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Deer and your woodlot: how much damage are they causing?

How much damage are they causing?

Should you encourage deer in your woodlot? If it is primarily low-quality trees with little value beyond keeping the fireplace log pile stocked, it probably doesn't matter. On the other hand, if you are maintaining your woodlot to periodically sell off timber, the answer probably is no if the bulk of the trees are oaks.

The following was extracted from the article, "Trees and Food from Acorns" by Albert A. Downs in tbe 1949 Yearbook of Agriculture: Trees:

"Oaks produce good crops once in three or four years, on an average - unlike the red maple and the birches, which have good crops of seed almost every year, and the long leaf pine, the beech, and some other trees, which yield seed only at long intervals.

"We do not know why yields vary from year to year, but weather is probably an important factor. Late frosts may kill flowers before fertilization and even the fruit when it is in the young, tender stage. Possibly oaks need more than one growing season to build up food reserves for a large crop of fruit; oaks of the white oak group (white, post and chestnut oaks) ripen their acorns in one season, but oaks of the red oak group (northern red, scarlet and black oaks) need two years to ripen their seed.

"The number of acorns produced by different trees appears to depend only on the size of the crown of the tree. Because the size of the tree crown and the diameter of the trunk are correlated, diameter, which is easier to measure, is used as a guide to the productive capability of a tree. From a seven-year study of five species of oak in northern Georgia and western North Carolina, we found that scarlet oak was the best producer, and that acorn production decreased in the larger diameters of the white oak and the northern red oak. (See table.)
Pounds of acorns produced in an average year for
trees of different sizes and species
Diameter Production in Pounds
of trunk
4-1/2 ft.
from Chestnut White Northern Black Scarlet
ground Oak Oak Red Oak Oak Oak
10" 0.9 0.7 0.4 1.1 2.5
12" 3.0 1.4 2.2 1.7 3.9
14" 5.0 2.8 5.7 2.3 5.6
16" 6.0 4.5 10.0 2.8 8.0
18" 8.1 6.7 14.5 3.4 12.1
22" 9.8 11.3 17.1 4.6 17.5
26" 10.5 13.1 13.8 5.8 18.3
30" 10.8 12.5 10.0 7.5 18.3

"The production of acorns varies not only from year to year but from tree to tree of the same sizes in the same year. In 1942, a 27-inch scarlet oak produced approximately 46,000 acorns; other scarlet oaks nearby of the same size produced a fraction of that number. Very likely some trees are good producers by heredity, and some are poor producers.

"In most years,oaks,exceptthechestnut oak, produce more small aborted acorns than well-developed ones. These small, undeveloped seeds, often unrecognizable as such, may be the result of early insect damage or bad weather.

"It would seem that plenty of seed would be available to reproduce oak woodland. But that is not so. Only a small percentage of the acorns ever have the chance to germinate and grow. Studies show that at the time of seed fall 24 percent were damaged by squirrels and birds and 30 percent by insect larvae. Only 46 percent were sound. In years of small crops, the proportion damaged by insects squirrels and birds is greater, and in years of large crops it is less. On the ground, insects destroy many more of the sound seed, and deer, turkeys, squirrels, chipmunks, mice and other wildlife feed on them.

"In one place where deer were especially numerous - one deer for about 30 acres - entire crop was eaten, except in the heavy crop years. In another area where the deer population, was estimated at one deer on 2,000 acres, many acorns were eaten, but a fair surplus was left from good crops. In general, where game is plentiful, few or no seeds are left to germinate except in heavy crop years.

"One system of managing oak forests for timber products is by growing the trees in even-aged stands. When the trees are mature and ready to cut, there may be no small trees established, in which case the area must be reproduced by sprouts or seeds" (delaying the next timber harvest for a number of years).

Lack of a variety of ages for trees is even more important when periodic selective cutting is done. Unless natural replacement occurs the woodlot will eventually thin itself out to be nonproductive.

Bambi may be cute to look at, but the damage done to an otherwise productive woodlot can cost you future income.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Countryside Publications Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Scharabok, Ken
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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