|Oak Savanna Restoration|
The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.
Within Fontenelle Forest, the Bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) provides shelter and food to a multitude of native animals including deer, squirrels, mice, turkeys, blue jays and red-headed woodpeckers. The Bur oak – also known as blue oak, mossy-overcup oak and scrub oak – has the largest acorns of all native oaks and is very drought-resistant, growing slowly on dry uplands and sandy plains. These impressive trees are considered a keystone species within the forest due to the significant role they play within an ecosystem.
However, oak savanna ecosystems within Fontenelle Forest face future declines. Their regeneration has been stunted due to the lack of open space resulting from fire suppression. To ensure the preservation and expansion of this ecosystem, Fontenelle Forest (FF) began the Oak Savanna Restoration Initiative.
Because of Fontenelle Forest's proximity to human habitation, fire is not a viable option to assist in regenerating the savanna. In lieu of fire, FF Rangers and Land Steward Volunteers remove non-native shrubs, non-oak shrubs and exotic grasses from the area, which are collected and burned. After this is completed, a seed mix of 60% native grasses and forbs are sown by hand. And finally, hundreds of holes are dug to receive the saplings. In all, thousands of hours are devoted to this process.
As these activities are underway, Bur oak acorns gathered from the forest floor are grown into healthy young saplings. The acorns are shipped to Dr. Scott E. Schlarbaum, Professor of Forest Genetics at the University of Tennessee. He works closely with the Flint River Nursery, a leading pioneer in the production of high quality oak seedlings. Through intense periodic applications of nitrogen and other fertilizers throughout the growing season, dramatic results are achieved without the need for genetic manipulation. In this controlled environment, saplings may reach the height of five feet within a single growing season, compared with three to six inches when growing in the wild. These saplings are then shipped to FF and planted in the newly prepared savanna site. To protect them, particularly from the white-tailed deer, the saplings are placed in tubes until they are seven to eight feet tall.
While it will take generations for the full effect of the restoration to be realized, dramatic results have already been documented. Native plants and grasses such as Pale Indian Plantain, Hawthorn, Feverwort, Aster, Big bluestem, Sunflower and Goldenrod are beginning to reemerge. These plants provide the habitat essential for many other living creatures. For example, the Goldenrod species provides food and shelter for the Monarch butterfly, the White-footed Mouse, the Northern Cardinal and the Downy Woodpecker.
Through the support of FF members and donors, these little oaks will become the mighty giants of a mature oak savanna.
Plan your escape this summer with Nebraska Passport. Get a stamp at Fontenelle Forest.