Oregon White Oak

Old Growth *Black* Oak

MR 751

This ancient hulk of a black* oak tree appears unstoppable. As parts of it die, new growth emerges. In this way, trees that produce sprouts can persist indefinitely, until site conditions change. Who knows how old this tree is. Technically, white oaks are thought to have a life span of up to 300 or so years. But I always have wondered if that takes into account new growth that eventually replaces the dying stem. Could some of these trees be thousands of years old? Regardless, trees like this contribute to the biodiversity of the landscape and have practically all flavors of the food web…

*I first thought this was a white oak, but a fellow forester pointed out that it is really a black oak. Thanks!

Oak Woodlands: The Last of the Great Old Growth Forests

MR 414

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.

MR 416

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.

MR 441

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.

Whats Inside?

This old timer is still hanging on, although its new neighbors may be sealing its doom. Pictures dont always do it justice, by the diameter of that oak is well over 6 feet.

MR 46

I walked by this tree, then circled back… Could that hole in the tree be an animals home? Temporary den? We are spending allot more effort looking for the Pacific Fisher which would certainly find comfort in this hollow…

Admittedly I get a bit of adrenaline before I climb up and look in. What if a bear is taking a nap in there? It was certainly big enough to fit a large animal! But it feels right so I peak in. Nothing today, but certainly potential habitat for many forest animals.

A Losing Battle

Here is an example of a dying Oregon white oak. This tree was 30 inches in diameter, and well over 150 years old. I could estimate that from old fire scars near the base of the tree. The larger Douglas-fir to the left, as well as the trees near by forming the over story, are around 55-65 years old. White oak is very shade intolerant and will die within 15-20 years after being over topped by other trees. This one had stretched its remaining limbs to the small pockets of light it had which eventually led to it falling over.

I find these skeleton oaks all throughout the Douglas-fir dominated forests from the South Fork Eel to the Mad River. I really believe we are witnessing a profound change in forest make up here in Humboldt county that is resulting from our suppression of fire and our traditional bias for conifer trees in land management.