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Growing California Oak Trees

The following post is written by Fallon Turner Stover, a California rancher and Savory Institute Professional Educator. She lives near Auburn, California.

California oak trees are a fundamental and valuable asset to the Sierra Foothills where I live. About two and a half years ago, a local arborist came out to clean up some of the oak trees on the property, and he mentioned that some of our largest oak trees are entering their final decades of life. He said that relatively speaking they were healthy, but are indeed suffering the effects of deterioration due to age. Casually I looked around and realized at that moment that there were no young oak trees on the property to replace the ones that were going to be lost. That prompted the initiation of a 100-year land plan to ensure the germination and survival of the next generation of oak trees.

I knew that something had to change in order to stimulate the growth of the oak seedlings. For a number of years, there had been heavy acorn crops, with no seedling germination, regardless of the amount of winter precipitation. Looking at the tools available to me, I chose to use a little money to buy some electric fence, that I would strategically place near the oak trees, in order to have my horses create animal impact.

My theory was that if I had enough animal impact resulting in subsequent soil breakup and turnover, at the right time, meaning after the acorns had dropped, then I should have something start to grow the following spring.

The initial grazing paddocks with the horses were certainly experimental, and as fate would have it, my theory proved correct. Not only did I succeed in producing a few trees, around two dozen trees germinated within a three-acre enclosure the following spring when the land was rested from grazing by horses.

I am now in my second spring following two fall seasons of using horses at an increased stock density to induce animal impact. At present, there are seedlings in the two year age bracket, as well as new seedlings that sprouted this spring. As of last count, there are four different species of oak seedlings that have emerged. This spring has been the wettest on record, which certainly has had a profound effect on the survivability of this next generation of oaks. With proper rest of the areas around the oak seedlings, my hope is that I will be able to ensure the survival of these trees, and take my knowledge and apply it to other areas to produce  similar results.

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