It is easy to like oak trees. This deciduous tree ranges across the United States and provides us with shade, wood, incredibly important wildlife habitat, and sometimes trees to climb.
In the Pacific Northwest at least, the Oregon white oak is the most important tree for many wildlife species including deer, bear, turkey, numerous birds, and probably even Bigfoot! Acorns are packed full of nutrition and except for Rubus (berry plants) influence more wildlife species (186 at last count) than any other wild foods. Acorns are critical food for wildlife, and in the past, native peoples.
Large, mature oak trees provide roosting, nesting, and denning homes for lots of creatures as well. Oak trees tend to self prune during storms when limbs and branches break off the trunk. Then rot sets in quickly forming cavities or holes, which are quickly occupied. We have one ancient oak on our property that has served as an apartment dwelling for a hive of bees, squirrels, and a raccoon. I’m not sure how they all got along!
Like many natural resources, oaks face many challenges. Besides natural pests like filbert weevils which infect up to 90% of acorns, and the western oak looper, which is defoliating woodlands with rapidity, oaks are cut for firewood and land conversion, are rarely considered in landscaping plans because they are slow growing, and are being taken over for dozens of exotic weeds such as blackberry, Scotch broom, and English ivy. Also, there is a widespread movement to eliminate oaks to protect property from wildfire. While, this is an important activity for landowners to consider, planning to keep some of woodlands can provide both for fire protection and habitat conservation.
Eight-three percent of our Oregon and Washington oak woodlands inhabit private property, therefore successful oak conservation will depend on the good graces of landowners. Providing financial incentives for oak planting, removing competing weeds, and retaining large oaks will all go a long way toward sustainable oak conservation into the future. Working with landowners to purchase lands or perhaps better, providing opportunities for conservation easements, will help. After all, our grand kids will need trees to climb. ~