Mike Freeze Wattensaw Wildlife Management Area - Habitat Restoration and Management Overview
Mike Freeze Wattensaw Wildlife Management Area encompasses 19,154 acres within the Mississippi Alluvial Valley (MAV) ecoregion. The area consists of rolling ridges dominated by upland hardwood forest and serves as a refuge for wildlife during periods of inundation due to the agriculture dominated landscape. The WMA also plays a significant role in the connectivity of wildlife habitat along the White River Basin, also known as the Big Woods of Eastern Arkansas.
The WMA is part of the historical 900,000 acre Grand Prairie ecosystem complex. Although prairies flourished within the Grand Prairie for thousands of years, very few remain today. As land was cleared for rice production in the early 20th century, much of the original Grand Prairie landscape was lost. Tallgrass prairies and a variety of other natural communities are now very rare and limited to small fragments. The loss of these rare habitats coincided with the decline of many wildlife species, including Northern Bobwhite, Grasshopper Sparrows, Greater-Prairie Chickens, and the Monarch butterfly. Even though much has been lost, the potential exists for prairie and woodlands to be restored to some locations across the region.
AGFC habitat biologists, who are also registered foresters, have completed inventories of existing stands and determined that between 2-5% of the area should be in a savannah type and 20% in an open woodland condition. To that end, they have developed habitat prescriptions to restore these historic conditions over time, including timber harvest to reduce canopy cover and basal area, and prescribed fire to reinvigorate the herbaceous layer. While the forest management activities on the WMA may seem aggressive, these activities are similar to those on numerous other WMAs across the state as well as with habitat restoration being done on other conservation lands. A combination of all these activities are required to meet habitat management objectives and achieve desired forest conditions at both the local and landscape scale.
The key ingredient in creating quality wildlife habitat is sunlight. Sunlight must reach the ground to provide quality native grasses and forbs and regenerate oaks, and sunlight can better reach the ground by reducing forest density. Increasing understory diversity increases available browse for deer, which can be particularly important in low mast producing years. It also provides cover for small mammals, deer fawns, and ground-nesting birds and nectar sources for pollinators.
Below you can find more information regarding this project: