A gentle breeze rustles through prairie grass beneath a sparse woodland canopy. A unique landscape thrives where forest meets thin soiled glades. In this mixed habitat, a variety of wild plants grow and support an array of animals. It’s a splendid place where the real wild things are – Peck Ranch Conservation Area.
History Comes to Life
Peck Ranch is one of the largest wildlife management areas in the state that’s managed on a “landscape natural community scale,” and it offers such a tremendous plant and animal diversity, according to Wildlife Management Biologist Ryan Houf.
“Peck Ranch is a demonstration of how forestry, wildlife, protection, fisheries and resource science meld into one multifaceted management machine,” Houf said.
The management machine Houf refers to began more than 50 years ago, when the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) began turkey restoration efforts and Peck Ranch CA was center stage to provide turkeys for trapping and relocation. The area also served as a vital research site for understanding the ecology of Missouri’s remnant wild turkeys.
Forest management, prescribed fire and hunting regulations are all parts of that management machine that has supported a huge comeback for a myriad of wildlife in Missouri, such as wild turkeys, Eastern collared lizards and white-tailed deer. And it all started at Peck Ranch.
Turkeys and the Woodlands
Wild turkeys have specific habitat needs in order to thrive. Cover for nesting and brood rearing was as vital as places for turkeys to forage for nuts and green browse plants. Peck Ranch was a great place to find forest and grassland habitats with appropriate soil and moisture. Turkey nesting cover is found in the mature grasslands or thick forest cover, and the tender growth of grasses and wildflowers make for a great place to rear a brood as they search for insects.
The forest at Peck Ranch isn’t a typical forest. The ground is exceptionally rocky, the soil is thin and often the south or western hillside exposure bakes the soil to release its moisture faster than it would on other slopes. The trees that live here are shortleaf pine, post oak, blackjack oak and chinquapin oak. The ground is lightly covered with leaves, but it also has a strong component of sedges, grasses and plants that tolerate some sunlight but enjoy shade as well. Ecologists call this a woodland.
Quail, songbirds such as blue winged warblers and red-headed woodpeckers,