Odd Ducks

The fight to preserve St. Charles County floodplains makes for some strange bedfellows

The ducks appear minutes before sunset.

A half-hour ago, there was only the odd duck -- a mallard here, a widgeon there. Flying high and out of range, they had ignored decoys and calls here on the outskirts of O'Fallon, Missouri. Judging by the paucity of shotgun blasts on surrounding land, hunters elsewhere didn't have much luck either.

Now that the hunting has ended -- shooting must stop 30 minutes before the sun goes down -- ducks are everywhere, countless black dots stretching as far as the eye can see against a red-and-purple sky. They have come from nowhere, as if answering a casting call from Alfred Hitchcock. Wheeling in flight, birds by the hundreds drop into flooded cornfields, where they will gorge and rest before continuing their journey south.

"See that?" says Glennon Jamboretz, owner of these fields. "They're landing right where we were."

A half-dozen mallards join decoys placed in a baseball-diamond-size pond less than a pitcher's throw from a blind built into a levee. Jamboretz and his hunting companion, Wayne Freeman, knew that this would probably happen. The weather is just too darn nice, in the mid-50s with not a cloud in the sky. Ducks like to travel at night, especially in conditions like this. "You get colder weather, they get antsy," says Freeman, executive director of the Great Rivers Habitat Alliance. "They have to eat -- they need those carbohydrates."

All Jamboretz and Freeman can do is watch. They've seen this many times before, but the sight of so many ducks flying so close is mesmerizing. They can't keep their eyes off the sky. "It's a wonderful sight," Freeman says. "I wish they would have come in twenty minutes earlier."

The day isn't a total loss. In the space of two hours, Freeman and Jamboretz have seen marsh hawks circling in search of prey. Killdeer have flown past their blind so close you can identify them by the shapes of their beaks. They have watched a flock of red-winged blackbirds, hundreds of them, rise as one a stone's throw away. Hidden by cornstalks, they had been invisible.

You need connections to see this. Like his neighbors, Jamboretz has posted his 86 acres with "No Trespassing" signs. If you can find a willing landowner, permission to hunt on such a place for one 60-day season can cost $6,000. Although Jamboretz calls his land Mallard Farm, this is a duck club. Jamboretz and owners of other nearby duck clubs let someone else plant, harvest and sell the crops. Their return is perhaps the best hunting land in the state -- and they want to keep it that way.

Alarmed by encroaching development, Jamboretz and other duck-club owners, who include some of the region's richest and most prominent residents, have formed the Great Rivers Habitat Alliance. They're against raising levees. They're asking landowners to either donate land or put property in trust to protect it from development. They warn of catastrophe if development continues on land that was under water nine years ago. They're asking for millions of public dollars, but what's good for ducks, they insist, is good for taxpayers.

In some ways, this is nothing new. Rich folks have long been a cornerstone of conservation in the United States. A dozen years before Theodore Roosevelt created the first national wildlife refuge in 1903, Benjamin Harrison, who was a lawyer before he became president, established the nation's first national forest in Wyoming.

Leaders of the Great Rivers Habitat Alliance see themselves as saviors of the floodplain, but for all their money, they know they can't save the earth by themselves. And so they're enlisting the support of environmental groups that had barely heard of these guys two years ago.

In short, the alliance wants to change the face of St. Charles County by creating the state's largest national wildlife refuge area -- and they may just have the juice to make it happen.

Just two years old, the Great Rivers Habitat Alliance is hardly a fledgling organization.

Board members include Jamboretz, who owns an advertising agency -- his daughter, Kathryn, anchors the nightly news on KPLR-TV (Channel 11). The biggest name is Adolphus Busch IV, heir to a beer fortune. His family is known for its commitment to conservation -- witness the August A. Busch Memorial Conservation Area near Weldon Spring, purchased by the state in 1947 with a $70,000 donation from the widow of the late brewery baron.

But some alliance leaders seem out of place in an environmental group.

Garth Fort, for example, is a former executive at Monsanto and its spin-off company Solutia. While at Monsanto, Fort was chairman of the Chemical Manufacturers Association's State Affairs Committee, which tracked and fought legislation deemed hostile to the interests of such companies as Dow Chemical, Du Pont and Exxon.

Don Musick III, a developer who's made a fortune putting up shopping centers and office buildings, acknowledges that he's not your typical environmentalist. He's building a $180 million office-and-retail complex at the intersection of Hanley and Eager roads.

