** Archived Article - please check for current information. **
June 2, 2016‘Fire-oaks’ provide valuable food and cover for wildlife in longleaf pine firelands
Hardwoods that invade longleaf pine and other frequently-burned forests, woodlands and savannas are often one of the major threats to the open pineywoods that many landowners and land managers are striving to restore and maintain for bobwhite quail and other declining grassland birds. But not all native hardwoods are the same in these ecosystems, according to Johnny Stowe, a prescribed fire manager for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
Stowe, who penned the article "Whither the Fire-Oaks?" in a recent issue of The Longleaf Leader, says that certain desirable species of hardwoods are adapted to frequent fire, and provide valuable acorns and cover for wildlife, as well as other ecosystem benefits. Stowe says that "fire-oaks," such as post oak and Southern red oak, have traits that equip them to thrive in properly burned landscapes. In addition to these well-known "tree-sized" oaks, several so-called "scrub" oaks are also an important part of fire maintained landscapes. These scrub oaks include blackjack oak, bluejack oak, sand live oak, sand post oak and dwarf chinquapin oak.
There are even two oak species, runner oak and dwarf live oak, which grow in clonal patches and seldom get over waist tall when burned every year or two. Other hardwoods that can thrive in lands that are burned under prescription include hickories and chinquapins that produce nuts, and dogwood, blackgum and persimmons that yield soft mast of great value to wildlife. These and other woody species do not tend to be invasive when burned properly.
According to Stowe, "Landowners and managers might do well to consider managing for appropriate numbers of these trees and shrubs. In scattered patches and as individual trees, these native hardwoods are a natural part of the firelands of the South; they provide escape and nesting cover, much-needed acorns and other fruits, as well as biodiversity and beauty."
For more information on burning longleaf pinelands, visit The Longleaf Alliance website at www.longleafalliance.org.