Named for long-time director Thomas S. Baskett, the University of Missouri (MU) established this research and education area in 1939.
Thomas S. Baskett was an exceptional force in the conservation movement in Missouri and the nation as a teacher, researcher, writer, editor and administrator. Most of his career was spent as the leader of the Missouri Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Through his association with MU as a cooperative professor, he administered one of the strongest and most successful cooperative wildlife research programs in the nation. Thomas S. Baskett supervised the area from 1948 to 1968 and again from 1973 to 1979. In 1988, MU named the wildlife research area for him.
The development of Baskett is intertwined with several federal agencies and congressional acts.
In the fall of 1934, an MU committee proposed to officials of the Resettlement Administration that an arboretum and wildlife experimental area be established on sub-marginal farmland near Columbia. This committee selected 2,240 acres comprised of 17 farms on the verge of bankruptcy in southeastern Boone County for this area. In May of 1935, this proposal was approved by Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace.
On May 15, 1939, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Curators of the University of Missouri entered into a 50-year cooperative agreement whereby MU would manage the area, but the Department of Agriculture retained custodial and mineral rights. In the agreement, the University’s objectives for the area were to:
- Operate and manage the area as an arboretum and wildlife refuge;
- Conduct investigations, experiments and research studies in botany, zoology, wildlife and game management.
These objectives have been held to throughout the history of the Baskett.
On Aug. 8, 1940, the land title was transferred to the U.S. Department of the Interior with provision that the land would remain available to the University for as long as the cooperative agreement remained in force. With this transfer, custodianship resided with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In 1958, the Curators of the University of Missouri requested transfer of the land title to the University. Although the proposal was accepted, the transfer was delayed because the Department of the Interior did not have a mechanism whereby land could be transferred to a state agency. However, the U.S. Forest Service could make the transfer. Therefore, the land was first transferred to the Forest Service and on March 25, 1960, a “quit claim” transfer of the land was granted to MU and the University took full control of the area. An MU faculty member associated with natural resource management has been in charge of supervising activities throughout the history of Baskett.