SierraScape February - March 2011
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LaBarque Creek Natural Area:
An Example of Missouri's Original Landscape
by Becky Denney
Conservation Committee Chair
It is truly remarkable that all 639 acres of LaBarque Creek
Conservation Area were designated as a natural area by the
MO Conservation Commission
in December. Our Missouri Natural Areas
System which began in 1977 is coordinated by an interagency called
Missouri Natural Areas Committee (MONAC).
Once an area is designated
a Missouri Natural Area, it receives the highest natural resource
protection afforded by the state. How could a conservation area
within 30 minutes of St. Louis be so pristine that it would qualify
for a Natural Area designation when the St. Louis region has
so much sprawl?
Natural areas are chosen to represent and conserve biodiversity
for the present and the future but the species and natural communities
they represent were present historically throughout the state.
They might have been familiar to the
or the French
when they first came to the Jefferson County area. Our natural
areas are chosen and protected as a part of our natural heritage
but they also are important for scientific purposes including
genetic diversity and add immeasurably to our quality of life.
Many of the wildlife and plant communities of our state
have changed in the last 200 years due to impacts from human
actions such as agriculture, urban sprawl, highway construction,
dams, stream channelization, overgrazing and poor logging practices.
Even the landforms have been changed by invasive human impacts.
Only about 1/3 of Missouri has the same land cover it had in
early the early 1800s. 87% of our wetlands have been destroyed.
Our natural areas "represent the highest and best use of
public lands on which" they occur, but they are remnants
of larger past ecosystems.
LaBarque Creek is an Ozark headwater stream with 8,365 acres
in its watershed. 29% of the acreage it drains is in public ownership.
It is located in northwest Jefferson County close to Highway
44. Since LaBarque Creek is only 6.4 miles long, the 1 mile
stream frontage of our newly named natural area contains a significant
amount of diverse riparian corridor and diverse in-stream communities
which adds to the diversity of terrestrial communities in the
natural area itself as well as contributing to downstream biological
health of the creek. Even though much of the watershed is within
an easy drive of St. Louis, the population is concentrated, so
only 4% of the surface area is impervious. And, a whopping 86%
is still in forest, with 2/3's of the land having a slope of
15% or more, so this is rugged country and hard to "settle."
The aquatic biodiversity and species richness of the creek
is amazing. Mike Leahy, MDC Natural Areas Coordinator, writes:
"This area lies at the heart of the LaBarque Creek Conservation
Opportunity Area. LaBarque Creek supports 36 native fish species
(including five native darters) – the highest diversity
of native fishes found in tributaries to the Meramec River in
Jefferson and St. Louis counties. "
The predominance of Ozark species in the creek which require
permanent streamflow and coarse gravel or rock bottoms coupled
with such a rugged terrain also translates into a fragile ecosystem.
Designating a large acreage of the LaBarque Creek watershed from
a conservation area to a natural area can increase needed protection
from future changes in land use or poor logging practices.
Most of the LaBarque Creek NA is forested but the natural
communities "range from sandstone glades through dolomite
woodlands to moist sandstone cliffs. Numerous scenic wet-weather
waterfalls, box canyons and cliffs are carved in the area's sandstone
The geology is fascinating—wild and steep yet so accessible
to many of us. The terrestrial communities are also unique and
diverse. Mike Leahy writes,
"The natural area also contains a mix of over a dozen
terrestrial natural communities that collectively support 499
vascular plant species, 115 moss and liverwort species, and 49
breeding bird species."
Missouri's natural areas are often "actively managed"
because historical natural disturbances such as fire, flooding,
windstorms, natural predators and native grazers are no longer
acting on an ecosystem basis due to the fragmented character
of our protected lands. In addition, both exotic and native species
can become invasive which is a challenge to maintaining biological
diversity. Monitoring and often management is required for many
Missouri Natural Areas.
There are 9 species of special concern that call the LaBarque
Creek Natural Area home. The ringed and four-toed salamanders,
both state listed amphibians of conservation concern, are found
in large areas of the mesic limestone/dolomite and sandstone
forests that are in much of the watershed. The four-toed salamander
prefers undisturbed mosses along wooded, spring-fed creeks and
under damp, rotten logs and rocks. It may grow as long as 4 inches.
