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Sustaining Pennsylvania’s Oak Ecosystems Through Partnership in Forest Management

More than 2,000 acres were prepared for the next generation of oaks by creating suitable conditions for acorn establishment.

Northern Pennsylvania is home to one of the largest contiguous forested areas in the eastern U.S. The oak-hickory, oak-pine, and maple-beech-birch forest types that are found throughout the project area are also threatened by insects, disease, non-native invasive plants, fire exclustion, and deer browsing.

In particular, the exclusion of fire has created a heavily shaded forest with an accumulation of woody fuels that prevents regeneration of oak trees. This Joint Chiefs’ project used prescribed burns to restore oak ecosystems and reduce the risk of wildfire to communities.

Regularly occurring fires have long been part of Pennsylvania’s oak-pine woodlands and savannas. Many species of wildlife rely upon these fire-maintained early successional habitats. But managing fire in and around communities that are highly intermingled with the region’s forests is challenging.

To meet this challenge is a collaboration of partners from the Allegany National Forest, non-governmental organizations, NRCS, landowners, and multiple Resource Conservation Districts.

Partnering for Oaks

Nestled in the middle of the Moshannon State Forest in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania lies 4,592-acres of forestland managed by the Punxsutawney (Punxsy) Hunting Club. The property had seen decades of growth but very little management since it was bought in the 1920’s.

The landowners contacted NRCS to learn how they can manage more like their neighbors, the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry and the Pennsylvania Game Commission, in order to restore the healthy diversity of their forest. The landowners, NRCS, and partner agencies worked together to develop a Forest Management Plan, which identified areas that were oak dominant and recommended conservation practices to help regenerate the forest.

Oak ecosystems have been particularly impacted on private lands in Pennsylvania. Proper ecosystem management is crucial for maintaining the health and incredible diversity of Pennsylvania’s forests.

In 2018, the Punxsutawney Hunting Club received financial assistance through NRCS to help oak regeneration on 32 acres. In this area, new seedlings were suppressed by the hay-scented fern and stifled by the lack of sunlight. Targeted herbicides were applied to reduce the interfering plants, a cut was done to add desired light levels for oak regeneration on the forest floor, and an 8-foot fence was erected to protect the establishment of oak seedlings.

“It’s encouraging to see the work that the Punxsy Hunting Club is doing on their property to increase oak regeneration and improve the health of their forest,” said Mary Baker, NRCS Forester. “With the ferns controlled and an exclusion fence in place, there is already oak regeneration occurring. The Punxsy Hunting Club continue to work toward their goals, as outlined in their Forest Management Plan and it will be exciting to watch the changes in their forest.”

“Our experience with NRCS has been nothing but good,” said CQ Morrision, Punxsutawney Hunting Club co-owner. “NRCS walked us through the process and have always been very helpful.”

  • USFS & NRCS JCLRP funds awarded 2017–2019: $3,851,879
  • Total USDA and partner project funds: $4,045,779
Northern Pennsylvania;Allegany National Forest