Musick confesses past sins, admitting that he's built in Earth City and other areas on floodplains -- sometimes as a contractor, sometimes as lead developer. The last time was about ten years ago, he says, and it won't happen again.

"I'm not going to do that anymore," he says. "I think it's irresponsible. I now understand what can happen ... in even some of the best-protected floodplain areas of St. Louis County and St. Charles County. I think it's reckless. I'm not just stopping my own development, I'm stopping my construction company and my painting company from getting any business out in those areas."

Musick owns about 330 acres of the St. Charles County floodplain with several partners, including Adolphus Busch IV, a friend and occasional business partner in such ventures as MetaPhore Pharmaceuticals, an Overland-based drug company.

All told, duck clubs consume about 25,000 acres of St. Charles County floodplain, nearly half of the proposed wildlife refuge. Musick can't recall what he paid when he bought into his first club back in 1985 -- he guesses something less than $1,000 per acre. Now, an acre in the same area goes for between $3,000 and $4,000, even though it's prone to flooding.

Land elsewhere in the floodplain is worth much more.

Thanks to the completion of Highway 370 in 1996, development near the duck clubs has skyrocketed. Municipalities in the state's fastest-growing county see dollar signs.

St. Peters has been the most ambitious. By an overwhelming margin, city voters two years ago approved a $35 million bond issue to purchase 1,600 acres and build a levee to protect it from the Mississippi River, which inundated the property nine years ago. Exactly what will be built once the levee goes up hasn't been decided. Mayor Tom Brown, who did not return phone calls, has talked about everything from warehouses to office buildings to, at one point earlier this year, a new stadium for the St. Louis Cardinals.

In the city of St. Charles, economic-development director Nadine Boon raves about the Fountain Lakes Commerce Center, a 472-acre business park, and Elm Point Business Park, which is nearly 300 acres. Land has been elevated by as much as eight feet through a plan of scooping out artificial lakes and dumping the dirt onto the floodplain. Since 1995, the business parks have attracted such companies as Coca-Cola, Atlas Van Lines and Cardinal Health Care.

In Fountain Lakes alone, more than two million square feet of construction has absorbed 130 acres since the 1993 flood. At full build-out, Fountain Lakes will provide 4,000 jobs, Boon predicts, and bring $300 million in private investment into the city.

It's all perfectly safe, Boon insists, even though the sites were flooded nine years ago. Property in Elm Point has been elevated above the 100-year-flood level -- the threshold for development as established by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers -- and Fountain Lakes is set above the 500-year-flood level. Even a big flood like the one in 1993 isn't a concern. "It would be high and dry," she says.

Elm Point and Fountain Lakes could be full in five years, and when that happens, the city would likely gobble up adjacent floodplain. Aside from a few isolated parcels of twenty-or-so acres, there aren't any other vacant spots. "The 370 corridor is St. Charles' only space for business parks of any size," Boon says.

But Boon may never see the corridor developed.

Adolphus Busch IV and his buddies didn't do anything when malls sprang up in St. Louis County on land that was a lake in 1993. They didn't make a peep when Highway 370 was built, bringing easy access to undeveloped floodplains in the state's fastest-growing county.

Now, they warn of dire consequences if another flood comes.

"When they put 370 in, we thought, 'Well, they're putting a road there -- it's not a levee,'" Busch says. "What really set us off was the development off of 370. This one hit home. You know so many people who own so much land there."

This leaves the alliance open to charges of self-interest.

In a St. Louis Post-Dispatch story, Mayor Brown of St. Peters has dismissed the group as a bunch of crazy duck hunters from Ladue who want to protect their land at the expense of economic development. Musick acknowledges that the alliance began as a case of NIMBYism but says that it shouldn't be held against him or other members.

"Our knowledge of the problem came as a result of the fact that we're all duck hunters and we own property out there -- there isn't any way around that," Musick says. "This is a lot bigger than that now. This isn't about our duck clubs. We could all get together and buy up property just around the duck clubs and protect ourselves and save ourselves a hell of a lot of effort, time, money and worry.

"It's about the entire floodplain that stretches all around the St. Louis metropolitan area."

Boon, the St. Charles economic-development official, isn't impressed by such save-the-world statements.

"They are very passionate and very evangelistic," she says. "I haven't really pursued them, and they haven't pursued me. They've condemned me -- they've condemned what we've done, so I don't pursue talking to them. They're going to say a whole bunch of emotional things."

But politicians are starting to listen.

