Wildlife Progress Spans Three Careers at Peck Ranch
Trana Madsen, today works as a naturalist at Runge Conservation Nature Center in Jefferson City. His son, Ryan, has been the wildlife biologist responsible for Peck Ranch CA since 2008.
But the legacy goes deeper still. Before Ryan took over management at Peck Ranch, his wife, Kim, had the job from 2005 through 2007. Considering his lifelong exposure to the history and principles of wildlife management at Peck Ranch, it’s hard to imagine someone with a better resume for the job.
“Dad’s work laid the foundation for today’s management,” said Ryan. “He promoted making land management decisions based on ecological land types and striving to return the landscape to those natural plant and animal communities. He always told me it was easier to go with the natural flow that Mother Nature had intended than to swim upstream.”
Today, ideas that once were revolutionary are standard operating procedures. The first prescribed burn Ryan supervised covered nearly 4,000 acres on Stegall Mountain Natural Area.
“The match and the ax have become common tools in managing woodland communities,” said Ryan. “A lot of credit goes to the many others who have worked on Peck Ranch over the years.”
Their legacy has aided the resurgence of plants that were common 200 years ago. These include shortleaf pine (Missouri’s only native pine species), prairie grasses and wildflowers. Another glade-dweller, the extravagantly colorful collared lizard or “mountain boomer,” now thrives at Peck Ranch.
White-tailed deer and wild turkeys hung on at Peck Ranch through decades of destructive land use. Elk, also once common in the area, were less fortunate. By the mid-1800s unregulated hunting had eradicated them. Over the following century, fire became a four-letter word, and much of the Ozarks, including Peck Ranch’s historic glades, savannas and open woodlands, morphed into a closed canopy of oak-hickory forest. Not only were the elk gone; so was the open, grassy habitat that once supported elk. All that began to change with the dawn of the Houf Dynasty.
“Dad didn’t set out to bring elk back to Peck Ranch,” said Ryan. “He just wanted the area to be what it naturally should be. The closer we come to achieving that goal, the more we have habitat suitable for elk again.”
The management philosophy pioneered by Larry and carried forward by his family set the stage for the Missouri Conservation Commission’s decision last October to reintroduce elk to a limited area in and around Peck Ranch. Current maps of habitat types on the area show increasing acreage of green browse plantings, glades, savannas and other grassy habitat that elk favor. Ongoing management work ensures continued increases in elk habitat.
Deer and turkey have thrived under the same management that favors elk and collared lizards, as evidenced by the area’s popularity among hunters. That popularity is likely to grow and expand to include much more wildlife watching once elk are established at Peck Ranch.