June 14, 2006

Iowa’s Oaks at Risk of Disappearing

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Iowa is at risk of losing its state tree - the oak - and residents are being urged to plant more of them to keep them from disappearing.

The number of oak trees in the state has been dwindling, in part because of diseases, such as oak wilt and oak tatters. Another problem is nature itself, officials said.

Without fires that kept different species in check before widespread farming and development, Iowa has become full of shady maples and basswoods while the number of oaks languish.

Without help, oaks could disappear from the state in 150 years.

"It would be sad to think that there may not be another generation of them," said Anita O'Gara, spokeswoman for the nonprofit Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, a preservation group whose logo is an oak tree outline inside an acorn.

The depletion of the oak also is affecting the environment and the economy.

More than 70 species of animals eat acorns in Iowa and deer often eat oak tree seedlings.

The wood from the oak is used at 50 Iowa sawmills and companies that employ up to 15,000 people making cabinets and other products.

To help save the oak, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources is encouraging landowners to open areas in forests where oaks can survive, said John Walkowiak, a state forester.

"If someone chooses to go for oak, we have a chance" of saving the species, Walkowiak said. "If they don't, we have no chance."

Many oaks, which sprouted more than 150 years ago, are dying of old age. Others are dying from disease or pests.

Acorns that are dropped have trouble sprouting because other trees have taken over the landscape.

Iowa has lost more than 7,000 acres of oak forest since 1954.

Walkowiak and his staff are with state agriculture officials on incentives for landowners to restore and preserve forests.

Rick and Linda Elbert, of Ames, bought 100 acres of forest near Ogden several years ago.

They took a woodland manager course at Iowa State University. The removed hundreds of oak and walnut trees and started replanting to replace them, Rick Elbert said.

The Elberts planted 400 oaks and 200 walnuts in 2003. Since then, they have planted two to three acres with acorns he collects.

"You look in the spring and you have these baby seedlings, and I feel like a proud father," Elbert said.


Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com