MDC Director Sara Parker Pauley announces retirement after decades-long career in public service

Parker Pauley will retire July 1 after a 30-year career in public service

By Joe Jerek, MDOC

MDC Director Sara Parker Pauley announced she will retire July 1 after a 30-year career in public service that began as a policy coordinator at MDC and ended as the first female director of the agency.

Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) Director Sara Parker Pauley announced she will retire July 1 after a 30-year career in public service that began as a policy coordinator at MDC and ended as the first female director of the agency when she took the position in November 2016. 

“The opportunity to serve as director of one of the top conservation agencies in the country over the last seven years -- and to work alongside an immensely talented team of staff, partners, and commissioners -- has been a life-changing experience for me,” said Pauley. “As a lifelong Missourian, conservationist, and hunter, I am beyond grateful to have served the citizens of Missouri and helped to push conservation forward in Missouri on a state and national level.”

Under Pauley’s leadership, MDC has continued to further its mission of protecting and managing the fish, forest, and wildlife resources of the state, and providing opportunities for citizens to use, enjoy, and learn about these resources, including:

  • Restructuring the agency to be better prepared to be a 21st century fish and wildlife agency, including tackling new conservation challenges on the horizon and keeping conservation relevant in a quickly changing world with less connection to nature.
  • Developing a partnership with Columbia Public Schools to create the vision, model, and execution of the Boone County Nature School -- allowing all fifth graders in Boone County to experience place-based learning in nature.
  • Working with University of Missouri, Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation, and key partners to create the Johnny Morris Institute of Fisheries, Wetlands & Aquatic Systems to train and cultivate the next generation of conservation professionals by providing students with coursework and career pathways with real-world training.
  • Creating the Missouri Conservation Partners Roundtable to bring hundreds of conservation partners and students together each year to collaborate on shared priorities.
  • Serving as the first female president of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and collaborating with other states on conservation issues on a larger, landscape level.
  • After years of work, implementing the first elk and bear hunting seasons in Missouri.

“Working alongside Sara as a commissioner, you quickly see the passion, dedication, and talent she brings to leading this Department and collaborating with partners, including accomplishing big goals for Missouri,” said Missouri Conservation Commission Chair Steven Harrison. “She gives it everything she’s got, both professionally and personally, and her upcoming retirement will allow more space and time for family and friends, as well as those outdoor pursuits that fuel her.”

Prior to becoming MDC director in 2016, Pauley served as the director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources for six years. Pauley previously worked as a project manager for D.J. Case & Associates, a natural resources communications firm. She worked with federal and state agencies on policy development, marketing, and environmental compliance. Pauley also served as the deputy director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. She also served as chief of staff to former Missouri House Speaker Steve Gaw. Pauley has been involved in numerous regional and national conservation boards and committees.

A native of Columbia, Pauley received both her law degree and her bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Missouri – Columbia. She also did post-graduate studies in Australia as a Rotary Fellow. She was also an instructor at the University of Missouri's School of Natural Resources, where she taught a course in natural resource policy and administration.

“Sara has been a trailblazer throughout her years of dedicated public service to Missourians, and we will certainly miss her as part of our Cabinet team,” said Governor Mike Parson. “As a proud outdoorswoman, Sara’s passion for Missouri’s natural resources and great outdoors and efforts to conserve them for the next generations has been welcomed and greatly appreciated. Under her leadership, Missouri has maintained our status as a leader in all things conservation, and we look forward to that continuing. We thank Sara for her service and wish her the best in retirement.”

The Commission will launch an executive search in February to recruit MDC’s next director to ensure a smooth transition and continuity of leadership before Pauley’s retirement July 1.