Ozark Hill Critters

by Joshua Heston

As time marches forward, it is common to lament the loss of the past. In the case of many species indigenous to the Ozarks, we are fortunate to see an opposing trend. Whereas in the “good old days” of a generation or two past, populations of wild animals (deer, red-tailed hawk, bald eagle, fox and rabbit) had all declined severely, largely in response to over hunting, today’s population of wild critters is flourishing.

Conservation laws and hunting management are mostly responsible though public consciousness — and appreviation for conservation and environmental issues — cannot be overestimated either.

The management of our wildlife populations is a touchy subject. Some would advocate a complete ban on hunting. Others a complete elimination of hunting laws and such government regulation. Management is complex. Deer populations in many Midwestern states — including Missouri — have exploded in recent years.

Whereas — a generation ago — many would have lamented the possibility of their grandchildren never seeing a whitetail deer, today we are more concerned with hitting a deer on the road! Respective states’ department of natural resources are routinely criticized by hunters and farmers for their re-population methods.

Otters, once nearly gone from Ozark waterways, are now so numerous they are devouring critical fish species. Cougars, an animal that exists on the top of the food chain if there ever was one, continue to show up throughout the Midwest, often savoring tender beef cattle, sheep and occasional pets over their natural food sources. Coyote packs in some areas also ravage livestock.

Northward-migrating armadillos burrow through suburban lawns across the Ozarks and the invasive wild hogs threaten pretty much everything in their path. Elk have been successfully repopulated in Arkansas’ Buffalo River Valley. Areas surrounding Missouri’s Current River have seen the introduction of elk as a result of decisions made by Missouri’s DNR.

The balance between wild and tame, urban and rural, are complex to say the least!