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Arkansas Master Naturalists
Stewards for Nature



Being good stewards of our environment and public lands is an important part of being an Arkansas Master Naturalist. The foundation of good stewardship includes routine maintenance of our natural areas. Through partners such as the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, the Arkansas Master Naturalists assist with stewardship projects such as prescribed burns, boundary demarcation, litter clean up, invasive species removal, seed collection and hiking trail maintenance.





Rejuvenating Prairies with Fire
 

The importance of fire in ecosystems is not completely understood, but fire does play an important role. The adjacent photographs show Searles Prairie being burned and a seasonal pond that exists in a low spot in the prairie. The natural cycle of fire in prairies kept woody plants at bay, allowing the grasses and herbaceous plants to dominate these vast areas where bison, elk and alpha predators roamed. Searles Prairie is a remnant of the great Osage Prairie that covered vast areas of Northwest Arkansas. Searles Prairie provides habitat for hundreds of prairie plants and critters. It is a living natural history museum. The Arkansas Master Naturalists , under the direction of the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, provide countless hours preserving and protecting this beautiful natural resource.




Encouraging Native Plants

Reintroducing Native Plants

As part of the Arkansas Master Naturalists effort to be good stewards of our environment, we are reintroducing native plants. We are growing thousands of native plants each year and making these plants available to home gardeners, city parks and other public lands.

What are Native Plants – Native plants occur naturally in a region, ecosystem or habitat. These are plants that were present prior to the Europeans' arrival in North America.

Why Native Plants – Native plants are beneficial for pollinators and other insects that are an important food source for birds and other insectivores that make up an important link in our natural food webs.



Gardening with Native Plants

Native plants are easy to introduce to your home garden. They require less care than ornamentals, including water and pesticides. They provide a seasonal variety of beautiful blooms and foliage and they are beneficial to our environment and pollinators.

Some chapters of Arkansas Master Naturalists grow native plants with seed collected from their area and sell them to the public and cities to promote the benefits of "Growing Native"

Planting in the Meadow





Removing Invasives

An invasive plant is a non-native or alien plant, introduced to an area in which its spread can cause harm to the eco-system, the environment or human health.  Many plants considered invasive were introduced because they were attractive or had a purpose, but later proved to be prone to uncontrolled spread, often threatening to choke out native growth, often essential to wildlife habitat.  Some common examples are Bradford (Callery) Pears, Japanese and Bush honeysuckle, privet, tall fescue and hydrilla.

Master Naturalists work with their state parks, local natural areas, USFG and NFS to create plans to help remove invasives from natural habitat.  Here's several tips you can use to help prevent the introduction and spread of invasive plants from the Nature Conservancy.

You can help stop the introduction and spread of invasive species. Protect native plants and animals by following these six easy guidelines:

  1. Ask your local nursery staff for help to ensure the plants you are buying for your yard are not invasive. Replace invasive plants with non-invasive alternatives. Better yet, go native!
  2. When boating, clean your boat thoroughly before transporting it to a different body of water.
  3. Clean your boots before you hike in a new area to get rid of hitchhiking weed seeds and pathogens.
  4. Don't "pack a pest" when traveling. Fruits and vegetables, plants, insects and animals can carry pests or become invasive themselves.
  5. Don’t move firewood. It can harbor forest pests.
  6. Don't release aquarium fish and plants, live bait or other exotic animals into the wild. If you plan to own an exotic pet, do your research and plan ahead to make sure you can commit to looking after it. 
  7. Volunteer at your local park, refuge or other wildlife area to help remove invasive species. Help educate others about the threat.

(Picture at right: Chinese privet in bloom. Photo courtesy Cheryl Hall)
Privet




Trail Maintenance

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We all enjoy walking trails in parks, natural areas and forests.  Did you ever think about what it takes to keep a trail usable?  Once a trail is built, it need maintenance,not only because of wear from people using it, but also from natural forces.  Here's three of the most common tasks done to keep trails usable:

Brushing (also called clearing or limbing)  Those trees we love  grow over trails and undergrowth around trails also will spread.  Regular maintence is needed so you can get down the trail. Crews use power and hand tools to remove tree and shrub growth that impedes traffic.

Deadfall removal. After a storm or big rain, trees often lose limbs or branches.  These need to be cleared so normal usage can resume.

Water control. Water 
is the primary natural enemy of trails. Water running down a trail causes erosion and poor trail conditions. Water must be removed from the trail as quickly as possible.  This is done by providing and drainage dips, which direct the water away from a trail, or give it a way to sink without damaging the trail bed.

The next time you walk a trail, think about the volunteers, very possibly Master Naturalists, who have maintained it for your use and enjoyment.