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Land and Watershed Management
Genetic and Silvicultural Foundations for Management
Can Oak Trees Respond to Release from Overtopping Conifers?
Connie Harrington, Warren Devine
Oregon white oak or Garry oak (Quercus garryana) woodlands provide unique habitat for many plant and animal species in the Pacific Northwest, but these habitats are rapidly disappearing due to increased urban and agricultural land use and the encroachment of conifers in oak stands. More than a century without frequent fire has allowed conifers (mainly Douglas-fir) to establish in oak savannas and woodlands; over time the conifers overtop the oaks. Many of the largest oak stands remaining in western Washington are on Fort Lewis, but most of these stands have been invaded by Douglas-fir which are now much taller than the oaks and growing more rapidly. The shade-intolerant oaks have survived in these stands due to repeated thinnings that have periodically removed conifers, increasing the amount of sunlight reaching oaks. However, given the current disparity in height between the dominant conifers and the suppressed oaks, we suspect the oaks will not survive for long without appropriate management. This study investigates whether individual suppressed oaks on Fort Lewis will respond to release from overtopping conifers. Based on results from this study, future research may involve release treatments applied at the stand level.
The study’s primary objectives are to determine:
We are also looking at effects on acorn production, oak regeneration, and understory vegetation.
The experimental design is three levels of release applied to 18 trees in each of 4 stands overtopped by Douglas-fir (total of 90 plots). The treatments include:
Observations so far:
Published results from our Oregon white oak release research (Adobe pdf format):
Effects of release on the oak trees themselves. Devine and Harrington 2006.
A practical guide to oak release. Harrington and Devine 2006.
Influence of release on the understory. Devine et al. 2007.
Effects of release on soil water and microclimate. Devine and Harrington 2007.
General description of early results from the oak release study. Devine and Harrington 2004.
We would like to thank the following people who helped with various stages of this research:
Fort Lewis Forestry (provided funding and logistical support for the oak release study)
Hugh Snook (BLM)
Christel Kern (FS Northern Research Station)
The many current PNW employees who assisted
USDA Forest Service - GenSilv Team