Monday, January 19, 2009
The White River Hills region of southwest Missouri possesses the largest complex of dolomite glades in the state. However, following years of fire suppression and overgrazing, high quality examples are the exception while glades choked in cedars and other woody plants represent the rule. With over 400,000 acres of public land scattered throughout the subsection, potential is high for meaningful ecosystem restoration. 142 state-listed rare, threatened or endangered species have been recorded from the White River Hills, with many of them restricted to dolomite glades.
Several months ago, I was contacted by a private landowner who owns a substantial tract of glades and woodlands in the White River Hills. He asked for advice, how to make his glades look like they did when he bought the property 45 years ago. He told me that when he bought the property, there were no cedars on the glades; they were all cut down years before for fencepost construction. He burned his glades and woodlands every few years to stimulate ground flora for his cattle. It was great to hear that he had brought fire back to the management regime, despite his reasons; I've heard the same history from a landowner in Jefferson Co.
It came as a surprise, however, when I found a 1939 aerial view of Hercules Glade Wilderness Area and saw a landscape I hardly recognized. When I read "extensive glade belts were once common here" in modern day descriptions of the White River Hills, I envisioned small bands of glades on knobs, not thousands of acres of glades as illustrated by the photo. What the photo doesn't show, however, are the millions of cows, goats and sheep that used these glades for grazing in the 1930s and 1940s.
As late as the 1950s, the Forest Service published a trifold brochure for cattle owners titled "Ozark Glades: Great for Grazing," picturing a big polled hereford chewing big bluestem on the front. Late last year, with the urging and administrative finesse of the Mark Twain National Forest's Forest Ecologist, glades in the Mark Twain were designated off-limits to cattle grazing. Of course, the impacts of 40+ years of intensive grazing can't be reversed, but it's a grand start towards restoration.
The 1939 aerial photo, when compared to a 2005 aerial photo, shows how much we've lost in the White River Hills. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the region will see largescale restoration efforts to ever compare to the 1930s landscape. Years of fire suppression coupled with intensive grazing pressure encouraged Eastern red cedars to proliferate on the glades here. We know what happens when you remove cedars and apply prescribed fire to these natural communities--warm season grasses and wildflowers long suppressed return to the landscape. Because this area is within a designated wilderness area, hand tools must be employed for largescale cedar removal projects, an undertaking few have made priority. (Moreover, extensive use by horseback riders has caused massive erosion and soil compaction at Hercules Glade, both problems that prescribed fire and cedar removal can't help.)
So you focus energy on the sites you can restore. The private landowner I talked to now knows what to do to restore his glades, as does the rest of the resource management community in the White River Hills. We have a long way to go to bring back the historic landscape to the region, but with ongoing cedar removal projects by land agencies down there, each 70, 20 and 100 acre parcel will contribute, on however a small scale, to the protection and viability of the region's significant resources.
Posted by Allison Vaughn at 9:51 AM