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JEFFERSON CITY — Two years after former Gov. Eric Greitens jettisoned four state-owned planes, Missouri is back in the market for an aircraft.

The Missouri Department of Conservation issued a call this week to purchase a new helicopter that will replace a 1995-era chopper used by the agency.

The department is offering the older Bell helicopter with 10,000 total hours of use as a trade-in.

Among the uses for the new helicopter will be tracking Missouri’s growing bear population. It also could be used to cull the state's feral hog population.

“The current helicopter is inadequate for Missouri Department of Conservation projects,” bidding documents note.

In 2017, Greitens oversaw the sale of four aircraft as part of an effort to downsize the state’s fleet.

At the time, three single engine Cessna planes used by the Missouri State Highway Patrol for surveillance sold for a total of $199,500.

The sale of a 1999 Beechcraft King Air C90 brought in $627,500.

Along with getting money from the sale, the reduced number of aircraft meant less money being spent on maintenance costs.

The Department of Conservation operates on a separate revenue stream from most of state government, drawing its funding from a 1/8-cent sales tax first approved by Missouri votes in 1976.

Its use of a helicopter to hunt feral hogs has generated controversy in the Legislature.

Rep. Robert Ross, R-Yukon, said using a chopper for aerial hunts was not cost effective. He attempted to bar the use of aerial gunning through a budget amendment in 2018.

Federal wildlife officials continue to use helicopters to try and control the feral hog population.

In addition to aerial hunts, the department uses the helicopter about 300 hours per year to fight fires, conduct wildlife surveys, enforce laws and conduct thermal imaging of wildlife.

The department has regular airplanes as well as the helicopter.

Spokesman Joe Jerek said the agency has historically employed three pilots, but is currently operating with two. The department is currently reviewing whether it needs three full-time pilots or if it can hire outside assistance for various flights.

It is not clear whether the move will be cheaper.

“The review process will give us a much better idea of projected savings,” Jerek said.

Department aircraft are often used to ferry staff, department leaders and members of the agency’s oversight board to meetings and field-work locations.

“They are mostly in-state but sometimes out of state if it is less expensive than commercial flights,” Jerek said.

Under terms of the bid, the new helicopter must be ready for use by mid-June.

Kurt Erickson • 573-556-6181

@KurtEricksonPD on Twitter

kerickson@post-dispatch.com

This article originally ran on stltoday.com.

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