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    Author(s): D.H. Van Lear
    Date: 2004
    Source: Gen. Tech. Rep. SRS-73. Asheville, NC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Research Station. pp. 65-71
    Publication Series: Miscellaneous Publication
    PDF: Download Publication  (51 KB)


    Of the many disturbance factors that shaped hardwood forests in the eastern United States, fire was perhaps the most important. Fires ignited by Native Americans and lightning played a dominant role in sustaining oak (Quercus spp.) forests throughout the Central Hardwood Region. Prior to logging at the turn of the last century, fires in the region were mostly light to moderate intensity surface fires. Exclusion of frequent surface fires for over 70 years has changed the character of these previously open forests and contributed to the gradual invasion of oak stands by shade-tolerant, fire-intolerant species. Although upland oaks are more easily maintained on poor quality sites, sustaining oak species on good quality sites is difficult. When canopy-gap type disturbances occur on good sites, oak regeneration is not competitive enough to grow into the mid- and upper canopy. If there is a major disturbance in the overstory of these mixed stands, pioneer shade-intolerant species such as yellow-poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) out-compete oak regeneration and dominate the next stand. Periodic underburning in mixed hardwood stands creates conditions similar to those prior to fire exclusion and are conducive to oak regeneration and establishment. A shelterwood-burn technique has recently been developed that can be used on productive upland sites to enhance the competitive position of oaks in the advance regeneration pool. Oaks are well adapted to tolerate fire and benefit from fire at the expense of their competitors. Foresters can use prescribed fire where feasible to sustain oaks in a variety of ecosystem conditions ranging from fully stocked timber stands to open oak woodlands.

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    Van Lear, D.H. 2004. Upland Oak Ecology and Management. Gen. Tech. Rep. SRS-73. Asheville, NC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Research Station. pp. 65-71

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