The openings in the canopy then allow already established saplings to graduate to the overstory. The results we saw were impressive, and on both sides of the trail we could see the difference in the recruitment of sprouts. This sort of stewardship is rewarding, but we only see it here on public land and preserves. Meanwhile, more than 70 percent of our forests are privately owned, and that’s where timber practices come into play. Timber harvesting has changed drastically in the last 50 years. Modern engineering has created machines that are a long way off from the days of horse teams pulling fallen logs out of the woods. These versatile machines can enter forests and perform selective cuts, or what’s known as highgrading. This practice removes only the most economically valuable timber, often with little regard for the future of the rest of the stand. Dr. Charles D. Canham, senior scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, explains, “Many oak forests are logged either too lightly — ‘high-grading’ of individual large trees, creating only very small openings in the canopy — or too intensively — clearcutting of all trees, leaving no nearby seed trees. Good oak regeneration requires more deliberate harvesting to create large enough openings to produce adequate light for sapling growth, while still close enough to seed trees to allow new seedlings to establish.” When harvesting oak, determining the condition of the area
regeneration is a concern we as an industry should
acknowledge and educate ourselves about.
you are cutting is important to regeneration. If there are plenty of seedlings, “group selection” is a useful technique. Selection cutting (not to be confused with “selective” cutting) can help mimic larger disturbances, and is usually done on two-acre groupings. If there are a lack of seedlings, “shelterwood harvesting,” while more time consuming, can help establish a particular species without planting. It requires several thinnings and eventual overstory removal. Controlled burns and the aforementioned harvesting methods can be expensive, and they require trained individuals and foresters to monitor and maintain. So what can you as a distiller do to help maintain a more sustained forest, one in which oak can thrive? First, contact your cooper and ask if they provide sustainable certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC ) or certification programs like American Tree Farm System (ATFS) or Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI). You can also register for Chain of Custody certification with the PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) by visiting PEFC.org. Oak regeneration is a concern we as an industry should acknowledge and educate ourselves about. Thoreau wrote those opening words shortly before his death — it’s important that we don’t wait till the very end to heed his warning. John Cox is owner of Quercus Cooperage in High Falls, NY. Visit www.qcooperage.com for more information.
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