ROCHEPORT — Building a habitat in the Missouri River isn’t easy.
In a presentation Tuesday night at Les Bourgeois Winery in Rocheport, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Andy Starostka gave a history of habitat projects along the river and described what the future of the river might look like.
“A lot of the work is new, cutting edge and a lot of it we’re learning as we go,” Starostka said.
River chutes, slower-moving side channels cut through the main river, like the ones at Jameson Island and Overton Bottoms. They are designed to provide wildlife habitats similar to what was common before large-scale projects to make the river more navigable changed the Missouri River, said Steve Schnarr, lower reach manager at Missouri River Relief.
“The Missouri River has been altered by humankind a lot in the past century,” he said.
Although the habitat they are trying to recreate may be old, the Fish and Wildlife Service and Army Corps of Engineers are using new methods to bring it back, Starostka said.
“These chutes haven’t been out there very long, so they’re still in sort of a developmental stage,” he said.
The Fish and Wildlife Service focuses on creating a diverse habitat to bring back the fish that lived in the early Missouri River, like the endangered Pallid sturgeon, he said.
"What we're trying to do with chutes is to return the river to some semblance of its original condition," Starostka said.
The talk, which is the first in what Missouri River Relief is calling the “Big Muddy Session” speaker series, was held to inform the public about what is often a very controversial issue, Starostka said.
“If they can understand why things are being done, they’ll be a little more receptive on what we’re trying to do and what the corps are up to,” Starostka said.
People who live near the Missouri River are often detached from the mechanics of the river itself, Schnarr said.
“It’s easy to be totally disconnected from that,” he said. “Most people don’t spend any time on the river, so they don’t really know much about it.”
Fred Oerly, a Boonville resident for 63 years, said he enjoys attending the talks and learning more about the river he grew up on.
"I was born and raised on the Missouri River, and I come out to these things whenever I can," Oerly said. "It's like a history lesson to me."
Schnarr said that this series would be similar to smaller talks Missouri River Relief put on in the past, but with a larger venue and bigger crowd.
“The smaller sessions were excellent,” he said. “People really enjoyed them. We were, at the time, trying to raise awareness of the Overton Bottoms unit. That’s where we held them. When we did it in bigger venues, they would get filled.”
Starostka said he understands why people would be interested in the subject of river management, even though many of them may not interact with it in their daily lives.
“From a very general standpoint, it’s their dollars that are being spent on those projects,” Starostka said. “These are taxpayer dollars.”
Education is the best way for Missourians to understand the impact of those tax dollars, Starostka said.
“I’m just out there to show people what we’re doing," he said. "Hopefully they can understand the usefulness and importance of what we do.”