Silviculture to restore oak woodlands.
Variability in historic fire regimes in eastern North America resulted in an array of oak savannas, woodlands and forests that were dominant vegetation types throughout the region. In the past century, once abundant woodlands have become scarce due to conversion to agriculture, or development of forest structure in the absence of fire. Restoration of oak woodlands is a primary goal for land management agencies and conservation organizations. Although oak woodlands can be restored with a long-term regimen of prescribed burning, a combination of prescribed burning, timber harvesting and forest thinning produces the desired structure and composition more efficiently. Sustaining oak woodlands requires an occasional longer fire-free period to allow for replacement of the overstory by recruitment of trees from the reserve of oak sprouts that have accumulated in the understory. Prescribed fire is useful for sustaining oak woodlands, but it must be used judiciously to minimize timber damage and decreases in value. Integrating fire in a silvicultural prescription that uses the shelterwood regeneration method to promote competitive oak reproduction has been successfully applied in the eastern US to sustain oak forests. Restoration of oak ecosystems is possible but requires innovative combinations of traditional practices, including prescribed burning.