Nature Lab

By Dianne Van Dien | April 1, 2022
From Missouri Conservationist: April 2022

Forest Management

White Oak Decline

Growing 50 to 80 feet tall, white oaks (Quercus alba) are a keystone species across much of the eastern and central U.S. Take a walk in a Missouri forest and you’ll likely see many of these stately trees. But what worries foresters is what you won’t see — young trees and saplings.

“The trees are all roughly the same age and many are reaching the end of their life span,” says MDC Forestry Field Program Supervisor George Kipp. “As with any population, humans included, if there aren’t enough children to replace the adults, the population will decline.”

Why aren’t enough young white oaks surviving?

“Many factors are influencing each other,” Kipp explains. “These include climate change, insect pests, diseases, and historical land practices.”

A decline in white oaks not only will impact wildlife, such as deer, turkeys, songbirds, and butterflies, but also many industries, including furniture makers and alcohol producers (white oak is the preferred wood for wine and whiskey barrels).

With white oak declining throughout its range, state and federal agencies, universities, nonprofits, and businesses came together in 2017 to form the White Oak Initiative. MDC is part of this partnership working to reverse the decline through outreach, research, and management.

On state lands, MDC uses prescribed burns to stimulate new sprouts from stumps and selective harvesting to open the canopy for this sun-loving species. It also offers technical and financial assistance to landowners to increase white oaks on their property.

“With nearly 85 percent of forests in Missouri on private land, MDC can’t do this alone,” says Kipp. “Our hope is that by providing outreach now, studying this now, and implementing practices now, we can ensure we have white oaks for future generations.”

White Oak Decline at a Glance

Not enough young white oak trees are surviving to sustain the population as older trees die. MDC staff are working to reverse this trend through management practices that provide better conditions for young oaks to thrive.

How You Can Help Reverse the Decline
  • Create disturbance in forested acres through prescribed burns
  • Open the canopy through selective harvesting
  • Plant white oaks in sunny parts of your yard

Contact your local MDC forester at


This Issue's Staff

Magazine Manager - Stephanie Thurber
Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld
Associate Editor - Larry Archer
Photography Editor - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek
Staff Writer – Dianne Van Dien
Designer - Shawn Carey
Designer - Marci Porter
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Circulation - Laura Scheuler