Bayou-Diversity (29 April 2018) UPLAND OAKS In the last blog I discussed oaks that grow in the Louisiana lowlands. As was the case with these bottomland hardwoods, oaks were also once a common component of upland forests in north Louisiana. One native upland habitat type is classified as oak-hickory-shortleaf pine forest. Extensive tracts of natural forests in the uplands are now uncommon, most having been converted to loblolly pine plantations for commercial purposes. In fact, the loss of native upland forests is greater than that in bottomlands as estimates are that less than ten percent remain. In this region, examples of upland oaks in the red oak group include shumard oak, southern red oak, and blackjack oak. Those in the white oak group are eastern white oak, post oak, and chinkapin oak.
Oaks are at the top of the wildlife food list in upland forests also. More than 100 kinds of birds and mammals use oaks for food. Acorns, the staff of life for many species, are most important in the critical winter season when other foods are scarce. In all cases, removing oaks and other hardwoods from an upland forest will decrease biodiversity further by eliminating the animals dependent upon them. Such impacts flow downhill to affect wetland wildlife that once sought refuge in botanically diverse upland areas during natural flooding cycles of bayous and rivers.
Only a small fraction of Louisiana uplands are public lands that can be managed for natural biodiversity. The key lies with private and corporate landowners whose management decisions are usually market driven. Already, shortages of oak timber and problems with pine monoculture have convinced some to rethink old policies. A sustainable, multiple-use approach to managing the remaining native upland forests is critical in order to perpetuate oaks and their attached web of life. (Adapted from Bayou-Diversity: Nature & People in the Louisiana Bayou Country, LSU Press; Photo is shumard oak)