Partnership Expands Prescribed Fire Units for the Benefit of Rare Fire-Dependent Species

Colorful butterfly on purple tall larkspur flower.
Tall larkspur in bloom at Pistol Barrel prescribed fire unit.

In 2012, the Missouri Area Park Group Fire Management staff at Ozark National Scenic Riverways (OZAR) initiated a partnership with the L-A-D Foundation for the purpose of managing several newly discovered populations of the nationally rare tall larkspur (Delphinium exaltatum). This partnership effort quadrupled the size of two existing prescribed fire units, which were originally established to reduce unnaturally heavy fuel loads near several of the park’s historic structures.

The L-A-D Foundation, founded by Leo A. Drey, is a Missouri private operating foundation dedicated to sustainable forest management, protection of exemplary natural and cultural areas in Missouri, and providing support and advocacy for projects and policies that have a positive influence in the Missouri Ozark region. The L-A-D Foundation is the largest private landowner in the Current River watershed and manages more than 144,000 acres of land, most of that in the Missouri Ozarks. The L-A-D Foundation’s Pioneer Forest models sustainable single-tree selection timber harvest practices and watershed conservation.

Tall larkspur is a rare, fire-dependent wildflower that has been rated as “globally vulnerable” by The Nature Conservancy. It prefers open sunny woodlands with well-drained soil that is high in calcium and is often found in areas that receive strong sunlight at the edge of small openings, or on small glades that are low on the slope close to riparian areas. In the absence of fire, the habitat preferred by tall larkspur quickly becomes very brushy. Tall larkspur population inventories at OZAR between 1984 and 2008 documented dramatic population declines at some sites. However, in 2009, the Ozark Highlands fire ecology crew from OZAR discovered a large population of tall larkspur in the park’s Pistol Barrel prescribed fire unit. One of the most exciting aspects of the discovery is that this tall larkspur population is the largest in a prescribed fire management unit anywhere.

Motivated by the 2009 discovery, the Missouri Area Park Group staff began making plans to expand tall larkspur monitoring efforts. As part of this initiative, two existing prescribed fire units with habitat favorable to tall larkspur were identified, and in 2011 comprehensive surveys were conducted in those locations. New or expanded populations of tall larkspur were discovered in or near both prescribed fire units, and in both cases, the populations extended onto Pioneer Forest lands. Realizing the importance of these discoveries and the potential for future research on tall larkspur, OZAR approached the L-A-D Foundation to propose a partnership that would expand the existing prescribed fire units to encompass Pioneer Forest lands. To their credit, the managers of Pioneer Forest have a visionary approach to ecological restoration and quickly recognized their opportunity to partner in habitat management for the benefit of this rare fire-dependent plant.

With the support of the L-A-D Foundation, the Ozark Highlands fire ecology crew was able to install permanent monitoring plots in both new populations of tall larkspur and collect pre-burn data. The Welch Lodge tall larkspur population, which numbered 1,786 plants, is the second largest population of tall larkspur under fire management anywhere. The Devils Well tall larkspur population, with 421 plants, is the fifth largest population of tall larkspur west of the Appalachians. The addition of these monitoring plots now quadruples the number of plots nationwide for which researchers are collecting pre-burn and post-burn data for tall larkspur.

In 2012, the first prescribed fires in the expanded burn units were conducted. The Welch Lodge prescribed fire included more than 40 acres of Pioneer Forest. The Devils Well prescribed fire included more than 50 acres of Pioneer Forest. It is important to note that prior to these prescribed fires, very few prescribed fires had been conducted on Pioneer Forest lands. The partnership efforts on the Welch Lodge and Devils Well prescribed fires are a testament not only to L-A-D Foundation’s commitment to ecological restoration, but their faith in the NPS fire management program.

Managers from the NPS and the foundation deemed the projects a huge success and expect to see many positive outcomes from future partnership efforts. In fact, this new collaboration between L-A-D Foundation and OZAR has already led to the proposed creation of a new prescribed fire unit that will encompass lands from both.

In the interest of future management projects, the L-A-D Foundation purchased a 242-acre tract of land that adjoins existing Pioneer Forest land with the Ozark National Scenic Riverways boundary on the upper Current River. Despite the poor quality of the soil at the site for growing timber, the L-A-D Foundation recognized the special biodiversity of the property and its importance as a site to be conserved. The acquisition brings Jerktail Mountain in its entirety under cooperative management between the NPS and L-A-D Foundation. The first scouting trip of the area was conducted in April 2012 and was attended not only by NPS and L-A-D Foundation staff, but also by biologists and botanists from the Missouri Department of Conservation and Washington University.

Learn more about the L-A-D Foundation and Pioneer Forest.

Contact: Dena Matteson, fire communication and education specialist
Email: e-mail us
Phone: (573) 323-8028

Last updated: January 27, 2017