How the Bridlespur Hunt Club’s land management efforts earned them the 2022 MFHA Foundation’s Hunting Habitat Conservation Award.
Photo: Bridlespur Hunt Club has worked tirelessly to protect their beloved hunt country through a variety of conservation efforts over the years. Becky Bowling Photography.
By Josh Walker
The Masters of Foxhounds Foundation awarded this year’s Hunting Habitat Conservation Award, which is given annually to a hunt that has made significant and enduring contributions toward the preservation of habitat and biodiversity of their flora and fauna, to the Bridlespur Hunt Club in Eolia, Missouri.
“Winning this award is perhaps one of the high points of my life,” remarked Michael Murphy, director of conservation at the club. “It embodies and encourages the best of our modern conservationist fox hunters.”
For Murphy, modern foxhunting is more about land conservation than it has ever been, especially for Bridlespur where urban sprawl has already displaced the club twice. Now they work closely with the Missouri Department of Conservation, Great Rivers Land Trust and neighbors to make sure the land they’re on now doesn’t slip away.
Because of these relationships they’ve formed, the club has been amazed at the programs available to them. “From fescue eradication, controlled burn seminars and game bird restoration to actual funding for property purchase, these groups have been incredible partners,” explained Mary Hensel, Joint Master of Bridlespur Hunt Club. “We have put presentations together for members and hosted Missouri Conservation Agents at our clubhouse for meetings and deer hunting.
Bridlespur also has 1,400 acres under easements, explained Daphne Wood, MFH, who, along with her husband, C. Martin Wood III, MFH, is the award’s benefactor through their American Farmland Trust and provides $5,000 to the winning club each year. “But they seem to have gone above and beyond the requirements of their easement.”
What easements require can be complicated. But in his role, Murphy has ushered in dozens of land management programs during his 14-year tenure at Bridlespur, all aimed at optimizing the restoration of the habitat and supporting the area’s natural wildlife. That much is the responsibility of modern fox hunting, he believes. Still, it’s not for the purpose of good sport; it’s also to give back to the community.
Photo by Marcia Pohousky.
Beyond land management, lasting conservation in regions affected by urban sprawl requires building the right relationships with the right people and sometimes enduring the drudgery of meetings and paperwork to create lasting change. “Several years ago, development forced Bridlespur Hunt Club out of our home after five decades,” said Hensel. “We worked hard to not let this happen again.”
“Our visit to the [state] capital and meeting with the Director of the Missouri Department of Conservation was transformative,” said Murphy, who gained his expert knowledge of governmental inner workings through years of working to raise money for the Sierra Club. “We all thought money was our highest priority. Conservation for many clubs is older generations’ accumulation of land. Yes, we do that, but by the end of that meeting, we realized that knowledge of the science of modern conservation and habitat restoration was our greatest need.
“We also have an inventory of all our trees, soil types, ecosystems, as well as specific tools, especially prescribed burns, to reset the biological clock against foreign species of flora, fescue, and debris,” Murphy went on.
“Bridlespur is doing selective timber harvesting, planning timber in places that are appropriate, doing habitat management and enhancement,” Wood added, “and then once a year, and this really caught my fancy, they have a mounted mushroom hunt where you get on horseback and ride around and look for mushrooms. I thought that was pretty cool.”
The club has developed a corridor within the Cuivre River Watershed that will be a safe habitat for wildlife, as well as protected from urban sprawl. Part of the club’s mission is to be an asset to their greater neighborhood beyond the fox hunting community. “We opened up the most scenic half of our club to hiking and such in our Missouri Recreational Access Program,” said Murphy. “The Senior Biology class at Mark Twain High School has been coming to our geologic Natural Bridge each spring for years.”
“It’s not just about the hunt,” Wood said. “It’s about the land and sharing it with the community. It’s about educating the public. If we can’t preserve open land, well—no land, no future.”
“We are lucky to have a national association that values the same initiatives that we do,” said Hensel. “The MFHA has a long history of recognizing efforts that lie outside of hunting. This award shows other clubs there are many tools in your conservation arsenal and you do not need to do this all on your own. We have incredible partnerships with land trusts and other conservation-minded organizations.”
“To be given the chance to give the land back to itself and its true nature—how rare is that?” Murphy exclaimed. “Our award money has been applied to buying a nice piece of land adjacent to our club.”
To learn more about the Hunting Habitat Conservation Award and to view past winners, visit the MFHA website.