by Bonnie Chasteen
Each month, we highlight research MDC uses to improve fish, forest, and wildlife management.
How does periodic fire change an Ozark forest? MDC Resource Scientist Calvin Maginel is working with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) staff and others at TNC’s 5,500-acre Chilton Creek Research and Demonstration Area near Van Buren to track the answer to this question.
In partnership with landowners, MDC, and other agencies, TNC launched its long-term, fire-based ecosystem management study in 1997. According to TNC’s website, the goal is to “understand the relationship between biodiversity management and timber and wildlife interests, and to export this knowledge to like-minded partners in the Ozarks.”
TNC’s Land Stewardship and Fire Manager Tom Fielden said that the study partners began offering fire-management workshops to private land managers this year.
Periodically, Fielden conducts a controlled burn on some of the area’s units. During the following growing season, Maginel and other Chilton Creek botanists begin surveying the units’ plant life.
A few months after a winter prescribed fire treatment, Chilton Creek botanists identify plants using quadrats (1-meter wooden squares).
They said that in units with scattered species remnants, the application of fire helps restore the remnants’ diversity and vigor. It even reconnects isolated plant communities, such as glades, woodlands, and bottomlands.
This is good news, particularly for pollinators that depend on specialized plants like Bush’s skullcap, which declines in the absence of periodic fire. Like the Missouri Forest Ecosystem Project, the Chilton Creek study will span 100 years or more. Fielden said preliminary results are promising, and Maginel agreed. “This study will tell us whether restoring prescribed fire to natural landscapes also helps restore botanical diversity.”
Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld
Associate Editor - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Larry Archer
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