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You are here >1Up Info > Wildlife, Animals, and Plants > Kuchler Potential Natural Vegetation Type > Oak-Hickory Forest

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KUCHLER TYPE: Oak-hickory forest
FORESTRY VALUES : Forests dominated by oaks comprise the largest type of commercial hardwood forest land in the United States. Collectively the red and white oaks comprise 38 percent of the total hardwood sawtimber volume in the United States. Oak wood is strong, hard, and tough. It has good working characteristics and is used extensively for furniture, flooring, paneling, ties, and cooperage. Oak manufacturing residues and low-grade stems not suitable for lumber have been increasingly used for pulp production [81,83]. RANGE VALUES : Livestock grazing is incompatible with timber production in most of the north-central states; forage production is low and cattle damage tree reproduction and compact forest soils. Grazing on Federal land in this region is minimal. Forest range suitable for grazing is grassland adjacent to or within forested areas, or savanna [64]. WILDLIFE VALUES : Oaks are important to wildlife species for both cover and food. Young oaks with branches close to the ground provide foliage browse long into the winter months, and often provide the only brushy cover in dense pole stands. Dried oak leaves are important in the winter diet of white-tailed deer in some areas. Different parts of oak trees are consumed by 186 different kinds of birds and mammals; the geographic distribution of many animals coincides with or depends on the range of oaks [84,94]. Acorn production is of primary importance to many birds and mammals. For example, in the Ozarks of Missouri acorns comprise 37 percent of the yearlong diet of wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) and 54 percent of white-tailed deer diets [84]. Many mammals consume acorns, including white-footed mouse, eastern chipmunk, eastern fox squirrel, eastern gray squirrel, red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus), flying squirrels (Glaucomys spp.), and deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus). Acorns (particularly of northern red oak) are an important food for northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus), red-headed woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, blue jay, tufted titmouse, common grackle, white-breasted nuthatch, sapsuckers (Sphyrapicus spp.), quail (Phasianidae), ruffed grouse, and various waterfowl including common golden-eye (Bucephala clangula), gadwall (Anas strepera), mallard (A. platyrhyncos), wood duck (Aix sponsa), hooded merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus, and others [57,94]. Black oak has high cavity value for wildlife [26]. Cavity nesters are an important component of oak-hickory forests. Cavity nesters comprise the 10 most frequent bird species in all 7 sampled vegetation types, most of which are oak-hickory forest types in the Missouri Ozarks [41]. Current land use patterns that decrease forest cover and increase herb cover result in an increased abundance of grassland bird species such as dickcissel (Spica americana) and horned lark (Eremophila alpestris) [15]. Many animals that depend on Illinois savanna or open woodlands are decreasing in abundance due to forest closure caused by fire exclusion. Examples include Kirtland's snake (Clonophis kirtlandii), Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii), and silvery blue butterfly [72]. Sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanicus phasianellus) habitat in the eastern United States includes oak savanna and recently burned areas [33]. Nine species of terrestrial vertebrates on the Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants list occur in oak-hickory forest: gray bat (Myotis grisescens), Indiana bat (M. sodalis), Ozark big-eared bat (Plecotus townsendii ingens), eastern cougar (Felis concolor couguar), Bachman's warbler (Vermivora bachmanii), bald eagle, peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus ssp. anatum and F. p. ssp. tundrius), and Kirtland's warbler (Dendroica kirtlandii) [112]. Branson and others [11] listed 81 species of terrestrial vertebrates with ranges in oak-hickory forests in Kentucky that are considered threatened, endangered, of special concern, or of undetermined status because of lack of information. A summary of state lists of rare, threatened, or of special concern was prepared by Meredith [62] and included many species occurring in oak-hickory forests. OTHER VALUES : Forests in the north-central states offer a wide variety of recreational opportunities. All nine north-central states have both State and Federal forest-oriented recreation facilities. Activities include picnicking, camping, hiking, hunting, and fishing [64]. Forests in the north-central states provide habitat for most big game, and many small game animals including game fish. There were 26,400 deer, 474 bear, 151 moose, and 1,927 wild turkey taken on National Forest land in 1974 (National Forest land is only a small portion of the available hunting areas in this region) [64]. MANAGEMENT CONCERNS : Diverse vegetation is important for maintaining wildlife species diversity in oak-hickory forests. Mature stands are high in cavity and den value. Regeneration cuttings in even-aged stands create openings and edge habitat. Regeneration areas provide browse, sapling stands are good habitat for certain bird species, and pole, immature sawtimber, and sawtimber stands are good habitat, providing mast and cover for many species [11]. Removal of culls and snags from oak-hickory forest stands has detrimental impact on cavity nesting species. Even-age management of eastern deciduous forests creates cull-free, young, fast-growing stands that have very few cavities available to cavity nesting species. For high quality bird habitat clearcuts should be kept small and planned so that each management unit contains diverse stand age classes. Leaving dead snags and trees with heart rot during regeneration cuts and subsequent thinnings may maintain habitat for cavity nesting species. On medium-quality sites, killing unwanted trees and leaving them standing also provides habitat for cavity nesters [41]. Oak regeneration has become a subject of concern in oak-hickory forest management; in many areas oaks are being replaced after harvest by mesic hardwoods such as sugar maple [20,54,55,81]. Oak stands on sites with adequate soil moisture usually have high densities of mesophytic species in the understory, which often outcompete oak regeneration, even after timber harvesting [15,55]. In Wisconsin planted oak seedlings showed excellent (>90%) survival on plots in which tall (>5 feet [1.5 m]) understory vegetation was removed; on control plots where tall understory vegetation was left intact more than 70 percent of planted oak seedlings died within 5 years. Natural seedlings were also more abundant on opened plots [55]. Merrit [63] indicated that the present mature oak stands originated when woodlands were subjected to severe cutting, grazing, and fire; these conditions have largely been eliminated from current management practices [15]. Northern red oak was favored by frequent fires and/or heavy cutting because of its sprouting ability. In Indiana, however, both even- and uneven-aged silvicultural practices have converted many stands containing large proportions of oak sawtimber-sized trees to species such as sugar maple and yellow-poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) [23]. Advance regeneration in oak-hickory forest is poor [19,20,23,82]. Underlying causes may be related to fire exclusion. Fire may have a beneficial influence on oaks by reducing competition from more fire-sensitive tree species in the sapling layer [54]. Fire reduces the amount of litter under a stand, which, according to Lorimer [54], may discourage rodent predation of acorns. Fire may indirectly influence rodent populations as well, by reducing available nest sites and food availability. Oak-hickory forests in the northeastern United States have notable pest problems. Gypsy moth larvae have caused widespread defoliation contributing to oak decline and mortality in many areas, and oak wilt is widespread in the central states and in some eastern states [83]. Butternut canker has caused widespread losses of butternut (Juglans cinerea), and dogwood anthracnose has caused serious losses throughout its range [17]. A widespread decrease in oak vigor and growth rate and an increase in mortality have recently been attributed to high atmospheric levels of sulfur dioxide and other pollutants [15]. In the central United States, savanna has declined drastically since settlement. In Wisconsin and other northern areas, most savanna trees were cut within 25 to 30 years after settlement. Savanna that was protected from fire developed into dense forest [15].

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Information Courtesy: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory. Fire Effects Information System

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