How Important Are Glades on Your Property? What Kind of Critters Live There?

By Ted Zawislak, AGFC Private Lands Biologist, North Central Arkansas

Arkansas Outdoors
How’s Your Habitat?
Arkansas Game and Fish Commission
Arkansas Game & Fish Commission

Little Rock, AR -( The term glade didn’t always refer to the cedar-dominated glade we see today.

Eastern red cedars took over glades as the result of fire suppression over the past 40-plus years. Glades are remarkable biological complexes with unique plant and animal diversity off the charts.

Glades are found throughout the Ozarks and occasionally on steep south and west facing slopes throughout Arkansas. These land features are sometimes referred to as balds or barrens. Glades are essentially shallow, rocky soils with exposed bedrock characterized by an abundance of wildflowers and native grasses, with only a few trees and shrubs. Periodic fires and local conditions of topography, bedrock and soil greatly influence glade development.

Due to the soil characteristics, drought tolerant forbs and grasses are common on glades. A few plant species, such as bladderpod, glade coneflower and bottlebrush blazing star, are restricted to only glade communities. A few trees and shrubs also occur on glades, but they are normally at much lower densities than within the woodlands which may be present in the surrounding landscape. Glades provide habitat to a variety of different wildlife species including: eastern collared lizard, painted bunting, prairie warbler and popular game species like: wild turkey, northern bobwhite and white-tailed deer.

One species, the eastern collared lizard, has been found to be a good indicator species for the health of a glade. These are colorful, long-tailed lizards with a large head. Males are the most colorful, especially during breeding season, and can exhibit yellow, green, or bluish green colorations. Males and females both can reach 8-14 inches in length and have two dark- brown or black irregular lines across the neck.

In Arkansas, these lizards live among rocks on dry, open, south or southwest-facing limestone, sandstone, and granite glades. They over-winter in burrows 8-12 inches under large rocks. When habitats are marginal (shadier or cooler than optimal), reproduction decreases. In fact, this species has declined in many areas due to loss of glade habitat, where trees are permitted to overgrow these desert-like areas. Wildlife managers and foresters are working to improve glades in the Arkansas Ozarks to restore habitat for species like the eastern collared lizard. If you have eastern collared lizards you usually have a well-managed and healthy glade. If you do not, the glade is likely degraded and in need of restoration.

Some examples of flowering plants found on glades include pale purple coneflower, yellow coneflower, Missouri primrose, black-eyed Susan, purple prairie clover, lead plant, lanceleaf coreopsis, scaly blazing star and aromatic aster. Common grasses include sideoats grama, little bluestem, big bluestem, Indian grass and switchgrass.

Historically, glades were surrounded by a savanna or open woodland which can be as important as the actual rock glade itself. A savanna is an area of widely scattered trees with a lush stand of native grasses and wildflowers. Shortleaf pine and oak species such as post, chinquapin, blackjack and black oak are a few species commonly found on upland savannas and woodlands near glades. These trees are often stunted and express poor development because of the shallow, droughty soils and poor growing conditions.

Glades are sensitive, desert-like communities that, in many areas, have been degraded for a variety of reasons, including: fire suppression, overgrazing, rock quarrying, the spread of undesirable vegetation such as serecia lespedeza and even plant and rock collectors. Improper management or disturbances from rock and plant collectors will quickly erode the thin soils and destroy habitat for animals adapted to living in glades like the eastern collared lizard. Historically, periodic fire kept woody encroachment under control; however, with fire suppression, numerous glades and surrounding woodland communities have been engulfed by eastern red cedar and other woody vegetation. Many large “cedar thickets” seen on Ozark hillsides today are actually degraded glade, so most folks call them – cedar glades.

Glade restoration often begins with the removal of undesirable woody vegetation – primarily eastern red cedar. Woody vegetation should also be removed from the surrounding savanna or woodland. In some cases, undesirable herbaceous vegetation, such as tall fescue or Serecia lespedeza, may be present. If possible, spray these areas before cutting down the woody vegetation; otherwise it will be difficult, if not impossible, to spray the vegetation with all the downed trees. If serecia lespedeza is present, seek professional advice from an AGFC private lands biologist or Arkansas Forestry Commission forester for treatment recommendations.

A chainsaw is usually the best tool to use when removing woody vegetation. Avoid using a bulldozer or tree clipper since heavy machinery will damage exposed bedrock and rocky outcroppings. Cut woody vegetation should be left to burn or stacked in piles and burned. Because of the extreme volatility of cut cedar, consider leaving cedar slash (tree limbs and trunks) for 1 or 2 years before burning, or burn piles when there is either snow on the ground or shortly after a rain. A good rule of thumb is to remove all cedar slash within 50 feet of your planned firebreak before conducting a prescribed burn, which is the preferred method to maintain a glade. After a couple of prescribed fires, most of the dead, woody vegetation will be gone. Leave a limited number of desirable woody species in the glade.

The remaining trees should be widely scattered, with most trees remaining in draws or near the edge of open woodland. Ideally, the remaining woody vegetation would consist of shortleaf pine, and post, chinquapin, black or blackjack oak. A permanent firebreak should be at least 8 feet wide around the outside of the glade, and if conditions allow, establish the firebreak at the edge of the associated savanna or woodland. Permanent firebreaks can be constructed using a small dozer or skid-loader, but avoid constructing the firebreak across or too close to the glade.

Prescribed fire is essential to maintaining a glade. Without it, woody vegetation will overtake the area again. Prescribed burns should be conducted on a 3 to 5 year rotation, preferably sometime between November and February. Depending on the situation, a biologist may recommend more frequent burning to control invading woody vegetation or perhaps burning at another time of the year. Because of the steep terrain and difficultly in constructing firebreaks, the entire glade and woodland can be burned as one unit.

We are fortunate in Arkansas to have such a variety of habitats for wildlife. Glades are just one of the many unique habitats that not only support wildlife which are rarely found elsewhere, but also are scenic areas to visit. With proper management and awareness to the importance of this habitat, glades across much of the Ozarks can be protected and restored to what they once were.

For more information on establishing and maintaining land for wildlife habitat improvement and programs to help, contact an AGFC Private Lands Biologist at: Beaver Lake, 866-253-2506; Harrison, 870-741-8600 ext. 114; Hope, 877-777-5580; Calico Rock, 877-297-4331; Little Rock, 877-470-3650; Brinkley, 877-734-4581; Jonesboro, 877-972-5438 and Monticello, 877-367-3559.

About Arkansas Game and Fish Commission

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission plays an important role in keeping The Natural State true to its name. During the last 100 years, the agency has overseen the protection, conservation and preservation of various species of fish and wildlife in Arkansas. This is done through habitat management, fish stocking, hunting and fishing regulations, and a host of other programs.

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6 years ago

Cedar Glades reminds me of where I grew up in middle Tennessee.

6 years ago

I just wanted to give a shout-out to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. In my lifetime of 62 years the AG&FC have brought back many scarce or locally nonexistent game and non-game species to flourish in todays natural state. Thank you guys and gals for a great job.