Fire Stories

Fire stories from the national parks highlight events, incidents, and the like, associated with fire and fuels management, as well as fire education, technology, partnerships, and more. Stories highlight work related to Department of the Interior initiatives as well as local and regional initiatives.

Fire Helps Collared Lizards and Turkeys at Park

Ozark National Scenic Riverways, Missouri
National Fire Plan, Accountability*

In 1979, renowned ecologist Dr. Alan Templeton initiated a project at Ozark National Scenic Riverways (ONSR) to determine if historic populations of the Eastern collared lizard still existed in the area. No collared lizards were observed in the initial surveys. The areas numerous igneous and dolomite glades had become overgrown in trees, especially eastern red cedar. The collared lizards probably had died out due to shading of their open glade habitat.

Male collared lizard. Photo by Dr. Alan Templeton.

By 1982, cedar removal and small prescribed fires were utilized to reopen the best remaining glades on nearby Stegall Mountain. In 1984, collared lizards were captured from a healthy population 40 miles away and released on Stegall Mountain. After a few years Dr. Templeton realized that collared lizards were not moving to nearby glades that were separated by thin bands of dense woody vegetation, some only 50 meters wide.

Dr. Templeton suggested burning several hundred acres of glades and woodlands at once. At the time this was a radical concept in Missouri, but Dr. Templeton's data was compelling. In 1994, the first landscape-scale burn was completed on Stegall Mountain. The collared lizards immediately responded by colonizing several nearby glades.

At a special event in 2006, 25 people, predominately local citizens, joined Dr. Templeton's collared lizard tour of Stegall Mountain. It was a huge success. Many local people were thrilled that they finally got to see the big lizards that their elders had referred to as the "mountain boomers."

Turkey hen bugging with her poults. Photo courtesy of Missouri Department of Conservation.

Following these successes, Dr. Templeton's dream was to see at least 2,000 contiguous acres in prescribed fire management. This year, the National Park Service, the Missouri Department of Conservation, and The Nature Conservancy joined forces to complete over 5,000 acres of prescribed fires in the Stegall Mountain area. This summer, Dr. Templeton discovered that collared lizards had successfully re-colonized the Mill Mountain prescribed fire unit at ONSR.

It also appears that the collared lizard is not the only beneficiary of the restoration work. One of Dr. Templeton's students found that grasshoppers were the primary food of local collared lizards. The research team also discovered that there was a 650% increase in grasshoppers in the prescribed fire units. Grasshoppers, and other ground dwelling insects, are also the primary food for wild turkey hatchlings.

Prescribed fire was initiated at ONSR to restore and maintain all of the park's native diversity. Nevertheless, the fact that prescribed fire has benefitted turkey and deer habitat has been an added bonus since most of ONSR is open to public hunting seasons.

Contact: Dan Drees, Fire Ecologist, NPS Ozark Highlands Park Group
Phone: (572) 323-8234 x 26

*This story supports the Department of the Interior initiatives.