In the last month we collected data in the timber at Duck Creek, Mingo and a few of our other forested conservation areas in Southeast Missouri. This information will help us monitor the decline and recruitment of various tree species within the timber. While I was out there, I saw something that caught my eye. Like mining for gold, I saw a flash in the pan, or in this case, a flash in the pin.
This year, pin oak seedlings were widely distributed throughout Duck Creek's and Mingo’s timbered units. In certain places, there were more than 500 seedlings within a 10-foot square area, creating a green carpet of tiny trees on the forest floor. Although the density of seedlings was not always this high, the presence of pin oak seedlings across the pools was fairly consistent. This was pretty atypical and exciting to see.
Most bottomland hardwood forests in the United States today have a common problem. The forests that have red oaks like pin, willow or cherrybark oak in the overstory are aging and starting to decline. Most of the older trees at Duck Creek and Mingo are 80 to 100 years old and starting to fall out. Growing underneath them is a different forest community. Instead of another generation of oaks, the species coming up consist of maples, ash, elm and sweet gum. Having a diverse stand isn’t necessarily a problem, but when you are talking about a total shift in communities within the next 20 years, this raises an alarm.
Having a good crop of pin oak seedlings gives us the opportunity to recruit these small trees and help them move from the forest floor, to the midstory and, finally, into the overstory. If you don’t have any seedlings, you don’t have anything to work with.
Red oaks are not shade-tolerant. They require light in canopy gaps to grow and mature. They are also slow-growing trees and may be temporarily out-competed by other fast-growing tree species. Our timber stand improvement work tries to provide the right conditions and reduce the competition so that these oaks have a better chance to make it to the forest canopy.
For example, this year along Thompson Ridge we treated trees in the midstory with a technique called “hack-and-squirt.” Species such as ash, elm, sweet gum and maple in the midstory were treated with herbicide so that more light can reach the forest floor, which will benefit this new crop of pin oaks.
Eventually, we’ll have to treat the canopy as these trees continue to grow. For example, last year we had a timber harvest in the research plots in Pool 3. This was to help a group of seedling we’ve been managing since 2003. By creating openings in the canopy we are allowing the group of young oak seedlings to continue to move up within the forest structure and hopefully take their place in the overstory.
Taking advantage of when we have a good recruitment class of oak seedlings is important. As you can see, we will follow this group with our management actions in the years to come. However, in the short term, we must also make sure that some will make it through the winter.
Waterfowl season is upon us and we are flooding the area to attract the migrating mass of waterfowl that seasonally stop and refuel in this region. Small 8- to 15-inch tall pin oaks don’t do well under water. At first glance, it would appear that our timber management strategy might be in conflict with our waterfowl management. This is where timber stand diversity comes in handy.
We can flood lower elevations early because other species such as cypress, tupelo and overcup oak can handle wetter conditions. Waiting a few more weeks to flood up the higher elevations gives the less flood-tolerant species, like pin oaks, a little more time to prepare for winter in locations that are better suited for them anyway. By varying the timing and distribution of fall flooding we can meet the needs of multiple species.
I know waterfowl season seems to fly by like a flash in the pan. At Duck Creek, we want to make sure that folks can make the most of this opportunity each year. Hopefully, though, you can see that it is possible to meet the short-term needs of migratory waterfowl and provide hunting opportunities at the same time as account for the long-term needs of the forest.
To me this year’s pin oak seedling class represents the future moments and memories that will be made at Duck Creek while waterfowl hunting in the timber. That is exciting. I hope you are excited too. This year create some golden moments, knowing that we are working on providing you with future ones as well. Thanks again for your interest in Duck Creek, and good luck this season.