The Not-so-Wildfire

We’ve just completed a round of control burns here at the Nature Center, with the help of some dedicated docents & the awesome team from The Nature Conservancy in Arkansas. Under the right conditions, carefully monitored burns help replenish and diversify a woodland habitat. This has been an exciting part of our forest management plan! Here are a few snapshots of our activities at the Nature Center at the end of January.

The Nature Conservancy team carefully assessed conditions before initiating a control burn contained in a 6-acre area, divided into 2 sections. The burn process takes nature’s cue and accelerates the decomposition process, finishing dead wood and branches to become part of the forest floor, and prevents quickly growing younger tree species from overwhelming the understory.

The team monitored the perimeter of the burn closely, assisted by our docents in cleaning the smoldering, ashy debris, and seeing the last of the burn to its smoky conclusion.

Stay tuned for more glimpses into our Woodland Management Programs at South Fork!

Part 2: A Healthy Forest is a Managed Forest

Meet Joe Krystofik, Fish and Wildlife State Coordinator, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arkansas Field Office.

Joe has been instrumental in providing guidance and funding for SFNC’s recent Glade Restoration Project and our Monarch Butterfly Habitat restoration program. We are thankful for his expertise and never-ending support of SFNC.

The Southeast Region Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program provides technical and financial assistance to private landowners interested in improving habitat for migratory birds, endangered, threatened and at-risk species. They particularly emphasize projects with the potential to provide habitat for rare, threatened and endangered species. The “Partners” program is helping SFNC in their forest enhancement through mid-story management and prescribed burning.

According to the SFNC Woodlands Restoration Plan,

“The expected benefit to Federal Trust Species is to improve habitat conditions for the Northern long-eared bat, which is listed as a threatened species, several at-risk species including Monarch butterfly and Texas Frosted Elfin, as well as the species of greatest conservation need identified in the Arkansas Wildlife Action Plan: Bewick’s Wren, Eastern Whip-poor-will, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, and Slender Glass Lizard.”

Tree stand management is the latest development in our SFNC Woodland Restoration Plan. The Foothills Master Naturalists (FAMNs) and Clint Johnson with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission have worked hard keeping our trails and structures cleared of leaves, as these trails will serve as fire lines for the prescribed burns scheduled at SFNC. An attempt to burn was made in early November but was unsuccessful. The TNC Burn Team will try again when all the conditions line up for a perfect prescribed burn. Afterwards, forester Wade Hargrove will supervise a selected commercial harvest to improve the health of our tree stand and open our canopy to improve ground herbaceous growth, which improves the habitat for many native species.

Please stay tuned for our third article about this restoration project. We look forward to reporting on the latest progress.

Part 1: A Healthy Forest is a Managed Forest

(First of a Three-Part Series on SFNC Glade and Woodland Restoration Plan)

Gates/Rogers Foundation, owner of South Fork Nature Center, would like to introduce you to Clint Johnson, Private Lands Biologist, Central Region Private Lands Section, Wildlife Management Division, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Clint has been working hard on developing a Glade and Woodland Restoration Plan for South Fork Nature Center.

We are very excited about partnering with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC), US Fish & Wildlife (USFW), and The Nature Conservancy (TNC). We are so grateful for the knowledge and support offered to us by these partnerships. Gates Rogers Foundation has been awarded a grant from the AGFC through their “Acres for Wildlife” Program and a grant from USFW through their “Partners for Fish and Wildlife” Program. The Gates Rogers Foundation will pay for approximately 1/3 of the initial phase of the restoration project. Our members, donors and partners help to make this possible.

This introductory article will outline the overall goals and timeline for the initial phase of the Restoration Project. Historical forest composition of SFNC area was shortleaf pine, hickory, post oak, white oak and black oak. The first step we took was to meet with the land biologist to establish an overall restoration plan. After meeting with Clint Johnson we learned that our tree canopy was too dense due to overgrowth of mid-story, faster-growing, shade tolerant trees such as maple, elm, and cedars. This occurs often in Southeastern forests. The exclusion of forest management practices such as fire has allowed the existing trees to flourish, leading to an overstocked stand of trees. The native oaks and short leaf pines are being squeezed out by these shade tolerant species listed above. This is the tip of the iceberg. Under-story is being affected and the natural habitat of several species is in danger.

The summary of Clint’s Glade and Woodland Restoration Plan is as follows:

GOAL: To restore natural conditions for most of the plant communities at SFNC, with a top priority of connecting and expanding the existing glades.

Forest Management Tools:

  1. Prescribed burns (sometime after November 1st and before the end of the year) SFNC has previously partnered with TNC and has contracted to have their professional burn team carry out this part of the plan.
  2. Commercial thinning (this will occur after the prescribed burn. SFNC has hired professional Forester, Wade Hargrave, to supervise this and the Timber Stand improvement phase.
  3. Timber Stand improvement This process has already been started in our existing glades and woodlands by our Forester. Clint Johnson is carrying out the TSI on the Corp’s property.

Clint states in our restoration plan,

“From a wildlife standpoint, benefits of this work will include an open over-story, promoting nectar-producing plants to benefit pollinators (like monarch butterflies). Open woodlands benefit numerous species of songbirds that are experiencing population declines due to lack of suitable habitat, and even the standing dead trees from TSI treatment will create foraging and roosting habitats for bats and woodpeckers.”

Article number two, next month, will focus on these benefits and the role of our partner, Joseph Krystofik (Partners for Fish and Wildlife State Coordinator). Read about the expected benefits for the federally listed species, the Northern long-eared bat, and at risk species including the Monarch butterfly and the Texas Frosted Elfin. Also we’ll discuss other species of greatest conservation need identified in the Arkansas Wildlife Action Plan that will be helped by our restoration plan.

Stay Tuned. We’ve got a lot going on at South Fork Nature Center.