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One project, many outcomes

An Arkansas partnership benefits many species, from monarch butterflies to prairie warblers

One of the great things about habitat improvement projects is that a seemingly simple project can lead to many conservation outcomes.

That has been the case with the native grassland restoration project on the Fred Berry Conservation Education Center, located on Crooked Creek in Marion County, Arkansas. The 421-acre property, which is managed by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC), lies within a long 2.75-mile bend of Crooked Creek, a premier smallmouth bass stream, in the Arkansas Ozarks. The property was donated to the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation in 1999 by Fred Berry, a retired school teacher.

Beginning in spring 2013, education center staff began work on converting 114 acres of former fescue pasture to native grassland/savanna habitat with funding provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. Partners on the project included center staff, who are employed by the AGFC, as well as other AGFC biologists, the Arkansas Forestry Commission and private volunteers.

Several families with young children fishing in a small pond.
The Fred Berry Conservation Education Center provides opportunities to experience fishing for catfish to more than 2,000 young people per year. While fishing, children often exhibit an interest in the flowers, insects and birds that are close by. Photo by Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

The primary goal of the project was to provide habitat for declining grassland birds, including northern bobwhite, painted bunting, prairie warbler, dickcissel, and field sparrow, as well as resident wildlife. In 2015 the agreement was modified to add funds to include planting nectar producing forbs and native milkweeds to benefit monarch butterflies and pollinators.

Restoration of the site was accomplished through a series of herbicide applications and prescribed burns, followed by drilling seeds of a standard native grass and forb mix. These actions gradually transformed the old fescue pasture into a diverse native habitat rich in species diversity.

For monarch butterflies, over 100 plugs of assorted species of milkweeds were planted on 10 acres, with 50 more milkweed plants added later. These milkweed plantings had a significant success rate and monarchs, their eggs and caterpillars, as well as a variety of other pollinator species, have been observed on them. Other forbs in the dedicated 10-acre pollinator plot have been apparent as well, including coreopsis, black-eyed Susan, bee balm, yarrow, coneflower, and more.

As the name of the property implies, conservation education is the core mission of the center. Center staff lead conservation programs to groups of all ages. Teacher in-service training, scouts, 4-H, and other youth groups participate in classes, camp, hike, fish, hunt, or work on conservation projects. Even landowner workshops for livestock producers were considered a goal of the restoration project to demonstrate the value of native planting for wildlife as well as a potential component of their livestock operation.

Learn more about the Fred Berry Conservation Education Center on Crooked Creek or check them out on Facebook.

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