In the waning moments of this year's legislative session, state lawmakers passed a bill banning tax-increment financing on floodplains in St. Charles County as of June 30, 2003, effectively limiting commercial development to existing TIF districts. The Great Rivers Habitat Alliance and the Missouri Coalition for the Environment claim credit for helping pass the bill.

"The Great Rivers Habitat Alliance played a major role in it," says Ted Heisel, senior law and policy coordinator for the coalition. "It was kind of tag-team. I'd say 90 percent of the issues we deal with, we tend to see very wealthy and powerful people lined up against us. I think it's a very welcome addition to our side that we have people like that interested in our issues. We've seen those kinds of people do have some sway over legislators and policymakers and even some regulatory agencies."

With one paid lobbyist, the Great Rivers Habitat Alliance flew under Jefferson City's radar screens.

"Great Rivers Habitat Alliance" doesn't ring a bell with Gary Markinson, executive director of the Missouri Municipal League. But he suspected something was up when the TIF ban kept popping up on various bills.

"I knew there was some clout behind this because they were sticking this amendment on bills up and down the line," recalls Markinson, who was tracking a bill about fire districts that ended up being the Christmas tree on which the TIF ban was hung. "I'd heard that this was done to protect some property that the Busch family owned."

The Great Rivers Habitat Alliance got a big assist from Anheuser-Busch. With time running out in the session, brewery lobbyist John Britton recalls getting a call from Adolphus Busch. "The reason Anheuser-Busch was interested was primarily because ... I think Adolphus Busch is the guy who has a farm out there," says Britton, who isn't familiar with the alliance. "That [bill] looked like the only vehicle around that was amendable to take care of the floodplain problem near [Highway] 370. What we did was just the mechanical stuff and everything to make sure it got to the House with the amendment on."

Earl L. Schlef, a lobbyist for the city of St. Charles, says state Senator Chuck Gross (R-St. Charles) made sure the amendment got through the Senate. Gross, who did not return a call, reported receiving a $575 contribution -- the maximum allowed under state law -- from the brewery on July 15. As a nonprofit corporation, the alliance itself is prohibited from contributing to campaigns. The IRS also limits the amount nonprofits can spend on lobbying.

Seeking to overturn the new law, the city of St. Charles sued the state last month, claiming that the bill was passed minutes after a constitutionally mandated deadline of 6 p.m. The city also claims that lawmakers violated the Missouri Constitution by inserting the amendment into a bill that had nothing to do with floodplain development. The attorney general's office is defending the lawsuit. Musick says the alliance may file an amicus brief.

Other cities in St. Charles County either have available land that's not in the floodplain or, like St. Peters, have already established TIF districts that can sustain development for the foreseeable future. "Why is that restriction put on St. Charles in St. Charles County and not in St. Louis County and not in the city of St. Louis and not in any other place in the state of Missouri?" Boon asks. "Why not make it a level playing field? If we can't do it, nobody else should be able to."

If the alliance gets its way, Boon will get her wish.

"We don't want to single out anybody," Busch says. "We just want it to stop."

Nestled in the heart of Ladue, the Deer Creek Club is an exclusive place, a bastion for bluebloods who want a private place for wedding receptions, birthday parties and luncheons.

Tonight, cars pass by the club's unmarked driveway. One by one, they reach a wrought-iron gate that guards the end of Log Cabin Lane, a curious name for a street lined with so many mansions. This isn't it. And so drivers turn around, eventually finding their way to the club built in the manner of a hunting lodge, with polished stone floors and rough-hewn beams supporting the high wooden ceiling.

Once inside, guests who've been invited to the alliance's second annual meeting are handed name tags and asked whether they care for a drink. Some appear at ease, chatting as if in familiar surroundings. Others can barely contain their awe.

Some are clad in coats and ties, others in sweaters and Dockers. A few are dressed in camouflage hunting garb, baseball caps and boots. The guests include landowners, officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Missouri departments of Conservation and Natural Resources. Also present are representatives from private advocacy groups, including the Coalition for the Environment, the American Land Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited and Taxpayers for Common Sense.

They are here to talk about transforming St. Charles County, which is 45 minutes away when traffic is light.

Alliance board members raise their hands as they're introduced by Musick, who acts as emcee. Peter von Gontard, Huntleigh city attorney and a founder of the silk-stocking firm Sandberg, Phoenix & von Gontard, can trace ties with the Busch family back to 1895, when his great-grandfather Baron Paul von Gontard, once a director of the Mercedes Benz & Manser Corporation, met and later married Clara Busch, daughter of brewery founder Adolphus Busch. Charles Hager is an executive at Hager Hinge Company, a privately held hardware manufacturer that employs nearly 1,000 people and generated an estimated $150 million in revenue in 2000, according to the St. Louis Business Journal. He's worried about a plan to expand St. Charles County's Smartt Airfield, which he fears will put jets amid ducks on his land that lies in a direct line to the runway.

