When we think of old growth, we tend to think of the redwoods or the great Douglas-fir forests of the north west. You probably do not think of oak woodlands of when you hear the term old growth. They do not have the spotted owl or marbled murrelet to enshrine them into the sacred. But perhaps they should. Oak woodlands are known for their biodiversity, and support a huge array of plants and animals – all – year long, including foraging habitat for rare and important animals like the pacific fisher and the northern goshawk.
These larger trees are several hundred years old. In this healthy woodland, we see a forest comprised of all ages, so hopefully there will be ongoing recruitment of larger oaks as the older trees reach the end of their lifespans. In Humboldt County, we are concerned that many stands of oaks have been lost to encroachment and regeneration of oaks may be in trouble because of our fire policies.
In the past, old growth has been at risk from development and timber harvesting. This was true of most areas of the north west, and still is in many parts of the world. In the case of woodland, ironically harvesting may be the savior of the oak. Conifer forests have made a significant recovery since society began to care and conserve for older aged forests on the landscape. Woodlands have been generally overlooked however, and we are only beginning to understand the consequences of the loss of oak stands. The time is now to start aggressively reclaiming these woodlands and preventing encroachment from destroying some of the last remaining old forests in northern California.