Missouri Environment

Kyle Spradley / MU College of Agriculture

This time of year, trees tend to attract more attention than usual. As the hours of sunlight shorten and temperatures fall, chemical changes in leaves bring out the bright yellows and reds across the canopies of Missouri’s many forests.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that spectacle and those forests, are timeless. But the woods as we know them today are a relatively modern development and Missouri’s historical woodlands looked considerably different. Understanding that history can help conservationists better manage our modern forests to encourage diversity and benefit wildlife.

Sebastian Martinez / KBIA

On an overcast Saturday morning, the weekend after Halloween a group of some 30 people gathered at one of St. Louis’s oldest cemeteries. Bellefontaine Cemetery is the final resting place of historical Missourians like William Clark and William S. Borroughs, but on this day the tour group was there to learn about how Bellefontaine is keeping up to date with green burials.

The group was led by Dan Fuller, the volunteer coordinator and guide for the cemetery. "A contemporary burial produces this kind of a carbon footprint," he said, lifting his hand high to show the environmental impact of a typical modern burial. "An outer container, a metal coffin, an embalmed body, 6-foot deep with a headstone," all add to that footprint, he explained.

Dana L. Drake

Fall is a season we typically associate with changing leaves, cooling temperatures, and the natural world beginning to quiet down before the long, dormant winter months. But for some animals, the season brings new life, rather than death. 

And if you’re out in the woods this month, perhaps hunting mushrooms after an autumn rain, you might just run into one. The creatures I’m referring to are Missouri’s fall-breeding salamanders: the ringed salamander and the marbled salamander.

Bruce Schuette / Missouri Prairie Foundation

It’s just before dawn in Southwest Missouri, and the outermost rays of the sun are just starting to reach across a dazzling array of wildflowers carpeting the shallow valley that runs along County Road 2120 near Mount Vernon. Crickets and cicadas are in full voice, interrupted only by the piercing call of dickcissels who nest in the thickets of sumac that dot the grassland.

Sebastian Martinez valdivia / KBIA

As Missouri enters the fall, one last wave of wildflowers are blooming now, before the winter frosts start. Throughout the state, asters, goldenrods, and other late-bloomers paint Missouri’s varied woodlands, prairies, meadows and glades in shades of yellow, pink, purple and white. But hidden among the tall grasses and undergrowth this time of year you can sometimes find something rarer – native orchids. People often associate orchids with tropical areas, but Missouri is home to more than 30 species of orchids, and while their flowers are typically pretty showy, a lot of the crucial action with orchids happens underground.


Sebastian Martinez Valdivia / KBIA

Late summer and early fall might not seem like a very tropical time in Missouri, but it is the best season to find one of the last remaining pieces of the state’s tropical past. I’m talking about the largest edible native fruit in North America – the elusive paw paw. Despite the fruit’s uniquely exotic flavor, and the fact that it grows throughout the Midwest, you won’t find the paw paw in most groceries, which means if you want to taste it, you have to set off into the woods, which is exactly what I did on a recent afternoon.


Sebastián Martinez / KBIA

Spring is wildflower season in mid-Missouri’s many woodlands. Already, dozens of species have bloomed and are going to seed, but there’s still time to catch some of the show, if you know where to look. If you don't, then you need Randal Clark, who has been guiding people through Missouri's spring wildflowers for close to 40 years. 

On a recent Thursday evening at the Devil's Icebox parking lot at Rock Bridge State Park, Clark was getting ready to do exactly that.


Sebastián Martinez / KBIA

After a historically hot and dry winter here in Missouri, spring rains have hit the state in a big way. With more rain forecast for the coming week, concerns over the winter drought could soon be supplanted by concerns about flooding. One critical piece of Missouri’s environment that helps guard against rising waters is the state’s wetlands – flood plains and wet prairies that can absorb excesses from rivers. But wetlands are also critical habitat for a wide variety of wildlife, something scores of kids learned on a recent Saturday in Saint Charles. 

On a sunny spring afternoon at the August A. Busch Memorial Conservation Area, about a dozen children gathered around a pond, probing the waters with long-handled nets. After emptying their nets into shallow plastic trays, they walked over to a nearby table, where volunteer Melanie Sanford helped them identify their findings.


Keith Yahl / Flickr

With the official start of spring just a week away, more and more wildlife is emerging from the thawing winter undergrowth. If you’re listening from a rural area, you’ve likely already heard an increase in morning bird song, for example. But even in urban areas, where habitat is harder to come by, entire ecosystems can survive, if given the right space.

Stretching across almost 1,400 acres in St. Louis, Forest Park is one of the biggest urban parks in the country. While its most famous inhabitants are the number of exotic animals that live in the St. Louis Zoo, the park is also home to countless native species, including a great-horned owl named Charles.


