U.S. Fish & Wildlife personnel conduct a prescribed burn in a pine forest on the refuge. Credit: Chris Foster, USFWS
Prescribed burning is conducted in the upland pine-dominated forests primarily for the benefit of the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. Other reasons for prescribed fire are to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire and to promote the historic, fire-maintained forest with native herbaceous grasses and wildflowers. A prescribed fire management prescription is written and approved before each burn. These prescriptions specify the stringent parameters that must be met including wind speed, direction, humidity, temperature and other weather parameters. All burning specialists must be re-certified annually to meet federal standards.
Farming is used as a tool to provide high protein foods for wintering waterfowl. Flooded cropland is an important component of wintering waterfowl habitat because high-energy agricultural seeds are critically needed by waterfowl during cold periods and for migration and subsequent reproduction. Farming conducted on Upper Ouachita NWR usually consists of approximately 1,000 acres planted in rice or 200 acres in millet.
Moist soil habitat promotes native herbaceous plants that provide seeds and structure for invertebrates. The management of moist soils usually requires the manipulation of hydrology and the disturbance of soils to produce a diverse stand of preferred waterfowl plants. Water is usually pumped and then drawn down at key times to germinate these preferred foods at the Mollicy Unit of Upper Ouachita NWR.
Forest management includes the selective thinning of trees to improve species diversity, vegetative structure, and forest health. Thinning a percentage of larger trees allows sunlight to reach the ground causing regeneration of oaks and small understory plants that provide food for resident wildlife and structure for nesting songbirds.
Invasive Species Control
Imperative to any habitat management program is the control and if possible, eradication of exotic, invasive plants. Invasives are not native and have no natural limiting factors allowing these plants to invade and often out compete native plants. Usually invasives are plants that originate in Asia or South America and have been brought to the United States to be sold in nurseries as ornamentals. These invasive plant species are often sought after for their beautiful flowers or foliage by landscapers. Their ability to grow extremely quickly and live in many different habitat types allows these plants to out compete native vegetation, thus inundating a forest. Invasive species that are of extreme concern and found on Upper Ouachita NWR include Chinese tallowtree, Japanese climbing fern, mimosa, Chinese privet and Japanese wisteria. These plants are treated mechanically and chemically to prevent their spread.
Restoration of Bottomland Hardwood Forest
Bald eagles can often be seen from the observation tower at the Mollicy Unit. Credit: Bob Rickett, volunteer
When the Mollicy Unit was acquired in 1997, the refuge began reforestation efforts. Over 10,000 acres of trees have been planted, making this the largest bottomland hardwood reforestation effort in the country.
The next step in the restoration process involves reconnecting13,000 acres of the Mollicy Unit to the Ouachita River. In the late 1960s, the Mollicy Unit was cleared for the production of soybeans. The landowner built a 16-mile long ring levee around Mollicy to keep the river from flooding the area. In 2009-10, the Service intends to breach this levee in five strategic locations to allow the river access to its former floodplain. The Nature Conservancy has partnered with the Service to accomplish what will be the largest floodplain restoration project in the country. The ecological and public safety benefits of breaching the levee are numerous. The biological integrity of the refuge will be increased by allowing a more historic hydrological regime. Thousands of acres will become available for fish spawning habitat. The young planted trees will thrive in a natural flooding cycle. More habitat will be available to wading birds and waterfowl. The public will benefit by providing 13,000 acres of flood storage for the downstream city of Monroe, relieving pressure on Monroe levees during river flood stage events.
Wildlife and Habitat
An endangered red-cockaded woodpecker chick is banded by a refuge biologist when only a few days old. Credit: Gypsy Hanks, USFWS
During winter, tens of thousands of ducks and geese utilize the refuge for loafing, foraging and to form pair bonds. Mallards, green-winged teal, wood ducks, and gadwall are the most common ducks seen here. However, wigeons, pintails, shovelers, ring-necked ducks, and hooded mergansers are regularly spotted. Snow and white-fronted geese winter in large numbers on the Mollicy Unit of Upper Ouachita NWR. Wood ducks, hooded mergansers, mottled ducks and the occasional black-bellied whistling duck can be seen during the summer months.
The endangered red-cockaded woodpecker resides on the western side of Upper Ouachita NWR. Red-cockaded woodpeckers require large stands of old pine (> 75 years) trees. Prescribed burns are conducted to provide the open, park-like forest these woodpeckers need. Without fire in their habitat, these birds will eventually abandon the area. Habitat loss/degradation and demographic isolation are the biggest threats to this species.
The threatened Louisiana black bear is making a come back thanks to many federal, state, and private partners. As the population increases, more bears are being seen on Upper Ouachita NWR. Black bears have large home ranges and can travel many miles in a day. In these parts, bears primarily forage on berries, acorns, fruit, fish, and insects. During late winter, bears will den in hollow trees or make a ground nest. When the females leave the den in spring, they will often emerge with two young cubs born during hibernation.
Please refer to the bird and mammal lists for a compilation of species found on the refuge.