The J.T. Nickel Family Nature and Wildlife Preserve covers more than 17,000 acres in Cherokee and Adair Counties. Established in 2000, the preserve is the largest privately protected conservation area anywhere in the Ozarks. The preserve was created as a result of a land gift from the John Nickel Family to protect the area's nature and wildlife for future generations.
The steeply forested hills and narrow valleys of this preserve harbor an exceptional diversity of plants and animals, many of which occur nowhere else outside the Ozarks. Seeps and springs provide for abundant water throughout the landscape, allowing for creeks and waterfalls to flow in all seasons. Verdant oak-hickory forests transition to a mosaic of lofty pine woodland, oak savanna, shrubland, and prairie. These diverse habitats provide abundant opportunities to view deer, turkey, songbirds, and other wildlife.
The Nickel Preserve has been identified as a key conservation area in the protection of biological diversity in the Ozarks Ecoregion. The preserve harbors numerous species and plant communities identified as primary conservation targets in the Conservancy's ecoregional plan for the Ozarks. The long-term maintenance of an ecologically functional landscape will be enhanced by the size and integrity of this largely intact area.
The Nature Conservancy manages the Nickel Preserve as a core conservation area to support native forest, woodland, and savanna communities. More than 1,200 acres of the flats and valleys converted to non-native grasses are being restored to native plant communities in an ambitious woodland and savanna restoration effort. As fire is returned to its historical role in this Ozark system, a diverse landscape mosaic is expected to emerge, with an even greater diversity and abundance of wildlife species.
In 2005, the Conservancy reintroduced a free-ranging elk herd, a once-common ungulate absent from this Ozark landscape for more than 150 years. Projects at the Nickel Preserve include:
- Fire Management: The use of fire is a key to restoring the Oklahoma Ozarks
- Elk Reintroduction: North American elk were reintroduced to the preserve in 2005.
- Savanna Restoration: More than 1,200 acres are being restored to native plant communities in an ambitious woodland and savanna restoration effort.
- Invasive Species Control: Sericia Lespedeza, an invasive plant from Asia, is our most serious threat to woodland, savanna, and prairies.
- Salamander Monitoring: Salamanders are especially good indicators of ecosystem health or environmental change.
- Ozark Chinquapin: Nickel Preserve staff are helping to restore this important tree to its historic place in Ozark woodlands.
- Migratory Bird Habitat: Nickel Preserve provides critical stopover habitat along an important migratory bird route. Nickel staff are working to restore the prairie, savanna and forest ecosystems used by a diversity of birds during migration.