LaBarque is also the home of the Gray Petaltail Dragonfly,
Tachopteryx thoreyi, which is large for a
and lives in deciduous forest with permanent hillside seeps. The larvae
of most dragonflies are found in aquatic environments but the
Gray Petaltail larvae live in mucky groundwater seeps that may
contain little standing water. The
breeds in all 4 of the fragile and rare wetland communities (59 acres total)
called acid seeps and forested fens found along stream edges
in the upper LaBarque Creek watershed.
Decreases in the seep habitat that is needed by this dragonfly
could be caused by changes in groundwater movement, increasing
sediments, pesticides or herbicides in the water. For instance,
takeover of the seep areas by red cedars could destroy the seep
Part of the answer to my original question is that the terrain
in LaBarque watershed is so steep that it was not easy to develop.
Part of the answer is also that the area landowners, environmentalists
and public land managers appreciated its beauty, saw great value
there so worked to protect it and are still planning and working
to protect the present ecosystem integrity.
You can join the work project going on this spring. The Lum
Miller Hollow Project is a work project to get rid of invasive
cedar trees on the Don Robinson land. The 843 acres of the
future Don Robinson State Park
is not part of the LaBarque Creek NA
but it will become an important part of the LaBarque Creek Conservation
Opportunity Area (COA). It is sponsored by the LaBarque Watershed
Stream Team partnership with the
Missouri Master Naturalist Confluence chapter.
Information about work dates for the Lum Miller Hollow Project is is below.
For specific descriptions and maps refer to the updated,
user-friendly Missouri's Natural Areas website:
Eastern Red Cedar Project for LaBarque Creek Watershed
The following are volunteer work days for the Lum Miller
Hollow Project, Don Robinson State Park, LaBarque Creek Conservation
Opportunity Area. For details please refer to the Confluence
Chapter Mo Master Naturalist web site under Activities.
Jan. 20, 22, 27; February 3, 5, 10, 17, 24, 26; March 3, 5,
10, 17, 24, 26, 31.
The near term project for the above dates is the removal,
stacking and burning of downed Eastern Red Ceder material and
planning of the next project a glade restoration. For details
contact Bob Coffing at 314-488-4013.
LaBarque Creek Conservation Opportunity Area (COA): Conservation
Opportunity Areas are high-priority landscapes that were identified
during the development of Missouri's Comprehensive Wildlife Strategy*.
These landscapes were identified by the
Missouri Department of Conservation
as well as many other conservation partners (such as
The Nature Conservancy)
as the best places to go to work to
conserve all of Missouri's native species and their habitats.
LaBarque Creek COA encompasses the LaBarque Creek watershed and
was identified for its high-quality terrestrial natural communities
(e.g., sandstone cliffs and glades) and the ecologically important
LaBarque Creek itself (see
LaBarque Creek Watershed: A watershed is all the land area
that drains to a common stream. In the case of LaBarque Creek,
an area of 13 square miles comprises the LaBarque Creek watershed.
A stream is a product of its watershed. To protect and conserve
the ecological integrity of LaBarque Creek, efforts to conserve
it must focus on the whole watershed.
LaBarque Creek Conservation Area: A conservation area is
land owned or managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation
to conserve the fish, forest and wildlife resources of the state
for the citizens. LaBarque Creek is a 639 acre conservation
LaBarque Creek Natural Area: A
Missouri Natural Area
is designated by the directors of MDC and
as a site that preserves
and is managed to perpetuate the natural character, diversity
and ecological processes of Missouri's native landscapes. Designated
natural areas are approved by an inter-agency Missouri Natural
Areas Committee and submitted to the directors of DNR and MDC
for approval. The MDC Conservation Commission approves to designate
natural areas on lands owned or managed by the Conservation Department.
LaBarque Creek Natural Area encompasses all of LaBarque Creek
Conservation Area (639 acres). Note that typically a Missouri
Natural Area is embedded within a MDC Conservation Area or State
Park. Sometimes, as is the case with LaBarque Creek, the entire
conservation area is a natural area.
Definitions provided by Mike Leahy, Natural Areas Coordinator,
Missouri Department of Conservation