Special to the Southeast Missourian
Woodlands and savanna are rare Ozark habitats that land managers and landowners are just beginning to understand. But it's no secret wild turkeys and woodlands go together.
Although these natural communities differ somewhat, from a turkey's point of view, one of their most important functions may be to provide critical habitat for hens to raise their broods in. Savannas consist of widely spaced trees, mainly oaks with occasional hickories. These trees grow over an open understory. The ground under a savanna is a thick cover of prairie grasses and wildflowers.
Woodlands also maintain an open understory but have a more closed canopy of trees. This allows enough sunlight to reach the ground and favor a group of sedges, grasses, low shrubs and wildflowers that are different from those found in a true forest.
Woodland canopies contain primarily oaks, but they also have hickories and sometimes shortleaf pine in the Ozarks. Woodlands frequently surround glades. True forests, as opposed to woodlands, have a heavy canopy and a thick understory. Layers of trees like maples and dogwood grow under the oaks and pines. Shade-adapted shrubs and saplings live under that layer. Forests contain more fire-sensitive trees and shrubs, such as northern red oak, sugar maple and American hornbeam.
Visitors to restored savannas or woodlands will witness an astonishing amount of natural diversity. A hundred acres of high-quality woodland can support over 200 native plant species. Over 40 species of breeding birds use savannas and woodlands for their habitat needs.
Historically, the Bachman's sparrow lived in mature pine Ozark woodlands. Because of habitat loss, this state-endangered species now is confined to glades at only a few locations in the Ozarks. More than 20 species of mammals, from fox squirrels to coyotes, use savannas and woodlands. Along with these furry animals, 16 species of reptiles and amphibians crawl, hop or slither through the habitat.
Lucky visitors to woodlands might spot an ornate box turtle, a prairie ring-necked snake or a six-lined racerunner lizard. The rare eastern collared lizard that lives on some Ozark glades use woodlands as travel corridors to get from glade to glade. Abundant insects in our savannas and woodlands help feed hungry bobwhite quail and wild turkey poults.
The National Wild Turkey Federation in association with Missouri Department of Conservation and the East Ozark Forest Resource Council will be hosting a one-day workshop Saturday entitled "Wild Turkey Woodlands." This event will include classroom sessions on glade and savanna habitats, wild turkey management and federal cost share programs. Lunch will be provided followed by a tour of local glade savanna sites and restoration techniques. The workshop will be offered at the Patterson Community Center in Patterson, Mo. Call the Piedmont office of the Missouri Department of Conservation at (573) 223-4525 for info or to enroll.
Dave Hasenbeck is a private lands conservationist for the Missouri Department of Conservation.