Landowners Encouraged to Help Halt Oak Tree Decline in Michigan

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Michigan has an oak tree problem. Oak trees are common throughout the state. That’s good, but the forest stewardship coordinator from the Department of Natural Resources said that’s not all.

“We have a lot of aging white oak trees, but they’re not reproducing successfully,” Mike Smalligan said.

There are no more forest fires than there used to be. While fires are destructive, some trees have evolved because of fires. The oak trees breed in the open space created by the fires.

Today, forests are managed for more shade-tolerant trees. Oak trees don’t fare as well. They need more sun and less competition. Much of the landscape that was once suitable for oak forests has been cleared for agriculture or urban sprawl.

Where the oaks grow, there is another problem.

“Large populations of white-tailed deer eat these seedlings before they get over five or six feet tall, to pass the deer browse line,” Smalligan said.

Acorns from oak trees are also used as food for a number of wildlife species, including deer. Again, with more deer they eat so many acorns that fewer survive to become trees.

Additionally, a disease called oak wilt also damages or kills oak trees. See more here.

Thus, oak trees do not survive at a rate that can replace mature trees that are harvested or die.

The loss is not only environmental, but also economic.

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

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

The webinars are free, but a statement from the DNR says you need to register in advance. All five webinars will run from 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. EST.

  • Nov. 2: Ecology and silviculture of oak. Speakers are Greg Nowacki, Stacy Clark and Callie Schweitzer, all from the USDA Forest Service. Register.
  • December 7: Oak insects and diseases. Speakers are Deb McCullough, Department of Forestry, Michigan State University, and Isabel Munck, USDA Forest Service. Register.
  • January 4: Michigan Oak Markets and Economy. Speakers are Chris Schmiege and Jagdish Poudel from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Register.
  • February 1: Restoration of rare oak ecosystems. Speakers are Jesse Lincoln, Michigan Natural Features Inventory, and Steve Woods, Huron Pines. Register.
  • March 1: Manage oak forr wildlife. Speakers are Ryan Boyer, National Wild Turkey Federation, and Michael Paling, American Bird Conservancy. Register.
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