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Published on: May. 18, 2011

Prescribed Burns

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Glade Coneflowers

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experienced periodic landscape fire. This fire sustained a mosaic of glade, woodland and forest, with woodlands being the predominant land type. When woodlands and glades are restored by reducing the numbers of encroaching eastern red cedars and performing periodic prescribed burns, the biodiversity that evolved over time in the Ozarks blossoms. With this in mind, Dan and Susan are careful, aside from the warm season grass conversion, not to plant any plants on their property. They want the land itself to dictate what emerges. And what has emerged has been remarkable. Susan, as a professional botanist, has identified more than 500 native plant species on the property. Dan points out that there are not many 200-acre parcels on Missouri’s designated natural areas that have 500 native plant species on them.

Biodiversity is a boon to the whole ecosystem. A more diverse landscape creates a habitat mosaic that supports different forage, nesting and cover opportunities for a range of wildlife, including quail, turkey, deer and insects. A diversity of plant life results in staggered, steady growth throughout the growing season, which ensures more insects, which in turn become a high-protein food source for a variety of wildlife. As Dan puts it, “Biodiversity ensures that there’s always something on the dinner table.” There’s an aesthetic appeal as well with biodiversity. Colors come and go in the seasons of flowers: glade coneflower and Missouri evening primrose in the spring, rough blazing star in the fall.

Susan’s Glade spreads over the eastern portion of the property, toward the base of the reverse-L. Work on the glade involved cutting and burning red cedar trees. The restoration border emphasizes the immense difference red cedars make on a glade. Even without thinking of the ecology involved, their choking presence becomes clear when juxtaposed with an open glade. The red cedar-free glade has a natural feel; 8-foot-tall big bluestem stalks bend overhead, dolomite outcrops and patches of glade plants dot the hillside among downed cedar skeletons. The work was straightforward. Dan felled the red cedars and cut the larger pieces into logs to be sold to a cedar sawmill. He cut the smaller logs and branches to manageable size, and then Susan (sometimes with visiting friends and family) fed them into a bonfire.

Although it isn’t about the money for Dan and Susan, the federal cost-share program for this 21-acre overgrown glade-woodland helped pay for the cost of tree cutting and two subsequent prescribed burns. Dan and Susan would have done much of the work anyway, they say, but not as many acres or as quickly. “There are some weekends I would’ve been fishing instead,” says Dan.

Home Stretch

A little more than a year ago, Dan stood 200 yards from the east property boundary, which is also the border for this cost-share plan. As far as the eye could see, there was a dense stand of eastern red cedars. One hundred yards downhill to the south, eastern red cedar. One hundred yards north, half already open, but above that, eastern red cedar. It seemed there was still so far to go to reach his March 2011 deadline. Cost-share money is only disbursed if all conditions of the written cost-share contract are fulfilled within the given time period, and his project was given three years. But Dan and Susan weren’t discouraged. They realized that work on a glade does get easier after a point. They wouldn’t need to burn up all of the cedar slash, and they wouldn’t have to cut every red cedar tree. They pressed into the final phase of their project.

Thanks to their dedication to the project, and no small amount of personal fortitude, Dan and Susan met their goal this spring. They completed the last of seven cost-share programs on the property, including Susan’s Glade.

In some ways, finishing this project is the end of an era for Blooming Paradise, but as Dan says, prescribed burning and vigilant exotic invasive control will be a yearly process. They have burned 90 acres already this year. Dan and Susan are 80 percent to their restoration goal, says Dan, and evidence of the land’s habitat health is clear. Dan heard quail singing outside his house one recent morning, and that’s not too common in the Ozarks anymore, he says.

This project might be over, but there’s something else that might keep Dan from working on his fishing: He has a contract on 118 acres of land a few miles east of Blooming Paradise, where restoration work will begin all over again.

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