Sustaining oak in eastern forests is a conservation concern and challenge. Controlling competing vegetation is an important element of any silvicultural prescription to perpetuate oak forests. Prescribed burning is increasingly being used to regenerate oak based on the historic relationship between fire and oak dominance in eastern North America. The judicious use of fire at certain stages in the life cycle of oak can favor its dominance over competing vegetation. However, long-held concerns for adverse fire effects on timber quality and volume production are valid. Fire applied at the wrong time in a developing oak forest can cause substantial damage in the form of mortality, and bole wounding that has the potential to lead to decay that causes loss of volume, growth, quality, and devaluation of the forest.
Fire can cause mortality in oaks and other hardwoods. As fire intensity increases, the probability that larger diameter trees are killed increases. Smaller stems (< 12 cm dbh) are commonly topkilled by low intensity fires, but they usually sprout back. Larger and older oaks are less likely to recover by sprouting, and their mortality represents a substantial loss in stand value, unless they are quickly harvested after a fire. Volume and value loss to decay is promoted by fires that cause wounding to the base of the bole, and when trees remain in the stand for long periods of time before harvesting. Decay loss in the butt log is serious because the majority of volume and value of a tree is there.
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