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Land owners encouraged to help stop decline in oak trees in Michigan

Oaks are not reproducing at a rate large enough to replace mature trees.
Maryland DNR
Oaks are not reproducing at a rate large enough to replace mature trees.

Michigan has an oak tree problem. Oaks are common throughout the state. That’s good, but the Forest Stewardship Coordinator for the Department of Natural Resources said that’s not the whole story.

“We've got a lot of white oak that is getting older, but it's not successfully reproducing,” said Mike Smalligan.

There aren’t the forest fires there once were. While the fires are destructive, certain trees evolved because of fires. Oak trees reproduce in the open space created by fires.

Today, forests are managed for more shade tolerant trees. Oaks don’t fare as well. They need more sunlight and less competition. Much of the landscape that was once conducive to oak forests has been cleared for farming or urban sprawl.

Where oaks are growing, there’s another problem.

“High populations of white tailed deer are eating those seedlings before they are getting past five or six feet tall, to get past the browse line for deer,” Smalligan said.

Acorns from oaks are also food for a number of species of wildlife, including deer. Again, with more deer, they’re eating so many acorns that fewer survive to grow into trees.

Additionally, a disease called oak wilt is also damaging or killing oak trees. See more here.

So, oaks are not surviving at a rate that will be able to replace the mature trees that are harvested or die.

The loss is not only environmental, but it’s also economic.

Oak is a popular hardwood often used for flooring and cabinetry. More recently white oak from Michigan has been used for wine and spirits.

The Michigan Society of American Foresters is offering a series of webinars for foresters, land managers, and land owners to better manage oak populations.

The webinars are free, but a DNR release indicated you must register in advance. All five webinars will run from 3:00 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. (Eastern).

  • Nov. 2: Oak ecology and silviculture. Speakers are Greg Nowacki, Stacy Clark and Callie Schweitzer, all with the USDA Forest Service. Register.
  • Dec. 7: Insects and diseases of oak. Speakers are Deb McCullough, Michigan State University Department of Forestry, and Isabel Munck, USDA Forest Service. Register.
  • Jan. 4: Markets and economics for oak in Michigan. Speakers are Chris Schmiege and Jagdish Poudel of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Register.
  • Feb. 1: Restoration of rare oak ecosystems. Speakers are Jesse Lincoln, Michigan Natural Features Inventory, and Steve Woods, Huron Pines. Register.
  • March 1: Managing oak fowildlife. Speakers are Ryan Boyer, National Wild Turkey Federation, and Michael Paling, American Bird Conservancy. Register.
Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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