White Oak Initiative to Reverse Decline of America’s White Oak Forests

November 19, 2021

By: The Working Forest Staff

WASHINGTON, DC —The White Oak Initiative, a diverse coalition of partners committed to the long-term sustainability of America’s white oak forests, today announced the release of Restoring Sustainability for White Oak and Upland Oak Communities: An Assessment and Conservation Plan, a science-based report that details the current state of America’s white oak forests and recommends a practical plan of action to avoid their decline.

American white oak is a tree species currently occupying more than 104 million acres of public and private forestland across much of the eastern and central United States. Not only do white oak forests support extensive plant and animal biodiversity, but white oak is also the most commercially important timber oak, generating billions of dollars annually and supplying necessary material to industries such as furniture, flooring, cabinetry, and wine and spirits.

“The White Oak Initiative Assessment and Conservation Plan is a great example of what can be achieved when public and private agencies, stakeholders, and resource professionals band together with a common purpose,” said Regional Forester Ken Arney with the U.S. Forest Service Southern Region. “We are pleased to be part of this first-time effort to address management activities across the range in a manner that supports, improves and accelerates the cumulative success and positive outcomes associated with oak sustainability.”

According to the new report, shifts in land management and ecological changes throughout much of the white oak range are resulting in an increase of competing species establishing themselves in white oak forests. These competing species, most notably maples and beech, are shading out white oak trees and preventing them from regenerating. As a result, older white oak trees are not being replaced by younger white oak trees at a pace that will support long-term sustainability. The report also highlights the importance of other challenges such as invasive insects and diseases, climate change, and behavior change. Without swift intervention today, the report cautions, the American white oak population will begin to decline significantly within the next 10 to 15 years, with more extreme declines over the next several decades.

“This report offers a thorough, evidence-based assessment of the dire state of American white oak forests but also presents a hopeful and achievable path forward,” said Melissa Moeller, director of the White Oak Initiative. “I’m beyond proud of the collaboration among our dedicated partners for putting forth such clear recommendations. It’s evident from the research that the challenges facing our white oak forests are huge and the solutions needed are bigger than what anyone organization can accomplish. It will take collective action now to ensure white oaks’ economic, ecological and social benefits for generations to come.”

Directed by the White Oak Initiative steering committee, and developed by the American Forest Foundation and the University of Kentucky, Restoring Sustainability for White Oak and Upland Oak Communities: An Assessment and Conservation Plan features data from a regional spatial analysis study and a recently conducted family forest owner survey. It also identifies 10 specific recommended forest management practices that will provide sustainability benefits for oak forests with a focus on white oak, including appropriate harvesting techniques and other practices used to improve the regeneration and vigor of oaks. 

In order to restore the long-term sustainability of America’s white oak forests, and maintain the economic, social, and environmental benefits they provide, we need active, cross-boundary collaboration, participation, and support from industry, resource professionals, policymakers, landowners, and others who can align knowledge and resources behind the recommended forest management practices, before it’s too late.

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