Oak Forest Management Issues on Non-industrial Private Land

Declines in the abundance of oak (Quercus spp.) and the failure of oak to regenerate after harvest are widespread problems in eastern North America. Sustaining oak forests will require large-scale and long-term effort. Most of the oak forest resource is owned by individuals, collectively referred to as non-industrial private forest (NIPF) owners. Conservation on NIPF lands is inherently difficult because ownership objectives vary, land tenure is generally short, and land parcels are small. Few NIPF owners have technical training in forestry or wildlife management. Timber harvest is generally conducted without the help of natural resource professionals and silvicultural techniques that would maintain oak are rarely used. Technical advice and support is available for NIPF owners through both public agencies and private organizations. Public support is delivered through a network that involves the university extension service, the state forestry agency, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA administers a variety of incentive programs that provide partial payment for conservation practices prescribed in forest stewardship or management plans. There are substantial reductions in property tax rates for land enrolled in stewardship programs. The majority of private forest landowners, however, do not participate in stewardship programs despite the diversity of services and economic incentives available to them. The complexity of the delivery system may be a significant factor in the lack of acceptance of stewardship programs. There is great potential to improve forest management on NIPF land by increasing owner participation in forest stewardship programs. Natural resources professionals need to become familiar with public and private services and incentives available to landowners, and advocate private land management whenever the opportunity arises. Wildlife biologists need to understand the Farm Bill and work with their counterparts in the USDA Farm Service Agency, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and state forestry agency to implement wildlife habitat incentive programs. All of these agencies need to develop policies that promote interagency collaboration and cooperation. Participation in stewardship programs by forest owners will not guarantee the maintenance of oak forest ecosystems. Participants in stewardship programs, however, are more likely to implement silvicultural practices that benefit oaks than are owners with no contact with professional resource managers.

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