Little Lost Creek

Missourians don't have to travel far to enjoy the great outdoors. No matter where you live in the state, you are a short distance from at least one of the nearly 1,000 areas managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation. One of my favorites is Little Lost Creek Conservation Area. Of course, I may be biased. I am the area manager.

Little Lost Creek Conservation Area is located about an hour west of St. Louis in the heart of the Missouri River hills. The area contains 2,899 acres of some of the steepest, most rugged country found anywhere in Missouri. What impresses visitors most about this area is its great diversity of cover types, plant and animal species, and natural features.

The bulk of the area is forested. One goal of our forest management is to provide a diverse age structure throughout the woods. This is because different species of wildlife require forests at various stages of succession. Some rely heavily on the thick, brushy cover provided by a young forest. Other species depend on the snags and cavity trees found in a mature forest.

Historically, a combination of wildfires, insect and disease outbreaks and severe weather events kept the forest in an uneven age structure. However, we no longer are able to allow wildfires to burn uncontrolled or to ignore major insect and disease outbreaks, so we use prescribed burning, forest thinning and timber sales to help keep our forests, and the wildlife that depend on them, healthy.

One of the key issues that we face in the woods of Little Lost Creek Conservation Area is the increasing dominance of sugar maple. These woods have always contained some sugar maple, but the species was historically kept in check by wildfires. The oaks and hickories which used to dominate the overstory of these woods are fire tolerant, but they can't grow in heavy shade. Sugar maple, on the other hand, is susceptible to fire, but it grows well in shade. As we have eliminated fire from our woods over the last 50 years, sugar maples have taken over much of the forest.

Although they are beautiful in the fall, sugar maples produce such heavy shade that hardly any plants, including young oaks and hickories, shrubs or even wildflowers, can survive beneath them,

Over time, these forests slowly develop into a monoculture of maple. This is bad for wildlife, which relies on