Volume 3 • Issue 3 • March 2009

Trees That Tell Stories

Tree Rings and Historic Fire Frequency in the Oklahoma Ozarks

When engaging in good fire management practices, the past is the best source one can use to determine the future. Biologists now have a tool that will help them better understand the past fire history in the Oklahoma Ozarks with a recent State Wildlife Grant.

Dr. Richard Guyette with the University of Missouri has been working hard on The Nature Conservancy’s Nickel Preserve in northeastern Oklahoma.  After locating almost 50 ancient shortleaf pine trees, Dr. Guyette looked at cross-sections of the trunks and found some interesting details underneath all that bark.
A cross-section of a shortleaf pine tree showing growth rings and fire scars.

These tree trunks had scarring in different areas around the tree rings.  The “scars” have been shown to correlate with past habitat fires in the area.  Other factors that showed association were historic human population in the area, time between fires and even drought. Some of the trees and tree stumps being used in this study are over 350 years old, which is amazing when one thinks about how long those trees have been there.

According to Dr. Guyette, “Fire frequency was positively associated with the movement of Native American groups in the region from 1680 to 1880.  The mean fire interval from 1633 to 1731 was 7.5 years and from 1732 to 1840 was 2.8 years at Tully Hollow, the most intensely sampled study site. Before the arrival of eastern Native Americans around 1810, the mean fire interval averaged 4.2 years.  After about 1840, along with the movement of the Cherokee Nation from the eastern United States into northeast Oklahoma, mean fire intervals reached a plateau of 1.2 years in length in the whole Preserve and 1.8 years at the main study site, Tully Hollow. After the 1920s fire interval lengthened to more than 16 years at Tully Hollow”.

The information provided by this research will help scientists be able to better understand the fire history in this area as well as help plan future prescribed burns for the many Wildlife Management Areas in the state. This will help create a better Management area, which in turn creates a more enjoyable time in the outdoors for the sportsmen and women of the state.

For more information about State Wildlife Grants in Oklahoma log on to www.wildlifedepartment.com.

Written by Matt Stout. Matt is an education intern with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

This project is funded by the State Wildlife Grants Program. The State Wildlife Grants Program provides federal money to every state and territory for cost-effective conservation aimed at preventing wildlife from becoming endangered. This program is administered by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and continues the long history of cooperation between the federal government and the states for managing and conserving wildlife species. For more information, visit www.teaming.com.

Great Plains Trail: Black Kettle Loop

Better Take a Second Look

The diversity of the Black Kettle Loop of the Great Plains Trail can be deceiving with just a quick glance.  With 30,000 acres of rolling, grass prairie one would tend to think that there isn’t much to see, but if you take the time to look a little harder you will find an amazingly diverse landscape.  The landscape of this loop includes mixed-grass prairies, wooded ravines, rolling red hills, shinnery oak mottes, creeks, wetlands and the Washita River.

Some species you could find in this area of diversity include kangaroo rats, pocket mice, deer mice, bobcats, coyotes, hawks, black-tailed jackrabbits, owls, grasshopper sparrows, bobwhite quail, sandhill cranes, multiple species of geese and even bald eagles.

Black-tailed jackrabbits are a species characteristic of western Oklahoma and the Black Kettle Loop. Photo by Lesley B. Carson.
There are many recreational opportunities located throughout this loop.  One of the major stops should be the Black Kettle National Grassland which offers hunting, fishing, and primitive camping.   You can also visit the beautiful Washita Battlefield National Historic Site Visitor Center that is owned and operated by the National Park Service. Take the time and walk the 1.5 miles mowed trail and experience the prairie as it looked over 100 years ago.

Other stops along the way might include a stay with the Flying W Guest Ranch which offers visitors the opportunity to experience a working cattle ranch with abundant wildlife and life the way it use to be – simple.  The ranch offers trail rides to an historic buffalo kill site.  Also stop and enjoy fishing, hunting, hiking, riding or stargazing at the Gantz Ranch.  From wildflowers and songbirds to raptors, deer, pronghorn and elk, the ranch has a view for every eye.

Written by David Rempe. David is a game warden with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Spring Young 'uns

What to Do with Young Wildlife

People often find eggs or young birds in their yards during the spring and summer.  If the nest is visible, place the eggs or young birds back in the nest.  Contrary to popular belief, songbirds do not have a well-developed sense of smell and will not abandon their young if you touch them.  If you find eggs but can not find the nest, leave them alone – it is illegal to possess wild bird eggs.  Generally, the parents will renest. 

If a partially or completely unfeathered hatchling bird is found out of the nest, put it back in the nest.  If the nest is too high or is not visible, construct an artificial nest by wiring a grocery store berry basket or other open-top container to the trunk of the same tree.  Line the basket with dry grass clippings to form a cup.  If you find a completely feathered young bird, you can assume that it has left the nest on its own and is still under parental care.  You might wish to place the young bird on the top of a shrub away from predators.

Mammals however are a different story.  Most young mammals that are found alone, including deer, rabbit, squirrel and raccoon are only hiding or have wandered away from the parents, which are nearby searching for food.  If you touch the young mammal, your scent may either frighten the parent away or make it easier for predators to find the animal.  The best thing to do is simply leave it alone.

Please keep in mind that possessing some native animals and all migratory birds without a permit is illegal and subject to fine.  If you need to contact a wildlife rehabilitator please contact your county game warden for information.

Written by Melynda Hickman. Melynda is a wildlife diversity biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Our Mission:

The WILDLIFE DIVERSITY PROGRAM monitors and manages the state's wildlife and fish species that are not hunted or fished.