Clover Lick Barrens

Information paper on Barrens - 2008


'Barrens' and post oak-blackjack oak, dry forests are relatively rare plant communities in Indiana and the Hoosier N.F. Barrens are fairly open areas with a variety of grasses and forbs, especially prairie species, such as Indian grass. Scattered, scrubby trees and rock outcroppings commonly occur in them. Dry, post oak-blackjack forests are dominated by trees and have less herbaceous ground cover than barrens.  Distinguishing between barrens and dry forests isn't always easy, because they merge together and most of the plant species that occur in one also occur in the other. Both occur on dry sites with shallow soils. Blackjack oak is found on the poorest dry forest sites and in barrens; on better sites, post oak, chestnut oak, white oaks, and other trees may also be found.

It has been said that time is a great healer, but the plant communities of many of the barrens and dry, post oak-blackjack forests in the Forest have declined due to an altered fire regime. Because the areas have been protected from periodic fires, trees have increased over the past 50 years and resultant shading has caused a reduction in many prairie plants, including Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio, primarily by fire. Land managers have also maintained them by cutting and use of herbicides. Each situation may require something different.

"The first step in plant community management," according to Mike Homoya, botanist for the IDNR, Division of Nature Preserves, "is to identify and evaluate an existing plant community and the potential natural community of the site." Soil and moisture relationships of the site are important factors to consider. Other considerations are the variety of flora within a particular plant community and it's importance to local and regional biological diversity. Homoya says that after deciding specific plant community objectives for a site, a plan of action can be developed. There are no certainties at this time on what techniques will work best in each situation. "That's why the proposals for the Buzzard Roost barrens and dry forests are all trial actions. We'll use our best judgment and past experience, then reevaluate our management based on results we get over time."

"We feel that it's important that we explore ways to restore the former plant and associated animal diversity of at least some of the barrens and dry forests that have declined in the recent past," says Homoya. On the Hoosier N.F., the IDNR, Division of Nature Preserves and Division of Fish and Wildlife are working together with the Forest Service to do just that.

Location of Clover Lick Barrens

Clover Lick Barrens is located in Perry County, Indiana, on the Hoosier National Forest. A vicinity map below shows the general location of the area. It is between Cannelton and Leavonworth along the Ohio River.








History/Geology of Clover Lick

Geologically, this part of Indiana is at the contact zone of the Pennsylvanian and Mississippian formations. The Pennsylvanian-age sandstone caps the area and forms small cliffs. The Mississippian formations are of sandstone, shale and limestone, with few outcrops. These markedly different types of bedrock create conditions favorable for the diverse natural communities at Clover Lick. Forests on the sandstones are typically chestnut oak on ridgetops, and other species of oaks and hickory on slopes. The shales and limestones support post oak and blackjack oak, and where more open, have an understory of prairie plants.

Like all of the national forests in the eastern United States, the area was previously in private ownership as farmland, and has been reacquired by the federal government. Land in the vicinity of Clover Lick was acquired beginning in 1936, some of the first tracts to be included in the Hoosier. Ownership of the area was consolidated by the government in 1972, when the last of over two dozen tracts were purchased.

The forest cover has gradually returned over time, and with the exception of pine being planted in areas that were seriously eroded, most of the forest reflects the same species that were there in pre-European settlement times. The number and diversity of prairie plants in the barrens area however, indicate that the area was likely more open in earlier times. Surveyor notes from 1805, recorded a description of the area as "a mile of poor barrens and grassy hills, with much flint and a few scrub oaks."

Ecological significance

The special ecology of the barrens community in the Clover Lick watershed was first noted during the natural areas inventory of Indiana in 1987. Noteworthy areas of prairie grasses and forbs were found under the open canopy of post oak and blackjack oak in this area of predominantly white and black oak. Closer inspection of the sites yielded several prairie species considered rare in the state. Because of the significance of the barrens and its rare plants, Clover Lick Barrens was established as a special area in the 1991 Hoosier National Forest Plan.

Barrens Management

After years of fire suppression, the quality of the natural communities in this watershed had been deteriorating. The understory trees had become so dense that little light filtered down to the forest floor. This increased the humidity and stressed the rare prairie-adapted plants, which impacted the area's diversity.

burn at Boone Creek barrens

To begin restoring the vigor of the ecosystem, a landscape-scale prescribed fire was recommended. A 2,300-acre landscape, including Clover Lick Barrens, was burned in early April 1993. Seven miles of fire control lines were "constructed" using leaf blowers and rakes to contain the burn area.

The burn blackened about 70 percent of the 2,300 acres. Most of the fuel was accumulated leaf litter. Scorch marks on tree trunks were mostly less than a foot high, but occasionally reached as high as 10 feet. The fire burn did not burn hot enough anywhere to kill more than a few isolated overstory trees. It did reduce the shade by top-killing small (two-inch diameter or less) understory trees. This allowed the site to dry out by increasing the sunlight and airflow on the forest floor. Since the burn, the herbs in the understory have made a remarkable recovery. In one area, Indian grass, which had been about five feet tall before the fire, grew to nearly eight feet the year after.

Interestingly, the same results were found in invertebrate, mammal, and bird populations. Populations have soared in the area of the burn where more nutrients and a larger food base is now available.

The results following the second burn of this area conducted in April 1995 have been equally dramatic. The second burn was more complete and more uniform with very low scorch marks. Flowering of forbs in the forest and barrens has been profuse and much of the forest floor is now covered with dense vegetation.

Turkey Management

In 1972, Indiana lacked a viable wild turkey population. The Forest, in cooperation with Indiana Department of Natural Resources, established a 6,000 acre area around Clover Lick to re-introduce wild turkey. This area, known as the Mogan Ridge Turkey Management Area was fenced and closed to hunting until a viable turkey population was established. A picture below shows the commemoration of the new area.  Six years later, a limited hunting season was opened.

Wildlife is still prevalent in this relatively remote area of the Forest. A limited road system exist, but is kept closed for most of the year. A designated multiple-use hiking, horseback, and mountain bike trail is nearby. A permit is required for mountain bike or horse use of the trail.

A large population of ticks in the area limit the number of visitors to the barrens.Sign at Mogan Ridge Area