The 637.8-acre Pine City Natural Area, which is owned by the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, is at the heart of approximately 18,000 acres that have been designated a priority site for The Nature Conservancy. The site encompasses a rare headwater swamp—home to a bottomland hardwood forest that contains the endangered pondberry plant—and a loblolly pine forest with trees that have become genetically distinct from all other such pines in the United States due to their isolation.
Sandy soils and a higher elevation, both uncommon in the Mississippi River's alluvial plain, enabled the only native pines in the entire plain to take root at Pine City. In turn, these isolated loblolly pines attracted animals like the red-cockaded woodpecker that are not typically found in the region.
The red-cockaded woodpecker, a species listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, nests in live pine trees more than 60 years old. Their population has declined because of the reduction of pines that are old enough to be used for nesting and because fire suppression has allowed hardwood, mid-story vegetation to encroach into the open, park-like forests where these birds prefer to nest.
Land use changes in the Pine City site have altered and fragmented its natural habitat. Surface water flows, for example, now carry increased levels of sediment, nutrients and chemicals into the site's waterways. The suppression of natural fire regimes has changed the site's species composition and adversely affected habitat for the red-cockaded woodpecker.
The Conservancy is engaged in efforts to increase public awareness of the environmental stresses on the site and develop partnerships and collaborative solutions for addressing them. Strategies include the purchase of priority parcels of land to reduce habitat fragmentation, the restoration of the native pine community and of natural surface flow and fire regimes, and working with nearby landowners to foster compatible land management and use.
The Pine City Natural Area and surrounding lands are key sites for conservation of the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker and pondberry. Conservation of the site's rare headwater swamp and genetically-distinct pine forest will preserve habitats that support the biological diversity of the Mississippi River's alluvial plain.