders are starlings, carp, snakehead fish, ash borers, Norway rats and the boa constrictors which are destroying the natural system in the everglades.  Diversity doesn’t work in nature!  Really it doesn’t work with people either, but that is another mistake humans have made which cannot be remedied.  Here on this remote Ozark ridge where I live, far from any cities or towns, it is not a problem I have to deal with.

Both my magazines are being printed this week.  If you want to get one, call my office, 417-777-5227.  Email or write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, MO. 65613

Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Webs of Life

         As much as I like to be in the woods, this is a rough time because of all the spider webs across trails.  One of the old Front Bench Regulars in the pool hall back home said that God didn’t create spiders, ticks and flies.   He said they were here when God got here, before He went to creating the good stuff.  Darn, they make me itch and get miserable.  I don’t remember them being here when I was a kid because I hunted squirrels in the hickories in late August. 

         We didn’t seem to have any problems with spider webs back then, but back then the country didn’t have any problems with what we are seeing in California, New York and Chicago either.  I have a feeling that all these spider webs portend great problems to come.  I think that fires and earthquakes and floods and diversity will get so bad in years to come it will be hard to keep living in the Ozarks, because of the folks fleeing those awful places, elbowing their way in here and bringing undesireable traits with them.

         Another problem this time of year in the trees, is what they refer to as fall webworms, which are the larvae of an unspectacular small white moth.  I eliminate that problem around my home with a long pole and a wad of newspaper wrapped and taped at one end.  Light the paper and stick the flaming torch up under the web which encases the worms… problem solved.
         I wrote about how to do this a couple of years ago and a reader sent me something from the Springfield newspaper written by a media specialist for the Conservation Department in which he said a ‘torch on a pole’ procedure which I had written about shouldn’t be done because it might damage trees.  That, simply put, is a bunch of baloney!  I have killed webworms like that for 30 years and there is never ever any damage to trees, not even temporary damage.  The media specialist there in the city, far from the natural world, lacks quite a bit when writing about the natural world he has never lived in.  His recommendation was pesticides of course, malathion and sevin, which will leave the web and all it’s ugliness intact, while it kills the worms and perhaps some birds which come along and eat the poisoned worms.  Ignore all that, and use the long pole and torch.  You will never harm a tree that way.

         Tent caterpillars, as most of us country folks call them are worse on hickories and persimmon trees.  I have seen persimmon trees just enshrouded with the awful things, but first frost will solve the problem, and I have heard that the worms won’t kill a healthy tree.  They might do harm if they are thick for two or three years on the same trees, but I have never seen a tree which was damaged much on a long term basis.  This time of year, stripping leaves from the tree by eating them, they pass them through their bodies to drop a large number of little brown balls of digested leaves. The problem here is, I have some walkways and decks and a concrete pad outside my basement that I don’t want those brown droppings on. To eliminate that, take my advice; ignore the media specialist and use the burning paper at the end of a long pole, held just under the web for a second or two. Wear earplugs so you can’t hear the little fellers scream!!! Do this for the trees around your home and don’t worry about the ones out in the woods or fields.  A little ugliness in the woods and fields in August and September is tolerable.
         There are so many hickories around my little cabin on Lightnin’ Ridge that I have a problem with squirrels.  I can’t take a nap on my hammock for the sound of squirrels chewing on hickory nuts.  As a boy I loved to hear that… squirrels gnawing on the hulls of green hickory nuts quite often made them easier to find in the late summer woods, and therefore easier to skin and cut up for a pot of dumplings.
         I brought home so many squirrel tails you could have used them to insulate the chicken house.  We have so many squirrels around this area that we just might see a squirrel migration next spring.  That use to happen in the Ozarks every few years, and it was something to see, hundreds of squirrels, both the grays and reds (fox squirrels), moving en masse through the woods in one direction.  In the 1980’ I saw a tremendous number of squirrels swimming across Bull Shoals Lake in the Tucker Hollow area, and dozens of them drowned trying to get to the southern back.  A migration of that sort usually is not a long one; perhaps the squirrels will move ten or fifteen miles or so, but not much farther.

         As for me, if I was young, I would be migrating too, north into the western part of Canada, up there to sparsely populated northern Manitoba where the geese and ducks move through by the millions in  early fall and moose and timber wolves still roam the bush with all kinds of animals we’ve never seen here. The heralded diversity that will become the decline of our country (and I am talking about armadillos, zebra mussels and ash borers here) will never be found in northern Canada.  Harsh winters and hard work will never attract an armadillo!

         Those farmers up there are from Northern Europe, so much like the Ozark folks I knew as a boy…great common sense people.  They talk a lot different, but I have been practicing ending my sentences with ‘aye’, like they do.  I should have it down pat when I head up there in late September to hunt geese and ducks.  I can’t wait.  There ain’t a spider web in the whole province!

