Mountain Boomers Boom Back
longest fire-free period in the recent history of the Ozarks.
Fire suppression in the Ozarks allowed areas to reforest, but the diverse glade and woodland communities that once dominated the area were replaced by dense, second-growth forests with few similarities to the rich habitats to which most of our native plants and animals had adapted.
As collared lizards and many other native wildlife populations continued to decline, biologists with state and federal agencies began searching for solutions. While on the surface it appeared that conditions were improving for wildlife, most gains were coming from generalist species like white-tailed deer. Collared lizards, however, could not cope with the dense growth of underbrush that was now taking over their glade and woodland habitat in the absence of fire.
It became clear that if these species were to survive, their habitat would have to be restored. In the early 1980s, managers at Peck Ranch Conservation Area in Carter County were among the first to take steps toward restoring glade and woodland habitats.
Located in the eastern Ozarks, 23,000-acre Peck Ranch is owned and managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation. Historically, the area in and around Peck Ranch supported vast acreages of oak and pine woodland, along with numerous dolomite and igneous glade communities.
Like many other places in the region, Peck Ranch was subject to extensive clearing, livestock grazing, and other abuses before its purchase by the Conservation Department. Following acquisition, a strict fire suppression policy was instituted to help protect wild turkeys, which nested on the ground. Although turkeys flourished, the collared lizard did not fare so well. By the 1980s, surveys found no collared lizards remained on Peck Ranch.
As the glades and woodlands continued to be overgrown by invading brush, the future of these natural communities and the collared lizard on the area looked grim.
When staff at Peck Ranch first began working on restoring glades and woodlands, the idea was relatively new, and little information existed. Initial efforts were targeted at removing woody vegetation from individual glades and localized burning to encourage the growth of grasses and wildflowers. While this work successfully re-established open conditions and promoted native plants, the small size of these areas and lack of disturbance in the surrounding woodlands did little to create habitat conditions that would support healthy populations of wildlife dependent upon these habitats.
In 1983, the Conservation Department began a collared