Paes Ends 34 Years Of ‘Happy Trails’ With MDC

Wednesday, July 10, 2024
As he looks back over 34 years as a resource forester with the Missouri Department of Conservation, Steve Paes feels blessed to have been able to spend approximately 8,500 days doing what he loves. Above, Paes is pictured on a ski lift in Ketchum, Idaho at the Sun Valley Ski resort where he was task force leader on the ski group. “We were camped out on top of the mountain at the ski lodge to engage the portions of the fire threatening the resort and ski lifts,” he says.
Photo provided

As resource forester for the Missouri Department of Conservation Steve Paes looks back on 34 years of doing a job that has allowed him to be part of something grand...the great outdoors.

“In the simplest of terms, having a job which allows me to walk in the woods is a reward within itself,” he says.

In addition he has explored caves, canoed and snorkeled in Current River, and studied area wildlife, all of which he finds to be fulfilling.

During a June 24 reception held in his honor, Paes was honored with a plaque commemorating his retirement, as well as the “swinging sign” desk ornament which has been an MDC traditional parting gift long before his time, he says. Pictured with Paes as the presentation was made are (from left) James Tucker, resource management technician; Gary Smith, a fellow forester; Steven King, resource management crew leader and Greg Henze, a former forestry technician, who retired after 14 years.
Staff photo by Debra Tune

Paes, who grew up in St. Louis began his career in Arkansas. When the position in Ripley County came up five years later, he visited the area, and liked what he saw.

He promptly accepted the position. That was in March 1990.

While managing public lands, his career has also included some “uniquely memorable” experiences along the way.

Paes visits with friends as he enjoys a piece of cake. From left are Susan Farrington, Ozark Regional Natural History Biologist; Rhonda Rimer, Springfield Regional Natural History Biologist; and Cindy Bridges, a volunteer with the Oregon County Master Naturalist Program.
Staff photo by Debra Tune

He was part of the negotiation which led to the purchase of Fern Nook, some 400 acres which is located in the Little Black Conservation area.

“It took quite awhile, but the sellers kept the property off the market while they waited for the transaction to go through,” he remembers.

Paes actually chose the name, which was derived from a century-old community.

He participated in the nomination of three natural areas, in all.

He has been called on to assisted with numerous wildlife conservation efforts. Among the most memorable was the hellbender salamander survey. Hellbenders were becoming an endangered species, so they had to be captured, and babies harvested to be reintroduced into local streams.

Paes contribution to the project was to go out and look for the amphibians and also to take measurements.

“They are obviously slippery, so the biggest challenge was trying to hold them still,” he chuckles.

A dedicated birdwatcher, Paes assisted with a study, capture and the release of 100 or so brown-headed nuthatch.

“Personally, that was very satisfying,” he says.

He also has participated in the study of the local bear population, which is done during hibernation.

“We had to drug the mothers, just to make sure they didn’t wake up, while we placed tracking collars on them. We also had to keep the babies warm and make sure they didn’t run up a tree,” he says.

Conservationists warn the public never to try to hold a cub because of the risk of being attacked by an angry mother bear; however, in the line of duty (and with the mother’s safely unconscious), he was able to enjoy that rare opportunity.

Second to protecting and managing local forest lands, a big part of the job was firefighting.

Paes has fought approximately 796 wildfires over 1.25 million acres, which also includes around 200 controlled burns.

Although Paes is officially retiring, he admits that he can’t quit “cold turkey.” He still intends to help out as a consultant forester, do contract work and likely fight fires.

For relaxation in addition to birdwatching, he enjoys playing pickleball, canoeing and kayaking. He has on his bucket list to visit Yellowstone, and perhaps some other sights.

He will also enjoy more family time. He has two daughters, Laura Thornton and Jennifer Harding, and a son, Clint and seven grandchildren ranging in age one to (almost) 10 years: Kaden, Aaron, Adeline, Toliver, Blakelyn and twins Charlie and Zeb.

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