U.S. Joint Fire Science Program


Date of this Version


Document Type



Fire Science Brief, Issue 112, June 2010


US government work.


Along the ridgetops and in the coves of Kentucky’s Cumberland Plateau, oak forests are in a state of transition. Mature oaks still tower over the forest floor and produce acorns that provide nourishment for wildlife. Those acorns also once ensured new generations of oak from seedlings and saplings. Beneath the canopy, however, a fierce competition for light is placing the future of upland oak forests in jeopardy. Once a frequent visitor that cleared the understory, opened the canopy, and allowed sunlight to penetrate to the forest fl oor, fire has been basically absent for nearly a century. Reintroduced as part of a Forest Service plan to return fi re to the forest, prescribed fi re has proven a blunt instrument in giving fire-tolerant and sunlight-dependent oaks a competitive edge over fire-sensitive species that vie for light. In the Daniel Boone National Forest, for at least 15 years, researchers and forest managers have coordinated studies using controlled fi re as a management tool. New results from research in the Cumberland Ranger District on the response of oak and two of its competitors, red maple and sassafras, confi rm that fire alone may not be sufficient to promote oak regeneration. The studies have, however, revealed new insights about the life history of oak and its competitors and generated new paths of research to explore treatment options and promote long-term survival of healthy oak forests in the Daniel Boone and elsewhere in the Appalachian uplands.