COLUMBIA — Missouri conservationists have new reason to celebrate this fall. The bald eagle, the barn owl and the western fox snake have all been removed from the state's endangered species list.
"There is no need for these species to be on the list any longer," said Peggy Horner, the endangered species coordinator for the Missouri Department of Conservation. "There's no threat against them."
The decision was voted on at a Missouri Conservation Commission meeting in September in Poplar Bluff, after an internal review by the Department of Conservation and an external review by other experts on the status of each species.
The barn owl, which inhabits open grasslands, prairies, marshes and agricultural areas in the Ozarks, has seen an increase in the number of nests reported by citizens and researchers from 11 between 1986 and 1992 to 90 by this year.
The bald eagle, a national symbol, has been a story of conservationist triumph. The number of bald eagles initially declined because of habitat loss caused by clearing forests, unregulated shooting and poisoning by the insecticide DDT. During the period from 1962 to 1981, Missouri did not have a single known successful bald eagle nest. But since DDT was banned in 1972 and eaglets were brought from states with large populations, the bald eagle has bounced back.
Now Missouri has more than 150 active bald eagle nests, with the number doubling every five years or so, according to the Department of Conservation.
The western fox snake, an inhabitant of wet prairies and marshes in northern Missouri, was listed as a precautionary measure in 1999. Its population had declined from habitat loss and possible illegal collecting, but it has now been found in 10 counties and the department determined that it was never common in the state.
"Sometimes you can put a species on a list because you just don't know much about them," said John George, a natural history biologist for the Department of Conservation. "It can be an avenue to learn more about it."
When species are included on the state's endangered species list, any collection is prohibited. The department can provide recommendations for avoiding harming the species during any construction or ground disturbance, but it does not have the ability to impose restrictions.
While a species is on a list of concern, people take note and they make the effort to report any sightings, George said. In some cases, there are species that will sit on the list for years without any reports, and the department realizes it needs to be moved up to a higher priority. Other times, there will be multiple reports, and eventually it will be seen that it doesn't need to be on the list. People think these lists should only be added to, but that's not the case.
"Having species on the list that aren't endangered dilutes the effect," Horner said.
Despite the change in status, the two birds are still under federal protection, and the western fox snake is protected from collection under a different state regulation.
The state's endangered species list still includes more than 60 plants and animals, although a new species has not been added since the Ozark hellbender, a foot-long salamander that is found in Ozark streams, was added about four years ago.
The measure will be effective after a 30-day comment period following publication in the state register.