Arkansas Conservation Summary

Arkansas’ terrain is diverse, with lowlands and swamps in the eastern and southern part of the state and uplands with steep cliffs and protected valleys in the north and west. The uplands include the Ozark Plateau, Ouachita Mountains, Arkansas Valley, and Crowley’s Ridge. Caves, springs, and clear-flowing streams are common within the Salem Plateau and Springfield Plateau subdivisions of the Ozarks. The Ouachita Mountains are a series of east-west trending ridges with elevations up to 2,681 feet that were formed by intense tectonic movement that warped, twisted and folded beds of rock.

Between the Ozarks and the Ouachitas, lies the Arkansas Valley. The Arkansas River, a major tributary of the Mississippi River, flows through the western part of the valley. Within this alluvial valley are swampy lowlands as well as isolated flat-topped, mesa-like mountains, including the highest point in Arkansas, Magazine Mountain (2,753 feet).

The Coastal Plain in Arkansas extends across the southern part of the state and is characterized by level-to-rolling forested lands, bottomlands, prairies, and barrens. The easternmost section of the state is composed of the fertile Mississippi Alluvial Plain (MAP). Often called the Delta, the nearly level terrain was historically dominated by swamps and dense bottomland hardwoods; unfortunately much has been cleared for agriculture. Within the MAP is Crowley’s Ridge, a narrow series of loess-capped hills 100 to 250 feet above the surrounding alluvial plain.

Rare Species and Characteristic Habitats

Tallgrass prairies were once extensive in the Ozarks, Arkansas Valley, and Grand Prairie subdivision of the MAP. Only 1 percent of these original grasslands remain today, making the tallgrass prairie one of the most rare and threatened ecosystems in the state. With the loss of prairie habitat came the loss of prairie species such as the greater prairie chicken and the snowy orchid, which are no longer found in Arkansas.

Ozark caves are home to several rare species, such as the endangered Ozark big-eared bat and the karst-dependent Grotto Salamander, both Ozarks endemics. The Ozark Hellbender, a very rare subspecies of the largest North American salamander, is found only in a few streams of the Arkansas and Missouri Ozarks. There are also at least four salamanders that occur in western Arkansas that are endemic to the Ouachita Mountains.

Loblolly pine and hardwood flatwoods are found on the terraces of the Coastal Plain. Embedded within these communities are scattered saline soil barrens, rare grasslands with sodium and magnesium levels so high they are toxic to many plants and support few to no trees. The more extreme examples of this community provide habitat for the federally listed threatened Geocarpon minimum.

Public and Private Conservation Efforts

Based on scientific information from the Arkansas Heritage Program, the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission (ANHC) recently partnered with The Nature Conservancy, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, and the Arkansas Forestry Commission to acquire a perpetual conservation easement from Potlatch Forest Holdings, Inc., on 15,922 acres in south Arkansas, the Moro Big Pine Natural Area-Wildlife Management Area. This partnership provides large-scale protection of pine flatwoods and the many species this habitat supports, including the federally listed endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. According to the U.S. Forest Service, loblolly-shortleaf pine flatwoods are one of the least-protected cover types in the United States.

In 2007 the ANHC completed acquisitions of additions to Warren Prairie Natural Area. Now more than 2,100 acres, this site contains a mosaic of habitats including saline soil barrens, pine-oak flatwoods, mound woodlands and Delta post oak flatwoods. The barrens support the state’s largest population of Geocarpon minimum and the state’s largest population of wintering Henslow’s sparrows, a grassland species of conservation concern once considered for federal listing.

Threats

Despite numerous, successful conservation projects to date, many challenges remain in the protection of Arkansas’ species and natural communities of concern. Increased landscape-scale protection efforts are needed to sustain ecosystems that support these species and natural communities. This need is particularly acute in portions of the state where timber forest products companies are divesting enormous amounts of their land holdings, much of which could be subdivided and converted to other uses such as residential development, leading to increased habitat fragmentation and degradation. Addressing this problem will require greater collaboration among conservation entities and private landowners. This will also require an increase in the species and natural communities inventory that helps guide prioritization of areas to target for protection. In addition, invasive, non-native plant and animal species, an increasing threat to the biodiversity of Arkansas, demand increased management measures.

As Arkansas continues to grow and develop, it is vital that we identify and protect the best examples of our remaining natural heritage. By focusing our attention upon those natural communities and species in greatest need of protection, we can help to ensure that Arkansas's unique natural diversity is not lost.

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