Habitat Restoration in the Mark Twain National Forest

The NWTF is continuing its partnership with the USDA Forest Service to restore multiple landscapes within the Mark Twain National Forest. 

Every year, the Mark Twain National Forest, mostly located in southern Missouri, conducts around 50,000 acres of prescribed fire burning through aerial ignition. 

Combined, the southern ranger districts of the Mark Twain National Forest span over 1 million acres, covering a variety of habitat types that depend on prescribed fire. 

Over the years, the NWTF has partnered with the Mark Twain National Forest to support prescribed burning efforts, among many other habitat enhancement projects. Just recently, the Missouri State Chapter of the NWTF allocated $29,500 to purchase the Forest Service's "dragon eggs," the specialized fire ignition devices used to conduct aerial prescribed burning.

“Open woodlands, savannas and glades dominated the Missouri landscape before settlement,” said John Burk, NWTF district biologist for Missouri, Iowa and Illinois. “As the landscape got carved up and ranching, farming and forestry became commonplace, so too did suppressing naturally occurring fires. Over the years,  fire suppression drastically changed the landscapes. When fire is removed from fire-adapted and maintained habitats like woodlands, savannas and glades, the process of succession naturally advances and these systems become less suitable for our beloved wild turkey."

Reintroducing fires onto these landscapes recreates the early successional habitat present before settlement, on which many native critters depend, especially wild turkeys. 

Early successional habitat is an area with vigorously growing grasses, forbs, shrubs and trees that provides excellent food and cover for wild turkeys. Examples of early successional habitat include weedy regions, grasslands, old fields or pastures, shrub thickets and young forests, as defined by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

When areas become overly dense with woody vegetation, prescribed fire is one of the most effective management tools to reduce dense, understory species, leaving mature, mast-producing trees and creating a patchwork of grassy understories that wild turkeys and many other native species thrive in.  

“The wild turkey is obviously our primary concern, especially considering the current turkey population decline Missouri is experiencing,” said Burk. “The Mark Twain National Forest is nationally one of the most popular public hunting destinations for eastern wild turkeys. Our work with the Forest Service addresses the single-most limiting factor to turkey population growth: quantity and quality of nesting and brood-rearing habitat.”

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