New video aims to help landowners preserve future of oak in Wisconsin

A new video, produced by foresters and social scientists from UW-Madison, UW-Extension and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, encourages Wisconsin woodland owners to adopt land management practices that will help ensure a future for oak trees in the state.

Oaks have been experiencing a nationwide decline, with the forests of Wisconsin following the general trend. While oak is still a dominant forest type in the region, oak seedlings and saplings in the forest understory often don’t get the sunlight they need to develop into the next generation of full-grown trees. Because of this, oaks are being replaced by more shade-tolerant tree species.

“Many people don’t understand that oaks need a lot of open sunlight to thrive,” says Bret Shaw, UW-Madison associate professor of life sciences communication and UW-Extension environmental communication specialist, who co-produced the video. “Our goal with this video is to help landowners see the importance of maintaining our oak forests and help them understand some of the management practices that are needed to help oak successfully compete.”

Successful oak regeneration requires active woodland management that can provide the light and other conditions that oak seedlings and saplings need to compete. Recommended techniques include harvesting overstory trees and removing understory shrubs and competing trees.

The video, which tells the story in a visual way, features narration by Larry Meiller, longtime host of The Larry Meiller Show on Wisconsin Public Radio, and animation and editing by Eli Quinn, a Madison-based artist and animator. It can be viewed at

“We used animation because we wanted people to visually understand why oak need lots of sunlight and how woodland owners can play a role in assuring the future of oak trees on their property,” explains Shaw.

While the work involved in managing for oak can be labor intensive or costly, researchers are optimistic landowners will take action.

“We found that most woodland owners already have positive attitudes about oak trees, admiring them for their majesty and valuing oaks as a source of food and habitat for desired wildlife,” says Tricia Gorby Knoot with UW-Extension (formerly with the Wisconsin DNR), the video’s other co-producer.

The video was produced for Forestry Insights, a program of UW-Extension, with promotional support by the Aldo Leopold Foundation. Sponsoring partners include the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and various woodland owner organizations, including MyWisconsinWoods.

The video points viewers to MyWisconsinWoods for more detailed information about land management practices to support oak forests.