Restoration and Enrichment of Hardwood Forests using High Quality Oak Seedlings from Local Seed Sources

Hardwood forests in eastern North America have been important to the nation's economy from wildlife, timber, and recreational perspectives. Since colonial times, the existence, structure, and function of these forests have been subjected to many challenges. In the westward expansion of this country, forested land was often converted to agriculture. More recently, marginal bottomland sites were drained or harvested to create new opportunities for row cropping. Exotic forest pests, such as chestnut blight (Cryphonectria parasitica) and gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar), have further impacted hardwood forests. Many hardwood forests contained significant populations of oak (Quercus spp.) species, which have diminished over time. Correspondingly, wildlife populations that depend on hard mast have been negatively impacted. Restoration of an oak component or enrichment of existing oak populations is a common goal for many wildlife organizations and agencies. In response to this need, the University of Tennessee's Tree Improvement Program (UT-TIP) has been working with various groups to promote the planting of high quality oak seedlings from local seed sources. Reversion of bottomland hardwood forests using artificial regeneration is becoming increasingly common due to decreased profitability of agricultural production and persistent flooding of marginal farmland. In west Tennessee, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has been acquiring former bottomland agricultural sites for conversion to wildlife habitat. Guided by the UT-TIP, a planting program using high quality oak seedlings from local seed sources was initiated in 2000 to eventually provide a source of hard mast. Acorns were collected from local sources of nine species and grown at the Georgia Forestry Commission's Flint River Nursery. Seedlings were planted on 23 sites, ranging from 1.22 ha to 320 ha in size for a total of 890 ha. Species were initially matched to site by visual inspection, which evolved into species/site matching by elevation. Survival and invasion of other woody species were evaluated through sample plots at each location. The logistics of establishing a project on this scale and post-planting management are discussed. Restoration and enrichment oak plantings have been established in different states through cooperation with the UT-TIP. Experimental plots have been nested within operational plantings and will elucidate relationships among site, seedling quality, genetics, and cultural treatments. On-going efforts, including an initiative by the National Wild Turkey Federation and the UT-TIP to establish hardwood seed orchards in the eastern United States, are being pursued to address the issue of hardwood restoration and sustainability.

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