Not present is James Thomas Blair IV, grandson of former Missouri Governor James Blair, who held office from 1957-61. Blair is so keen on ducks that he proposed to his wife in a duck blind on opening day, hiring a plane to tow a banner asking her to marry him. Save for a stint on the state conservation commission, he eschews politics and earns his living as principal at the Moneta Group, a financial-planning firm.

Despite their pedigrees, alliance leaders consider themselves underdogs. Developers have the upper hand, Busch insists. "They can influence the politicians because they've got a ton of money," he says, without a trace of irony. "I thought we'd have a life span of two years and people would give up."

This cocktail party is as much a getting-acquainted session as anything else. For all their money, alliance board members know they can't accomplish their mission by themselves -- and so they are cultivating allies.

After a half-hour of munching hors d'oeuvres and mingling, the crowd turns its attention to Musick, who gives a brief tutorial on the alliance, its goals and its finances. In 2000, the alliance raised slightly more than $114,000, according to its tax returns. The alliance hasn't yet filed a return for 2001, but Musick says the group has raised about $500,000 since its inception, with the single largest chunk coming from the James and Aune Nelson Foundation, an Illinois conservation fund that has contributed at least $100,000. The audience applauds politely when Musick announces that Anheuser-Busch has also made a $25,000 donation. Someone boos when Musick announces that a representative is present from the Corps of Engineers, which issues permits to fill wetlands and sets 100-year-flood thresholds low enough to make development possible.

For months, the alliance has been talking quietly with environmental groups such as the National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. Tonight, they're going public with their grand vision: a national wildlife refuge that would put 55,000 acres of St. Charles County floodplain off-limits to development.

The proposed Confluence National Wildlife Refuge would be the state's tenth and one of the largest (the Big Muddy refuge, a scattering of parcels along the Missouri River stretching from Kansas City to St. Louis, is less than 10,000 acres, but U.S. Fish and Wildlife plans to expand the refuge to 60,000 acres).

It would also be the closest to an urban area.

And it will be hugely controversial.

The alliance wants to do more than freeze things as they are. By purchasing development rights or buying land outright, the alliance hopes to protect thousands of acres of farmland and property already zoned for commercial use. The fate of the duck clubs varies. In some cases, club owners would either donate or sell development rights. In others, the alliance's map shows that some clubs will continue as they always have, with preservation dependent on the noblesse oblige of landowners.

The map isn't set in stone. Musick says he and other alliance members will forfeit development rights, and he expects that other club owners will eventually do the same. Farther from the river, the game gets tougher. By surrounding commercially zoned land with refuge property, Musick hopes to cool the fires of development and persuade construction companies and municipalities to retreat. Although the alliance's written plan says all land and development rights will come from willing donors or sellers, Musick doesn't rule out the acquisition of property through eminent domain. "There's always a possibility," he says. "I can't rule anything out at this stage of the game on what might happen. I think that you're going to see an awful lot of push-back from a couple of municipalities. This doesn't have to be a war. It has that potential, I grant you."

So far, there isn't a war chest. The alliance has set a preliminary price tag of $150 million for land acquisition and another $45 million for habitat restoration, with $25 million coming from private sources. "That's a lot of capital, but compared to one flood, it's nothing," says Freeman. As far as he's concerned, taxpayers will save in the long run because they won't have to pay to rebuild homes and businesses that would otherwise spring up in the area.

Musick says the real cost isn't known. "I can't even begin to guess [what it will cost] at this stage of the game," he says. "I would expect it's going to be a multimillion-dollar effort under any circumstances." Ever the developer, he wants to move quickly. "I'd like to organize this thing and do it like any other development project, frankly," he says. "This isn't anything we're going to allow to drag on for ten years. It may take us a couple years to do it."

Establishing a national wildlife refuge requires an act of Congress, a presidential declaration or approval by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Some environmental groups are taking a wait-and-see approach.

"From a personal standpoint, I like the idea," says Len Meier, president of the Greenway Network, which promotes open-space and clean-water projects in St. Charles County, "but without the organization having actually seen the proposal, we can't say anything yet."

