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Individual Highlight

White Oak Reproduction Under Fire: Thinning and Prescribed Fire to Benefit Species in Demand

Photo of White oak sprouts after three prescribed fires on the William B. Bankhead National Forest, Alabama. Note the dead stem, the many new sprout stems, and the charred log on the ground in the lower right corner. 

White oak sprouts after three prescribed fires on the William B. Bankhead National Forest, Alabama. Note the dead stem, the many new sprout stems, and the charred log on the ground in the lower right corner.  Snapshot : White oak commodity production has seen an uptick due to increased demand for spirits distilled in white oak barrels. To maintain white oak primacy, which supports ecosystems as well as industry, managers must ensure that white oak saplings survive and grow into the canopy. USDA Forest Service researchers are partnering wtih partners across the U.S. to provide managers with wills and knowledge to maintain this vital component of U.S. Forests.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Dey, Daniel C., Dr.Wilson, Alphus D.
Schweitzer, Callie 
Research Location : This study, initiated in 2003, is located on the northern portion of the William B. Bankhead National Forest, northcentral Alabama, in Winston and Lawrence Counties.
Research Station : Southern Research Station (SRS)
Year : 2020
Highlight ID : 1741

Summary

USDA Forest Service researchers and partners studied white oak (Quercus alba) seedlings and saplings in mixed oak-pine stands on the William B. Bankhead National Forest in northcentral Alabama. Stands were subjected to three thinning levels (heavy, light, and a no thin control) and three fire frequencies (dormant season burns of none, one, or three fires) in a factorial design. Regardless of thinning treatment, three prescribed burns increased the density of white oak. Thinning with one fire resulted in the highest densities of white oak saplings. Thinned and burned stands had larger white oak seedling sprouts than those thinned with no burns. Size matters, as red maple seedlings and saplings were the main competitor in all treatments. Larger white oak sprouts and saplings are better positioned to compete with red maple, but additional tending treatments that target red maple demise are suggested to facilitate white oak recruitment into dominant canopy positions. Risks to residual tree value due to fire damage may be offset by gains in oak regeneration success.  This research on oak regeneration aims to provide managers with tools to maintain this vital component of U.S. forests. This work provides an excellent example of co-producing science with National Forest partners, and this research will continue, with partners from Alabama A&M University, Tennessee State University, University of Alabama and Mississippi State University.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Region 8, Bankhead National Forest: Andy Scott, Allison Cochran, Kerry Clark
  • Yong Wang - Alabama A&M University