Yes, seal the end, and any place a side branch may have been cut away. Even woods harvested in the winter when the sap is down have a large amount of water in them. As the moisture evaporates, the wood shrinks. Where the grain is open, it shrinks too fast, and the wood develops "checks." 1 year per inch of thickness is the standard. Note, many people cut their sticks longer than needed, because even w. sealing the end, they begin to check when the work starts, and the end sections have to be cut away.
As far as removing the bark, I can only offer some observations from my experience. The most dramatic cracking I ever had was from peeling the bark off a mulberry stick just after cutting it. It came away very easily. I had sealed the ends, but within 2 days, I was getting lateral cracks, followed by end checking a few days later. In the end, I only had handle size pieces from more than a 4' length.
I've read that some species are OK if de-barked before curing, and that others are easier after a few years. Unfortunately, I've never seen any lists that have many matches between them.
If you can immerse the wet sticks in a wood stabilizer, that will drive the moisture out. But the piece must be completely submerged. I stuck a 4' long stick in a 3' tube. When I cam back the next day to flip the piece, the exposed wood just above the stabilizer had all split from the stress. I did get a usable 3' long section, but that is about as short as I find useful.