Newsletter Stories

Friday, 13 May 2022
Regenerating White Oak Forests in Kentucky

By: Tom Kain

From an environmental point of view, the oak-hickory habitat type is in decline due to decades of selective harvesting that favored removal of the largest, best-quality oak and other high-quality sawlogs. Known as “high grading,” this practice leaves poor quality oaks, maple and beech trees in the residual stand. It is estimated that about 75% of all white oak trees across the eastern United States can be classified as “mature,” while populations of young white oak trees are limited. Without intervention, the American white oak population will begin to decline significantly within the next 10 to 15 years, with more extreme declines over the next several decades. On a tree farm in Kentucky, the Taylor Family is demonstrating another path for management that restores the white oak forests by ensuring adequate growing stock.

The Taylor Family has been able to sell certified logs into local and international markets, earning a premium for the extra care they put into managing their forestland, according to their consulting forester, Chris Will. During their last harvest they were able to sell 30,000 board-feet to a white oak stave to a mill that was sending finished barrels to a distiller in Ireland. They were also able to sell 40,000 board-feet to the FSC-certified Freeman Veneer mill located nearby.

The goal of FSC-certified forest management is to improve forest condition over time to meet social, environmental, and economic objectives. Realizing these objectives takes long-term planning, landowner dedication, a cadre of natural resource professionals, a world-class forest management standard, and purposeful actions. The Taylor Tree Farm is a great example of what FSC forest management looks like in Kentucky.

A member of the University of Kentucky’s Center for Forest and Wood Certification FSC Forest Management group, the tree farm is a 1,000-acre hardwood forest. Early on, the Taylor Family realized that quality hardwood forest management is a long-term project that requires intermediate steps to grow and regenerate high-quality oak trees. It is key to have correct light conditions for oak seedling growth and to control undesirable hardwood competition.

The oak regeneration process starts ten years before the sawlog harvest. The shade-tolerant mid-story trees are controlled by an application of Arsenal (Imazapyr, which is not considered a highly hazardous pesticide in the FSC Pesticides Policy) via an injection treatment to targeted undesirable midstory hardwood stems. Once the competing midstory of maple, beech, and other species is controlled, the oak regeneration can be released. When that oak regeneration is 5 feet tall, the overstory of quality sawtimber oak trees is harvested. The harvest releases the advanced regeneration of midstory oak to grow into the next stand in 80 years.

The Taylor’s management has attracted attention from neighboring landowners, foresters, and loggers. By hosting “field days,” the Family shows how oak regeneration can be replicated on neighboring forests. As early supporters of the White Oak Initiative, the Taylor Family is working to promote the long-term sustainability of America’s white oak forests.

Image: Family tree planting over the years.

Image: Examining the results of oak regeneration on the Wilson tract.