Mountain Boomers Boom Back
lizard re-introduction project in cooperation with Washington University in St. Louis. The initial releases were made in glades at Stegall Mountain Natural Area on Peck Ranch. From 1984 to 1989, three populations of collared lizards were relocated to Stegall Mountain from Taum Sauk Mountain, where construction on a pump-back reservoir for power generation threatened to destroy their habitat. The relocation was successful, and all lizards survived.
As collared lizards were released onto Stegall Mountain, researchers with Washington University marked each lizard and gathered DNA information that would be critical in tracking their progress and survival. After completing the release program, they set up a long-term study to monitor the effects of habitat changes on the lizards.
For the first several years, annual surveys of the lizard populations showed that they were surviving and reproducing at Stegall Mountain. However, further studies indicated that no new glade sites had been colonized and that no breeding was taking place between the different populations.
This information concerned researchers who feared that individual glades would soon become overpopulated and that a lack of gene flow between populations would ultimately lead to local extinctions. Local managers devised a plan to address these issues.
In 1993, managers developed a proposal to use prescribed fire on a landscape scale that would incorporate not only the glades, but also the surrounding woodlands. This concept was almost unheard of in the region at that time, and many were skeptical of its merits. By applying carefully controlled fire to the area, managers hoped they could eliminate woody underbrush on the glades, as well as in the woodland areas, allowing collared lizards to colonize new sites.
The following year they conducted the first of these prescribed burns, treating almost 400 acres of Stegall Mountain. After only one burn, surveys of the lizard populations showed that 13 glades that previously had no lizard populations became colonized. Studies of the vegetation in the burn area revealed that the fire had reduced woody undergrowth to the point that lizards could move from glade to glade.
Pleased and excited with the results of their work, managers decided to increase the size of the area being treated. To do this, Department of Conservation personnel enlisted the help of the National Park Service and The Nature Conservancy, both of which owned and managed the remaining portions of Stegall Mountain Natural Area. With this partnership firmly in place, the fire management program on Stegall Mountain increased to nearly 5,000 acres.
With the aid of DNA information, researchers continued to track the lizard population and were amazed at how quickly the population increased with the availability of new habitat. As new glade and woodland complexes came under similar management near Stegall Mountain, they too were colonized. Each time, DNA linked the new populations back to one of the original populations that were relocated to Stegall Mountain.
The studies on collared lizards at Stegall Mountain provide some of the best documentation to date on the recovery of a native Missouri species as a direct result of landscape management using prescribed burning. Hopefully, the knowledge gained through this successful project will encourage other attempts to recover the native plant and animal communities that make the Ozarks unique.
Today, restoration work continues on Stegall Mountain Natural Area. The destruction of our native habitats certainly did not take place overnight, and we can not expect to repair them quickly. Nevertheless, it is a good sign for future restoration efforts that the mountain boomers are once again booming on Stegall Mountain.