Parks hears ecosystem stability plan for Leatherwood

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Casey Brewster, PhD candidate at the University of Arkansas, apprised Parks’ commissioners Jan. 30 of a grant proposal “to improve habitat quality, population diversity and Species of Greatest Conservation Need stability in McIlroy Madison County Wildlife Management Area and Lake Leatherwood City Park.”

Aspects of the project include restoring glade habitat by removing red cedars and conducting controlled burns, population control measures of Crotaphytus collaris (Eastern Collared lizard) and other glade species, and public education, including installing interpretive signage. The end result will be a more stable glade ecosystem, a larger population of the Eastern Collared lizards and better public awareness of glade conservation and biodiversity.

Brewster said Ozarks’ glades are intermixed with wet periods after winter followed by dry seasons, and the species that adapt to the habitat are unique. The Eastern Collared lizard is one, and he figured its population at LLCP could double from the current census of about 40 adults once the area is restored. Red cedars are an obtrusive species that shades out endemic glade flora, so removing them would occur early on in the project.

He said LLCP has much potential to be the flagship for glade restoration in the state. The Nature Conservancy would assist with the controlled burns which are important to allowing native glade plants to re-establish themselves and flourish. His data showed the glades at LLCP have not been touched by fires since before 1930, and red cedars have taken up residence. He highlighted on a map three burn areas on the east side of the lake, and if the grant goes through, Brewster expects the fire lines to be set next winter. Cedar thinning could begin right away.

Brewster identified other populations of the Eastern Collared lizard, and sees a value in importing a few pairs to add to the local gene pool. Other species that will benefit from the project include the ground snake and the Great Plains skink.