The alliance briefed the Greenway Network on its plans in October, but it was a broad-brush description. Now ten years old, the network has learned to compromise. Unlike alliance board members, Meier praises the Corps of Engineers for what he sees as a serious commitment to the environment. Although the Greenway Network doesn't like development in floodplains, it has worked with municipalities to ensure that business parks such as Fountain Lakes include open space and trails. "We're not absolutist, I guess you'd say," Meier says. "I doubt if we would be pushed into that position. Any time you take an absolutist position on anything, you alienate people that maybe you don't want to alienate."

The American Land Conservancy is interested but wants to know more. The conservancy is working with landowners and governments along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers to promote floodplain restoration and preserve habitat, but Jenny Frazier, the conservancy's Midwest-region project manager, says she's not sure that a national wildlife refuge is the answer in St. Charles County.

"We want to know more about costs," she says. "There's a lot of attractive things to the idea. There are obvious benefits to limiting development in areas that flood consistently and are costly in terms of disaster assistance."

The wildlife refuge will remain a dream unless someone comes up with a lot of cash. And Adolphus Busch certainly knows how to raise money.

Three years ago, he and Blair organized a fundraiser for Ducks Unlimited at Belleau Farms, where Busch lives, near St. Peters. The $1,000-per-plate dinner party and auction marked what would have been the 100th birthday of the late Gussie Busch. "They got with Ducks Unlimited and said, 'We would like to put on the largest fundraiser ever held by Ducks Unlimited,'" recalls Ollie Torgeson, special assistant to the director of the Missouri Department of Conservation.

They succeeded, raising $4.5 million in a single night (the previous record was held by cable-television mogul Ted Turner, who once raised $1.2 million). The brewery was instrumental. "I think August III [the brewery chairman] sent a note out to all his distributors around the country and suggested they send some money in," recalls Torgeson with a chuckle.

Johnny Rivers provided musical entertainment to 400 guests. The menu included grilled breast of duck braised in port wine with shiitake mushrooms, smoked boneless breast of pheasant finished with Michelob Honey Lager and portobello mushrooms and flame-broiled pork tenderloin accompanied by a light green-peppercorn demiglace. Auction items, many donated by alliance board members, included a vintage Shelby Mustang, a ten-day African hunting safari and a Chevy Tahoe that came with a boat and trailer. Jack Nicklaus threw in a golf outing at Augusta National. At $4,000, a ball and bat autographed by Mark McGwire was one of the least expensive items.

Most of the $4.5 million was shipped outside Missouri, although the state conservation department received enough to close a deal for a wetland near Kansas City that was named for Gussie. "Now, it sure looks like it would have been better spent over here," Busch says wistfully, "but you'd end up getting too much criticism for that."

The shindig did pay some dividends for the alliance, which formed the year after the fundraiser.

Ducks Unlimited could hardly say no when the alliance applied for a grant. It gave $25,000 to help pay for a flood-probability study now being touted as evidence that development on the floodplain is foolhardy. "Ducks Unlimited does not get involved in highly controversial issues, but in this case we supported the study to help them," says John Belz, senior director of development for Ducks Unlimited. A former St. Louisan who worked as an executive at Hager Hinge, Belz says his social and business connections with alliance members had nothing to do with the Ducks Unlimited contribution. "The Mississippi flyway handles about 60 percent of all migratory waterfowl on the North American continent," he says. "This is an incredibly important area they're dealing with."

The study by Dr. Nicholas Pinter, a Southern Illinois University geologist, shows that floods on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers have gotten worse during the past century, with dire consequences in St. Charles County and the city of St. Louis, which lies downstream from the confluence. It's a mix of factors, he says. The weather is getting wetter, land-use practices are sending more water into rivers and artificial jetties built by the Corps of Engineers to create a navigable channel in the Missouri are preventing water from moving downstream as quickly as in past years. Pinter, who has analyzed river-flow and flood-level data collected by the federal government since the Civil War, argues that the rivers rise higher today with the same amount of water than they did decades ago, and that's a result of the river's being restricted with levees and jetties. He blasts development in the floodplain.

"The incredible illogic and insanity of what's going on in St. Charles County is beyond my ability to comment right now," Pinter says.

Pinter's findings aren't new. As long ago as 1975, scientists at Washington University and St. Louis University have used the same methods to reach similar conclusions. But Pinter's study is a big arrow in the alliance's fight to discredit the Corps of Engineers, which uses computer models to establish flood probabilities much lower than those estimated by Pinter. "It still comes down to the Corps of Engineers," Busch says. "They have to set the precedent. The Corps can pretty much write it any way they want to make it look."

