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ANHC Volunteer Profile: Craig Fraiser and John Moore

Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission - Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission (ANHC) has a small staff and a big mission, so we often rely on volunteers to increase our reach. One way that volunteers can help us is to gather images of and information about the species in the state, especially those that are rare or poorly known. Two prolific volunteers who often work together toward this end are Craig Fraiser of Fort Smith and John Moore of Van Buren. Skilled-photographers-turned-amateur-botanists, Craig and John met through a shared interest in outdoor photography and eventually made connections with ANHC botanist and ecologist Theo Witsell, offering to share their talents to further the mission of the ANHC.

Photo at left: John and Craig at work capturing images of maple-leaf oak (Quercus acerifolia) at Mount Magazine State Park in June 2016, photo by Theo Witsell

Craig, a retired school principal, has been working with us for several years. Theo describes his contributions: “At first I would give Craig the location of a rare species we needed images of and he would go and photograph it during the flowering period, and then let us use his photos in presentations and publications. Then, after a while, his botanical skills began to develop and he started finding new sites for some of these and other species, sending in new information and even specimens for the ANHC Herbarium.” John started helping us more recently, and is especially passionate about getting out to wild places to capture images of Arkansas’s biological diversity. “John really gets off the beaten track,” says Theo. “I knew of him long before we met. I’d be looking at some remote site on Google Earth where I had been or was planning to go, and I’d see that a picture from the area had been posted by John Moore. I mean really remote and obscure places – difficult to access spots. Over and over again this happened, and it got to where I would see a photo posted of some remote peak or gorge and say ‘Ten to one that is a John Moore pic . . . ’ I’d click on it and sure enough, it usually was.”


Lately, Theo has been providing Craig and John with images of historical herbarium specimens of uncommon species and they have been trying to relocate the old sites and monitor the populations. They recently sent in excellent photos and specimens of broad-leaf phlox (Phlox amplifolia) from the Ozarks and made several important finds in rare sandbar grassland habitat along the Arkansas River. These included either updating information on known sites, or finding new sites for phlox heliotrope (Heliotropium convolvulaceum) and woolly prairie-clover (Dalea lanata var. lanata), and documenting the first record of Missouri spurge (Euphorbia missurica) from sand grasslands in the Arkansas Valley.

Photo above left: Phlox heliotrope (Heliotropium convolvulaceum), photo by Craig Fraiser

In preparing for this article, we asked Craig and John why they chose to donate so much of their time and energy to helping the ANHC. Craig said, “I’ve observed firsthand the impact of the ANHC’s tireless efforts in preserving Arkansas’s natural heritage for future generations, and volunteering my time and energy to assist in some small way is the only reward needed.” John said “when I think about all the rare habitats that have been preserved by the ANHC, I can’t help but want to give back in some small way.”

They also illustrated their passion when asked to describe a memorable find in the field. John described a hard-won orchid hunt on one of our state natural areas as follows: “One year I made four trips to Chesney Prairie Natural Area hoping to find Oklahoma grass-pink orchids (Calopogon oklahomensis). On the evening of the last search, I had finally given up and started the walk of defeat back to the truck when I stopped to grab a bottle of water from my backpack. I happened to glance down and peeking out from the grass between my feet was the prettiest pink flower I think I've ever seen!” Craig shared a similar moment saying: “I’ll never forget the very first time I walked upon a Kentucky lady’s-slipper (Cypripedium kentuckiense) in full flower in the Ouachita Mountains -- I spotted it from about 20 yards away and my heart rate jumped and my feet felt like lead walking that short distance to the flower. . . I sank down onto my knees and must have admired its beauty for several minutes and allowed my breathing to return to normal. Never a season goes by without reflecting on that special day with that special flower.”

Photo above right: Kentucky lady's-slipper (Cypripedium kentuckiense), photo by Craig Fraiser

We appreciate all the hard work and talent that Craig, John, and all of our volunteers share with us.

Photo at left: In the grove of Stern's medlars (Crataegus x canescens) at Konecny Grove Natural Area, photo by John Moore

 

 



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