Mountain Boomers Boom Back
The eastern collared lizard, often called the mountain boomer, is just one of several desert-adapted species living in Missouri's Ozarks.
Though typically associated with the more arid regions of the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico, this lizard has managed to survive for thousands of years on small, fragmented habitats that we call glades. Glades are open, rocky areas where thin soils, high landscape position and maximum exposure to sunlight create a near desert environment. Native grasses and forbs are the dominant vegetation, and few trees are present. With plenty of exposed rocks for cover, a dry climate and abundant insects, glades provide excellent habitat for collared lizards.
In Missouri, glades are usually small, isolated islands in an otherwise wooded environment. Therefore, collared lizards must be able to freely move about to take advantage of all the glades that exist in an area. This requires the presence of travel corridors connecting these areas.
Fires, often ignited by aboriginal Americans, periodically burned across the Ozarks, reducing underbrush and promoting the growth of grasses and wildflowers in the understory of these woodlands. The structure created by fire on these sites was critical to maintaining the open conditions that allowed collared lizards to circulate.
Early explorers, such as Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, remarked on the openness of the wooded areas in the Ozarks and the abundance of grasses and wildflowers growing under the oak canopy. Other accounts often described how aboriginal Americans frequently burned the woods to make travel easier and to attract bison, elk and other large herbivores. For thousands of years, the use of fire by these early inhabitants shaped the habitats of the Ozarks, creating conditions favorable to many wildlife species.
Collared lizards thrived under these conditions until widespread European settlement began to change the landscape. Although early settlers continued the practice of burning the land, increases in the frequency and pattern of fires, along with open-range grazing of livestock, led to further declines in the once diverse and widespread natural communities of the area.
By the early 1900s, the native flora and fauna of the Ozarks were in jeopardy. Fifty years of relentless burning, heavy grazing and uncontrolled logging had left little evidence of the plants and animals that formerly inhabited the region.
In the 1940s, federal and state resource management agencies began advocating reforestation programs which included the widespread control of all wildfires. This change in policies began, quite possibly, the