The Corps didn't take Pinter's work kindly. After Pinter published his findings in Eos, the journal of the American Geological Union, Corps scientists based in California wrote a rebuttal article. Pinter stuck to his guns, publishing a response to the Corps' rebuttal. Pinter calls it a "rough-and-tumble exchange."

"We think all of the criticisms leveled by the Corps are basically invalid, and we stand by all of our conclusions as originally stated," Pinter says. "We think that they have their blinders on."

The alliance hopes to build public support throughout the region, and Pinter's findings have implications beyond St. Charles County. He calculates that the 100-year-flood mark near the Arch, established at 47.1 feet in 1979, should be increased to nearly 51 feet. If he's right, the flood wall that protects downtown isn't sufficient. In contrast, he says, the Corps on October 10 released a preliminary mark of 45.8 feet during a meeting attended by river engineers engaged in an $8 million study of river flows and flood probabilities on the Mississippi.

"Not only do they not see a worsening since 1979, they think conditions have gotten better," Pinter says. "When the Corps releases those results and they say that there at St. Louis your 100-year-flood level is going to drop, that's not going to take. There's going to be a huge stink about that."

Citing budgetary and technical issues, the Corps has delayed releasing 100-year-flood marks at St. Louis and other places on the middle portion of the Mississippi River. David R. Busse, who heads the hydrology-and-hydraulics branch of the St. Louis district of the Corps, won't talk about preliminary results. Noting that the 100-year levees owned and maintained by the Corps broke nine years ago and that urban areas such as St. Louis remained dry, he insists that levees coupled with reservoirs built as far away as the Dakotas are working exactly as designed. "It's a yawner now," Busse says. "The system works." But he says his staff is revising its work on the flood-probability study.

"I found problems," he says. "They're working on things I found." No matter what Corps hydrologists in California might say, Busse says he's recently spoken with Pinter and agreed to talk again.

"We've done what Dr. Pinter has asked us to do: We've entered a dialogue," Busse says. "If he says it's 49 feet and we're saying 40, we ought to be talking. Educated people should not have that wide a disagreement."

One thing is certain, though: Busse isn't the type to take chances. He lives on a bluff.

"I don't want to spend the rest of my career being laughed at because I was flooded," he says. "If you live in the Midwest and you live in a floodplain, you're taking a risk you can get hit by a flood."

Elmer's Tavern in St. Peters looks like any other neighborhood beer parlor, save for the dozens of Anheuser-Busch posters, neon signs, clocks, calendars and assorted other doodads that hang from the walls and ceiling, stained brown from 98 years of tobacco smoke.

Unless you favor Coors Light or Miller Lite, neither of which is advertised, it's all A-B here. Regulars watch Monday Night Football and talk about whether Warner or Bulger should be starting for the Rams. In the parking lot, pickups and SUVs outnumber cars. The jukebox offerings are tried-and-true, with such reliables as "Son of a Sailor," "No Sugar Tonight" and "Folsom Prison Blues." Two deer heads and a couple of antique shotguns are mounted on the walls. At the end of the counter, near a sign reading "Old Hunter's Pub: Hunting Stories Told Here," a group of men swap tales about their exploits. One man claims to have downed 29 birds with a single shotgun blast.

This is where Adolphus Busch IV and other alliance members hang out. Busch isn't here tonight, although there's talk of a party at his nearby spread.

"In this particular tavern, those who don't have access [to hunting land] hang out with those who do," says Bob Yanics, who loves to hunt ducks but doesn't get the chance very often.

For the most part, Yanics has given up hunting ducks in Missouri. There are too many hunters for too few blinds on public land managed by the conservation department, and so shooters must draw lots. Even if you get a space, the blinds are too close together, Yanics says, and trigger-happy hunters are prone to scaring off flocks by shooting at birds 70 yards away. He prefers Arkansas, where you can still find farmers who'll let you hunt in exchange for a ham or turkey. But that's a six-hour drive.

No matter what promoters of the wildlife refuge might say, Yanics and his buddy Bob Stief think Busch and his pals are in this for themselves. So far as they're concerned, the refuge is an impossible dream. "Is Pestalozzi Street for sale?" Stief asks. He and Yanics don't see any way to halt bulldozers.

"They might be the king of beer, but you can't stop progress, and that's what they want to do: keep what they've got," Yanics says. "Are they going to give up all their stuff? No. They're going to be sitting right in the middle of a wildlife refuge.

"All of them who sit around here -- and there's too many of them -- they're going to keep their ground and keep everyone else away."

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