Fire Science Interpretive Signs: Cane Ridge Pinery - Oak Fire Science

Three interpretive signs in this pinery on the Mark Twain National Forest in southeastern Missouri commemorate the history of early 20th century timber harvesting, the role of fire in providing wildlife habitat, and the fire-adapted characteristics of shortleaf pine, once a keystone species in Ozark ecosystems.


Sign Location latitude/longitude:  36.94, -90.63


Upalika Pond: Reflecting Cane Ridge History. Before European settlement, fires burned through this area about every 2-8 years, contributing to conditions that enabled shortleaf pine trees to thrive here and across the Ozarks.  Fire-maintained pine woodlands supplied the logs that were turned into valuable lumber during exploitive timber harvests from about 1880-1920. During this timber boom, logs were transported by rail to Grandin, about 13 miles to the southwest, which had the biggest sawmill in the world at that time. Upalika Pond was built specifically as a rewatering spot to refill the steam engines’ tanks.

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Sign Location latitude/longitude: 36.92, -90.62


Fire Benefits Wildlife and Pollinators. Throughout the Cane Ridge Pinery, managers are using prescribed fire to create open woodlands, where plenty of sunlight hits the ground and promotes growth of diverse, lush groundcover that is beneficial to pollinators and wild game.

Native grasses, forbs and wildflowers grow in the clearing next to this sign, which is great habitat for butterflies and other insects that pollinate fruit and flowers, and it supports deer and turkey. Originally this clearing and many others nearby were cultivated as food plots for wildlife because during the 1950s and 60s the Cane Ridge area was intensively managed to promote wild game, especially deer and turkey. But modern scientific research shows that open-canopy woodlands that are repeatedly burned provide improved wildlife habitat and better forage, both quality and quantity, as compared to food plots of the past.

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Sign Location latitude/longitude: 36.92, -90.60

Managing Shortleaf Pine for people and wildlife. Historically, fire-adapted shortleaf pine out-competed other Ozark tree species, leading to open, sunny, pine-dominated woodlands that supported diverse wildlife. In the early 1800s, some 6 million acres of shortleaf pine stretched across the Missouri Ozarks.

Most of this valuable pine was cut between 1880 and 1920. Afterward, fires were excluded. Oaks, hickories and other hardwoods dominated forest regrowth, which mostly replaced the shortleaf pine. Now, only about 10 percent of the original pine woodlands remain.

Today’s dense hardwood forests have little groundcover to feed wildlife, so land managers are using carefully planned fires, plus logging and thinning small trees, as tools to re-create conditions for shortleaf pine woodlands. These actions increase sunlight on the ground, which promotes the growth of leafy groundcover plants needed by wildlife. Many species of conservation priority thrive in Ozark shortleaf pine woodlands. One pine-dependant species, the brown-headed nuthatch, disappeared from Missouri nearly a century ago, but is now being reintroduced into mature shortleaf pine woodlands.

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