New Natural Area Protects Rare Species

 

 

Natural areas can be found across Arkansas and they protect
the diverse ecosystems that are found in the state. The Longview Saline Natural
Area in Ashley County is a new addition to the lineup.  

The area borders a stretch of the Saline River that harbors endangered mussels.
It also conserves plant communities, including pine flatwoods, that provide
habitat for an endangered bird species.

“This particular natural area has several natural communities that are rare in
the state,” said Chris Colclasure, Deputy Director of the Arkansas Natural
Heritage Commission (ANHC), which manages the System of Natural Areas in the
state. “And it supports three federally endangered species.”

These include the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, one of the few bird species endemic
to the U.S., and two aquatic mussels found within the stretch of the Saline
River that borders the natural area: the winged mapleleaf and pink mucket.

 

A tiny red line
can be found on either side of the head of male red-cockaded woodpeckers. A
cockade is a ribbon worn on a hat and this red stripe is the ‘cockade’ of the
bird. It may be hidden and is very difficult to see in the field.

 

 

“The area conserves a portion of the lower Saline River and
has countless other species and natural community types that are rare in the
state,” said Colclasure.

 

“This natural area also serves as a wonderful example of
public and private partners coming together and working for our state’s long
term ecological success,” added Karen Smith director of ANHC.
The Saline River flows southeast from Benton before joining the Ouachita River
at Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge near the Louisiana border. It is one of
the most biodiverse and species-rich river systems in the state. The river is
also known for its abundance and diversity of mussels, which have important
functions in aquatic environments. They are a link in the food chain and help
maintain water quality. Because they are long-lived and sensitive to changes in
water quality, they are important indicators of aquatic ecosystem health. The
disappearance of mussels from a river often signals that other aquatic species
are at risk.

“It’s a very unique area and because the area is rather large with several
miles of Saline River frontage it became a targeted area [for protection],”
said Joe Fox, a Forestry Director at the Arkansas Field Office of The Nature
Conservancy, which was a partner in the project.

As of now, 527 acres of the natural area are open to the public and work is in
progress to include an adjoining 1,696 acres to the area. Which equals a large
tract of land for the public to explore. It offers outdoor options like hiking
and birding. It also hosts access to the Saline River so fishing, kayaking and
canoeing are possible. Walk-in hunting will also be allowed. The goal is to
have the land transferred in time for an April 30 dedication of the natural
area.

Fox also noted a potential to expand the area in the future. “The possibility
exists that it could be a few thousand more acres in 2 or 3 more phases,” he
said.  “If [certain] negotiations are successful the natural area could
grow.”

 

 

The project has been a cooperative effort between the
Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission (ANHC), the Arkansas Field Office of The
Nature Conservancy, Molpus Timberlands Management, LLC, and the Arkansas Game
and Fish Commission. For more information on The Longview Saline Natural Area
and other natural areas across Arkansas, visit www.naturalheritage.com. For more
information on The Nature Conservancy, visit www.nature.org. Photo of Red-cockaded Woodpecker taken by Ron Howard.
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