Sebastián Martinez / KBIA

The White House has made it clear that one of the Trump administration’s priorities is deregulation. So far that has translated into executive orders, including one that requires agencies to get rid of two existing regulations for every new regulation proposed. Now, Missouri has joined a list of states aiming for a rollback. And that means a potential shake up for endangered species in the state. 

Sebastián Martinez / KBIA

Two weeks into the Trump administration, several cabinet-level positions remain open, including the Secretary of the Interior, who is responsible for federal lands in Missouri and other states. The issue of federal lands has become increasingly controversial, and some Missouri lawmakers have even called for Washington to give up control of National Parks Service land. Despite this uncertainty, life goes on for many of those in charge of managing federal land in the state.

Sebastián Martinez / KBIA

As the winter moves in, several species of ducks are making their way into and through Missouri, en-route to their overwintering grounds. While this time of year is a boon to duck-hunters, recent research suggests ducks moving through might soon be an ominous sight for farmers.

Sebastián Martinez / KBIA

On a recent Friday morning, a group of about 20 Nature Conservancy Trustees, visitors and staff have gathered for a tour of the conservancy’s Dunn Ranch Prairie. The Nature Conservancy is an international non-profit focused on conservation, and its Missouri director Adam McLane is on hand for the day’s tour.  

The prairie covers more than 3,000 acres and is host to a dizzying variety of native insects and birds, but on this morning, the tour group gathered to see its most imposing inhabitants: bison.

Sebastián Martinez / KBIA

Every year on the second weekend of October, birders and bird-watchers across the country demarcate a 17-foot wide circle, set up shop within it, and bird watch from dawn to dusk. Countless chapters of the National Audubon Society organize the event, appropriately titled the Big Sit. Birders chat, knit and even barbecue during the event, all while keeping a count of all the different birds they see.

Sebastian Martinez / KBIA

Hinkson Creek, which runs through Columbia, might not seem like an ideal destination for anglers. While it carries some standard game fish like bass and blue gill, you’re not likely to find any record catches.

But on a recent late-Summer day, Michael Moore was after fish on the opposite end of the spectrum.

A doctoral student in fisheries conservation at the University of Missouri, Moore was turning over rocks in the creek, looking for tiny aquatic bugs to use for bait.

Sebastian Martinez / KBIA

Native plants are having a a boom year, thanks in large part to a butterfly.

The sharp decline in monarch butterfly numbers in the winter of 2014 led to headlines about the destruction of their habitat in the U.S.

It sparked a national movement to plant milkweeds: the family of plants monarchs rely on to lay their eggs and feed upon as caterpillars. 

Sebastian Martinez / KBIA

The greater prairie chicken is one of Missouri’s rarest birds. There are actually fewer than 300 left in the state. So the opportunity to see one is coveted by nature lovers. Even when it means getting up before dawn on a Saturday, and making the trip down to Wah’Kon Tah prairie, which many of the remaining chickens call home.

A group of about forty people did just that, turning up to the Missouri Department of Conservation’s El Dorado Springs office for one of a handful of greater prairie chicken viewings the department has organized this spring. After a brief orientation, the attendees hopped onto two buses, one lead by wildlife biologist Matt Hill and the other by Max Alleger, the department’s grassland coordinator.


Sebastian Martinez / KBIA

Fire plays an important role in many Midwestern ecosystems, but when it burns out of control it can also be devastating, as the wildfires in Oklahoma and Kansas have demonstrated. This time of year, when a lot of summer grasses and brush are still dead but the weather is warming up, the land is particularly flammable. That’s why agencies like the Missouri Department of Conservation take meticulous care in planning prescribed fire.


Sebastian Martinez / KBIA

  The Eleven Point River flows for more than 100 miles through Oregon County, and right through the heart of the almost 4,200 acres the Department of Natural Resources recently bought to create a new state park. The river starts just north of the small town of Thomasville: home to the Eleven Point Cafe.

Like a lot of people in the county, the cafe's owner Jamie Warren is conflicted about the new park. "I think it could bring in a lot of tourists and it could help the economy, but it’s going to take a fight," Warren said. "I’m like most of the locals: we hate change."


Charlie Llewellin / CC BY SA 2.0 / Flickr

4,167 acres of land in Oregon County are at the heart of a dispute between state legislators and state agencies, supported by a slough of environmentalists.

That land, part of the former Pigman Ranch, is the subject of a proposal the Missouri Department of Natural Resources put forward last year to create a new state park.

Sebastian Martinez / KBIA

A crucial part of the effort to mitigate climate change is finding alternatives to fossil fuels.

A recent conference at the University of Missouri in Columbia focused on one of the most controversial of those: nuclear power.


Sebastian Martinez / KBIA

On a cold but clear Saturday evening, with the sun dipping towards the horizon, a group of 20 or so bird watchers assembled at Wah Sha She Prairie, about half an hour north of Joplin. They braved the cold, hoping to see the migratory short-eared owl.