         Want to get a copy of my magazines, the Ozark Journal or the Outdoor Journal. Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613, or email me at Or call my office at 417 775227.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019


         My daughter Christy is a high school science and biology teacher who has worked in past years as a paid summer naturalist for the state park system.  She spends hours and hours in the outdoors, on rivers and trails throughout the Ozarks of southern Missouri and north Arkansas.

          When you spend that much time exploring, you come across some amazing things, and a month or so ago she found a copperhead like none I have ever seen.  Instead of the copper-colored hour-glass pattern down it’s back it has wavy dark brown lines.  

         Last year I wrote about a neighbor of mine who captured a copperhead in his garage and put it in an aquarium to show his 13-year-old daughter.  She went to school and told her teacher, who passed it on to a local woman conservation agent who spends weeks working as a substitute teacher while being paid as a MDC agent at the same time.

         After school she went to my neighbor’s home, entered his garage with no warrant and took the snake and the aquarium and gives him a $180 fine.  Almost a year later, he cannot get the 100-dollar aquarium back.  He thinks it may have been sold by the agent, as similar things have happened here in the past.

         Less than a mile from him as the crow flies, I kill every copperhead I find on my place.  I do that because folks visit Lightnin’ Ridge on occasion and walk my trails, and I have a Labrador I am quite fond of and I don’t want him or any hiker to be bitten.          
His intentions were better than mine would have been, as he intended to take the copperhead to the river and turn it loose after he showed it to his daughter so she would know how to recognize one.

         As for me, only copperheads and black snakes are in danger here on Lightnin' Ridge.  King snakes, hognose snakes and others are safe, even if they get in my basement. But in 25 years here on Lightnin’ Ridge I have slaughtered about 50 or so nice friendly copperheads.

         A few years ago the Missouri Department of Conservation herpetologist put out a little color pamphlet showing a close up of a copperhead and above it in large print was  “they seldom bite, they never kill.”  I couldn’t believe it!!!  As a naturalist for the National Park Service back in my twenties, I had made it a point to go out and talk to old-timers about the history of the region and I had been told of families losing children and loved ones to copperhead bites.

         I would bet that in the Ozarks of the twenties and thirties, the loss of feet and the loss of life from copperhead bites were considerable. In my interviews with old Ozarkians from that era, I was told that.  But that was in a day when there were no clinics close by.  All you had was coal oil and dead chicken meat to treat a bite. My uncle, bitten at five years of age, nearly died from a copperhead bite, unconscious for a whole night and day.  He says he lived because my grandfather incised the tooth marks and sucked out a half a cup of blood and venom within a few minutes of the time he was bitten.

         I think that MDC brochure may have cost a man his life soon after it was spread throughout park offices and visitor centers.  He was at Sam A. Baker State Park when he found a copperhead in his tent, picked it up and was bitten when he threw it out, because he didn’’t want to kill it.  A day later, disdaining a trip to see a doctor because he believed, 'they never kill', as the brochure proclaimed, he died.

         While for many years the MDC experts stated that no one in Missouri has ever died from a copperhead bite, that has all gone out the window now.  Their latest claim is that only 3 people have ever died from a copperhead bite.

         Common sense should tell you that in the wild there are no “nevers” and “always”.  Every dealing with any wild creature has an unpredictable outcome. The reason few people today are in danger as people were a hundred years ago is the anti-venin to be had at hospitals seldom more than an hour away.  But they once called venom ‘poison’.  It still is!!!

         As to the aggressiveness of a copperhead, it just depends on the individual snake, the time of year (all poisonous snakes are most dangerous during the molting of their skin) whether they have full venom glands, (after striking a mouse or chipmunk and eating it, the venom may take a while to build up again) whether it is 90 degrees or 70 degrees, and other factors such as the place and season.

          Back when I was in my early twenties I was leading a group of hikers on a Buffalo River trail when I put my foot down a good fifteen to twenty inches from a copperhead and he struck my boot.  Yes, he was aggressive and shortly thereafter he was dead.  Thank God I was out in front looking for him.  Behind me were families not wearing the thick leather boots that I had on.

          Remember that, August and September are the molting months and poison snakes are indeed more dangerous then, perhaps because molting affects their vision. In September they are often found at night on concrete, pavement or rock surfaces.  They seek the heat as the night cools that those surfaces absorb and hold during the day.

          If you let copperheads survive around places where kids or pets or people are found often, I think you lack common sense. And if there are some of you amateur naturalists or even a few book-trained herpetologists out there who want to call me and tell me I don’t know what I am talking about, just give me the address where you live and I will bring you a couple of copperheads this fall for your lawn.

You may reach me at 417 777 5227 or email  The mailing address is Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613