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A forest of felled trees some snapped in half after a tornado.
Information icon Tornado damage on the refuge. Photo by USFWS.

Tornado strikes White River National Wildlife Refuge

A tornado twisted through White River National Wildlife Refuge in St. Charles, Arkansas, on July 30, 2009, leaving an eight-mile path of destruction. The tornado felled bottomland hardwood trees on about 1,750 acres as it traveled through the refuge’s Jacks Bay area northeast through Big Island.

Although no one was injured during the tornado, afterward several refuge visitors waited in their vehicles until refuge, Arkansas County, and Tichnor Volunteer Fire Department personnel could clear debris from a one-half-mile path on an exit road.

“I am very grateful for the swift response from the county and the local fire department,” said Refuge Manager Dennis Sharp. “We are lucky to have such a great partnership because they were crucial in responding to this incident and getting our visitors to safety.”

None of the refuge’s facilities were damaged. Personnel are removing downed trees and debris from the Jacks Bay and Levee Roads, which are closed until further notice. For an update on the status of these roads, please contact the refuge at 870-282-8200, and press 1.

The abundant debris left in the tornado’s wake is expected to benefit most of the refuge’s wildlife. Wood-boring insects will feast on downed trees, and in turn, birds and bears will feast on the increased insect population. Deer will feed on the additional broad-leaved plant and shrub growth during the summer, and this same growth will provide them escape cover throughout the year.

For up to five years, this tornado’s debris will give suitable nesting habitat for turkeys, although its suitability for brood-rearing will be minimal. Upright but damaged trees will provide habitat for cavity-nesting birds. When the river floods, wintering waterfowl will feed on seeds from grasses which will become more plentiful as more sunlight reaches the ground.

However, Acadian flycatchers and other birds that depend on old-growth forests probably won’t be seen in the area affected by the tornado for more than 20 years.


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