Artisan Spirit: Fall 2016

Page 112



All disturbances, manmade or natural, can affect oak regeneration, both in its proliferation and its suppression. 112

barrel shortage is last year’s news,” “T he my friend Jay said to me the other

day. He was right. Last summer we all read the reports on the slowdown at the stave mills when wet weather was keeping loggers home. But larger cooperages stated that demand was being met, and that soon supply would be moving forward. However, as the craft distilling market grows, and demand continues to rise, will there be enough oak to keep up with demand? Stave mills can increase production as new cooperages continue to open, but will there be enough oak to sustain this demand in coming decades? The U.S. Forest Service and leading ecologists and foresters in the field say no, oak forests are declining. Let's take a closer look at the oak forests of North America and how changes could affect our industry. This is the first in a two-part report. In this issue, we’ll look at the history of our forests and how they’ve changed. In the next issue, we’ll cover the struggle and obstacles that affect oak regeneration and what we can do, as an industry, to make sure our oak forests grow and are harvested sustainably.

Here at the cooperage fire is one of the most important tools we have. We use fire in a controlled way to toast and char the oak. Fire ironically is also the same tool man and nature have used to alter the forests. Studies show that Native Americans used the technique to clear land for grazing. Early European settlers used fire to provide forage for cattle and sheep, and they also employed machinery to clear cut the landscape for agriculture. And nature has other tricks up its sleeve to disturb the forests, such as blight. All disturbances, manmade or natural, can affect oak regeneration, both in its proliferation and its suppression. To better understand how forests change, let’s look quickly at how oak regenerates. Oak is rather shade intolerant and, without breaks in the forest canopy, it is very difficult for saplings to mature. Without disturbances, such as windstorms and timber harvesting, to open holes in the canopy, shade-tolerant trees such as maple and beech are more likely to thrive. Mike Saunders, associate professor of forestry at Purdue University, has studied the oak regeneration process in eastern forests for WWW.ARTISANSPIRITMAG.COM

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