Washington Evening Journal
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Fairfield Ledger   Mt. Pleasant News
Neighbors Growing Together | Nov 18, 2017

Board to nurture oaks in Foster Woods

Oct 23, 2017

believe that there is an old saying something along the lines of “from the littlest of acorns the mighty oak dost grow.”

If not, then perhaps we can start a new one that will hold true for the acorns produced in 9 acres at Foster Woods County Park near Wellman in 2017.

It seems like the conditions for this to occur at Foster Woods are all in place!

The primary component of this phenomenon is that the white oak trees there have produced a “beyond banner” crop of acorns. These acorns began falling in late August and continued through the month of September.

Unlike other acorns, these immediately began sprouting, putting roots down into the soil (no energy put forth to create a leaf until next spring). With the recent 3.5 inch es of rain, these roots are having great success in getting started. As most know, the forest canopy is just now starting to lose its leaves. As they fall to the ground, they will effectively mulch the site, giving the new sprouts cover and moisture protection through the pending winter. Next spring, the acorns will expend the balance of their energy toward creating even more roots and some leaves.

I would roughly estimate the white oak trees there are 150 years old. Their reproductive strategy is to overwhelm the area with acorns one year, then wait a few years to do it again.

If that strategy has been repeated every five years since they were 20, that means they have tried 26 times. Yet there are no young white oak trees. So what makes me think it will work this time?

As part of a multi-faceted approach in this area, the WCCB has created a significant “disturbance” in about 9 acres of this forest.

This particular little forest serves as an outdoor classroom, and is also straight upwind from the pond we just rejuvenated. All of this led our staff and some much appreciated volunteers to assist nature in this area.

During 2016, a great deal of the understory has been removed from this timber. This included mostly hackberry trees, but also quite a few bitternut hickory trees. Of course, no shagbark hickories or oaks of any kind were destroyed. The net effect of all of this will be a great deal of additional light to the forest floor, something oak seedlings require to thrive.

To be honest, we had no idea that this was going to be the year for the acorns when we started, but it is extremely exciting that it is. It will not be just the white oaks that will reproduce as a result of this. Almost all wildlife seems to prefer the taste of white oak acorns to about anything else. Therefore, there are also shagbark hickory nuts and red oak acorns left untouched, along with every other species.

Over the next few years, the WCCB will be doing our best to assist some of the young trees that are likely to be “as thick as the hair on a dog’s back” next year in survival.

This will mean picking and protecting a few, which will be selected due to their location (areas where there is more light- a hole in the canopy due to an old tree dying).

These will be protected from fire (we plan to do some prescribed burns in this timber to mimic historic occurrences).

Likely only our great- grandchildren will know for sure if we got it right, but we owe it to them to try.

What a great environmental learning place this should become, as the added light is almost assuredly going to make more flowers along with the young trees.

 

Steve Anderson is the Executive director of the Washington County Conservation Board.

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