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Tending the Oaks

Blogpost published on: Tuesday, October 2nd, 2018

What’s wrong with this picture?  The beautiful view of the OAEC backcountry from our new Meeting Hall deck is a lovely place to enjoy the sunset, but seen through a tree lover’s eye, it might not be such a pretty picture. The brown spot in the otherwise green patchwork of forest is a huge Coast Live Oak that recently succumbed to Sudden Oak Death.  In these post-drought years, the recent wetter winter appeared to ramp up SOD infection rates of P ramorum (a brown algae relative that moves in water/moisture) and consequently the mortality rates of our native oaks. We’ve lost easily over a dozen Coast Live Oaks this summer/fall as the water stress season kicked in – when the vascular cambium connection of the tree is compromised by the infection during the wet season, the crown “suddenly” browns up due to lack of water flow up from the roots via the xylem during the dry season. The bulk of our tan oak & black oak onsite have already died, including many huge legacy trees like the one pictured above, and the unrelenting die off of Coast Live Oak continues.

Oregon White Oak acorns and foliage.

Thankfully, there is a native oak species found here on the land Oregon White Oak Quercus garryana (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quercus_garryana) that appears to be a bit more resistant to P ramorum.  Thus, whenever there is a good mast year, our Wildlands Program, directed by Brock Dolman, collects White Oak acorns and spreads them liberally around the land, hoping for the sprouting of a more drought/SOD resistant future forest. This practice is part of our Wildlands Stewardship Plan (https://oaec.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Wildlands-Stewardship-Plan-06.20.2016-FINAL.pdf). Specifically, the section on Mixed hardwood management pages 63 – 66 refers to our management for SOD and collecting and planting white oak acorns: “In addition to attempting to slow the spread of SOD, OAEC staff was strategic about increasing the diversity and presence of oak species that are not susceptible to SOD, namely white oak, by collecting and planting acorns throughout the property.”  

Last week, Brock gathered around 50 pounds of beautiful acorns from a particularly healthy Oregon White Oak on a neighbor’s land and took them home for redistribution around the OAEC backcountry.  Here are the steps that he and the team took:

 

 

Step one: Separate the “floaters” (Acorn Weevil infested and rotten) from the heavy “sinkers” (fertile, good) acorns. Floaters are tossed to the dear or burned in the fireplace.         

 

Step two: Dry and sort. About 50 of the the fattest and healthiest looking ones will be saved and sprouted in deep, narrow oak seedling pots and transplanted as young saplings in key locations next season.

 

Step three: Throw-n-sow! The team was using the ‘least change for greatest effect’ mode here – low time/energy input to Eco-ROI output ratio to disperse about 1000 acorns throughout the 70 acre backcountry in under an hour and so didn’t spend a lot of time sinking them into the soil. They spread the acorns, mostly in the edge zones, by hiding them under leaf litter, tossing them into poison oak thickets, kicking them into gopher holes, etc…

Success looks like a more diverse & resilient woodland over an uncertain 50 to 100+ year frame and we plant our hope for a drought and SOD resistant future forest with these seeds. We wish these little acorns well in sprouting and becoming healthy trees in the decades to come!

Read more on the OAEC Wildlands program page here.