restoration programs are well underway on several conservation areas in the Ozarks.
Two of the areas, White River Trace Conservation Area in Dent County and Cover Prairie Conservation Area in Howell County, are already showing the benefits of extensive woodland and shrubland management.
At White River Trace, for example, at least 114 bird species, many of which have habitat requirements similar to quail, have been spotted. These species include Bell’s vireo, loggerhead shrikes, prairie warblers and field sparrows. In addition, red-headed woodpeckers have substantially increased in number.
Fire is as important as rainfall to woodland natural communities. Department biologists rely on fire on White River Trace and Cover Prairie to open the woodland overstory. This allows the sun’s rays to reach the ground, encouraging the growth of grasses, wildflowers and legumes. The grasses supply nesting cover for quail hens, while wildflowers and legumes offer abundant food for quail throughout the year. Insects, critical to quail chicks during their first few weeks of life, also increase among the ground cover.
Biologists time burns for the results they wish to achieve. Fire in summer and fall promotes forbs and weedy plants that quail use, while fire in late winter and spring stimulates native grasses, controls woody plants and reduces tree canopy cover. Most portions of managed woodlands are subjected to fire at least once every three to five years to prevent the accumulation of excessive fuel.
The result of these artfully applied fires is a patchwork of burned and unburned areas. The unburned areas provide refuge for wildlife during fires. They also serve as usable habitat until the burned areas regrow and as islands of vegetation to help reseed burned areas.
Monitoring of the woodlands following fire management has shown increases in fall abundance of quail on both White River Trace and Cover Prairie. Quail hunters are applauding these management successes.
Another success story
Woodland management at Peck Ranch Conservation Area, deep in Carter County, has different habitat goals, but it’s also increasing quail numbers.
Long ago, the area contained many short leaf pine and mixed pine-oak stands. After clearing, indiscriminate burning and being subjected to free-ranging livestock in the late 1800s and early 1900s, these stands gave way to closed-canopy forests consisting primarily of short-lived scarlet and black oaks. Quail and other birds of open woods disappeared.
The mature oaks are now dying. This provides an opportunity to restore the diverse pine-oak woodlands that once dominated by clearing some of