Sunday, November 02, 2014

In Pine-White Oak Woods

High winds on Monday shredded the fall color display in much of the Missouri Ozarks. The sugar maples, hickories and white oaks that occur scattered throughout the pine woodlands in the LaMotte sandstone region of the state, down in prime winery country, were ablaze in a lovely palette of reds, yellows and orange. Unlike in Appalachia to our east, Missouri's maples are a naturally occurring part of the landscape; the recent anti-maple craze going on in the Ozarks is not ecologically based and seems to be driven by a model for growing cellulose rather than an ecosystem.

Not only is there a war on sugar maples in Missouri, but a lot of rumblings about shortleaf pine woodland restoration. The solid shortleaf pine-bluestem region is a little south of where I spent the week, but the LaMotte region is dominated by pine with a white oak component. Fire-mediated for 31 years, this region represents one of the best examples of pine woodlands in Missouri with a rich herbaceous understory. Pine regeneration occurs on a landscape scale here, now that the fuel loading is not thick, dense leaf litter. To restore a pine woodland ecosystem, the primary driver should be the restoration of a flashy grass-forb understory so that the regularly occurring prescribed fires can rush through the area quickly, just to burn off the thatch. Alas, pine woodland systems of asters, little bluestem and a suite of plants and animals that depend on fire are not very common in Missouri where they once stretched for millions of acres. Maybe one day.

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