reestablishes the habitats those fires created and maintained.
Fire behavior, on a landscape scale, varies across the land with the amount and type of fuel loads like leaf litter, grass, and woody logging debris, and terrain properties like slope and aspect. Some sections burn more intensely, some less, and some not at all. The result is a mosaic of burned landscape that ensures a variety of habitats. “The more diversity I have in a burn, the more habitat diversity I have within a landscape,” says Ryan Houf, Peck Ranch’s area manager and current burn boss.
At Peck Ranch, landscape burns helped wild turkey populations and other wildlife by thinning forest understory and maintaining the region’s characteristic interspersed glades and woodlands. These burns have also been instrumental in the successful restoration of the eastern collared lizard to the area, an indication of just how powerful prescribed burns can be as a tool in habitat restoration.
Collared lizards evolved as, and still are primarily, a Southwest species. However, about 8,000 years ago, during the warm temperature peak in the interval since the last North American glacier advance, known as the Xerothermic maximum, southwestern species including collared lizards, tarantulas and prickly pear cacti moved east into the Ozarks. As the area cooled off, these species remained in the warm pockets of the Ozarks: south and southwest facing glades, typified by rocky outcrops and thin soil on sunny slopes. Because of their unique, distinct ecology, these glades have become islands of diversity within the matrix of Ozark woodlands, but remain integrally tied to periodic fire for their existence.
With a lack of fire, glades begin to degrade in about 30 years; the first stage usually involves their encroachment by sun-loving, thin soil and drought tolerant vegetation like the notorious eastern red cedar. Landscape burns at Peck Ranch have helped maintain open glades among grassy, open woodlands, and increased ground vegetation and insects, which has helped provide good nesting and foraging habitat for a variety of wildlife. For example, fire-stimulated grasses and forbs at once provide foraging cover for turkey and quail poults and also an abundance of ground-level insects, which are critical components of a poult’s diet in the first few weeks of its life.
Natural Resource and Property Protection
The Conservation Department, along with the U.S. Forest Service and many rural fire departments, has nearly accomplished the job Frederick Dunlap, our first state