NRCS Helps Turn Stone County Forestland Into Wildlife Sanctuary
While sitting on their screened in porch, it’s not uncommon for Ronald and Sandy Moore to see 10–15 deer grazing each evening. Woodpeckers, song birds and squirrels are also in abundance. And, occasionally a flock of turkeys or a bear will wander through their 246-acres of forestland.
Ronald, who grew up on the property in Stone County, says it’s great to be able to move back to Arkansas. The Moore’s retired from careers in Iowa and returned to Ronald’s family land four years ago.
A well is the only remaining remnants of his great grandfather’s homestead. Now, where the house stood are trees and grassland.
“While in Iowa, I’d take my summer vacations and any other time off and come here and work on the property. I’d see an area I thought needed thinned and start cutting trees and clearing underbrush to create openings,” Ronald said.
About seven years ago, a neighboring landowner told Ronald the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) had technical and financial assistance to help him.
“I had heard of NRCS while working in Iowa, but had never applied for any programs,” Ronald said. “Getting this assistance has really helped me do the type of things I want to accomplish on this land.”
“Ronald initially came in to learn about the quail initiative in this area,” said Wendy Hendrix, NRCS district conservationist in Mt. View. “He was really interested in attracting quail. But, since there was a limited amount of funding in the initiative I discussed other options with him.
“He didn’t want to thin his whole forest, just open up areas. We developed a forest improvement plan to meet his needs and got him enrolled in general EQIP,” Hendrix said.
Through two Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) contracts, the Moores have planted 35.6 acres of native grasses including switchgrass, indiangrass and big and little bluestem, nine acres of pollinator habitat that will bloom from early spring to late fall, and 1,000 trees and shrubs for wildlife food and cover. In addition, they’ve completed forest stand improvement to thin trees and create openings on 35.2 acres, installed more than 12,500 feet of firebreaks and reduced underbrush on 261 acres using prescribed burns.
The Moore’s hard work has led to a Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) contract to enhance the improvements they’ve already made.
“Through CSP, the Moore’s have planted 3.5 additional acres of pollinator habitat and four acres of trees and shrubs. They’ve also completed 58 acres of sequential patch burns, with more planned each year through 2021,” Hendrix said.
The Moores have hand planted more than 2,800 trees and shrubs into the rocky Ozark soil. “There would be times after you got the rocks out of the furrows you’d wonder where you were going to get soil to plant the tree,” Sandy said.
While to some, the thinning and planting may seem like a lot of work, for Ronald it’s relaxing and productive.
“I’ve noticed a big difference in my woods. Once you let the sunlight through, native grasses and plants start emerging. And, the wildlife starts showing up,” Ronald said.
One day, Ronald hopes it will be common to hear the bobwhite whistle of quail echoing across his forestland as he relaxes on the screened in porch looking out over the land he and Sandy have worked so hard to improve.
To learn more about NRCS programs contact your local field office or visit https://go.usa.gov/xPCVY to find your local field office.
Stone County District Conservationist Wendy Hendrix, left, holds a sapling with landowners Ronald and Sandy Moore. "I've noticed a big difference in my woods. Once you let the sunlight through, native grasses and plants start emerging. And, the wildlife starts showing up," Ronald said.
On the left, a stand that was thinned. The right side, what it was before. The Moores have completed forest stand improvement to thin trees and create openings on 35.2 acres, installed more than 12,500 feet of firebreaks and reduced underbrush on 261 acres using prescribed burns.