Precision Forestry

Ami Sharpe, a graduate student in the Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries at the University of Tennessee, is examining the “response of northern red oak seedlings to environmental conditions in small group and also in single tree selection openings.” These openings are created after a “typical” landowner timber sale. After harvest, the openings were created where large gaps, i.e., openings in the crown canopy of the forest, were created by the removal of several adjacent large trees. Other openings were created in areas where the residual trees, i.e., trees not harvested, were of very poor quality or were undesirable species. Ami planted seedlings that were developed from the Shackelford Orchards (see Shackelford Seed Orchard). 

Many hardwood timber sales in the south fall under the category of either mild or sever high grading, where the best trees are harvested and lower quality trees are left behind. Where openings in the canopy are large enough to allow sufficient sunlight to reach the ground, hardwood regeneration can begin to grow. However, in many cases the regeneration is not desirable. It is composed of species that are not wanted. As a result oaks are often not replaced with oaks. Having an oak component in the stand is very desirable.

Ami’s work is examining how planted oak seedlings grow in such openings. The opening must be large enough to give the seedlings a chance to reach the height needed to live before the opening closes due to neighboring trees invading the space with their limbs. 

The study reflects a direct research application to allow development of hardwood regeneration techniques that here-to-fore have not been possible. The orchard work and advancement of seedling cultures allow this work to be on the cutting edge of science. 

Ami’s part of the effort will be completed within a year. However, her project, along with additional research involving already planted white oak, will continue for the long term. The study is very complicated, including measurements of available light, soil types and moisture regimes, topographic maps of all plots, aspect, and family designations (i.e., essentially the pedigree for all seedlings). The soil work alone has required enormous effort. Her work is developing unique results and has direct bearing on how the Shackelford orchards can influence the health and value of future forests. The work will allow matching seedlings to microhabitats and compare field and orchard performance.

Some of the seedlings in these studies easily exceed 15 feet in height after two year of growth. The results of the study will contribute to the understanding of what parameters are most important to allow seedlings to grow. This study will form the basis for precision forestry techniques. It will provide a holistic management scheme for hardwoods that includes a regeneration technique that targets seedlings to be planted on specific site conditions, crop tree enhancement techniques to select the best seedlings to manage, and harvest schemes to remove the trees that will make the openings that will allow planting of desirable trees in the forest. (discussed in other parts the Ames web page).

Already good results are coming out of the study. Seedlings are responding to different light regimes, soils, aspect. Trees with different genetic back grounds are responding differently. With this information, Precison Foresty, a new silvicultural philosophy is being developed to give landowners the management techniques and a philosophy that will improve forests for timber production and wildlife.

The work has been noted in the scientific community. For example, the Bicentennial Southern Silvicultural Research Conference held in Memphis during the winter of ‘05 requested a field tour of the study. The conference draws an audience from across a wide spectrum of the Nation’s professional and academic forestry and wildlife experts. The field tour was successful and the number of attendees was higher, here, than for any previous tour during the course of the Conference’s existence (over 25 years). This indicates the interest in these orchards and the silvicultural strategies that arise from them. 

This work would not be possible without the support of the Margaret Shackelford Trust.