Prevention of deer browse is one answer. We protect all the trees and shrubs that we plant. In the case of some of the oaks, even if they are volunteers sprouted from forgotten squirrel cashes, we generally protect them with 5′ welded wire fence rings. Oaks, our area’s #1 keystone tree species, provide food and shelter for a host of critters and have aesthetic value, but they are in decline. Deer can turn a young, would-be single-stemmed and potentially stately oak into a shrub in seconds.
When our oak plantings or volunteers are close to the water and beaver territory, we must put the 2″-mesh, welded wire fencing around these trees, even if they stand 40′ tall. Beaver will take down a loved, 30-year-old oak in a single night. And, unfortunately, beavers seem to prefer white oaks over red oaks, just as we do. When the beaver clan moved into the old pond area below Little Barn Cabin in fall of 2019, we had missed wiring a few of the larger, well established oaks on the hillside. Sure enough, any unprotected white oak was chomped down to a stump. At least they hauled away nearly every branch and even trunk pieces over 5″ in diameter to add to their winter food stash…hiding the dead reminders and recriminations of being either lazy or negligent.
You may also see white, nylon mesh tubes around some of our plantings. These protect against rabbit and mice damage during the first few years after planting. Under cover of snow and hidden from avian predators, rodents girdle the saplings and sometimes kill older trees as well.
In addition to the oaks, we planted some evergreens – pines, cedars, and a few firs. These were intended for screening lines-of-sight between our facilities and the road. Even after attaining above-browse heights, these trees need protection from bucks, which seem to be especially love whacking the heck out of evergreen tree branches, sometimes taking whole tops or all the branches on one side of the tree. The do this when marking territory, and maybe just for the fun of thrashing whole limbs.
But in the landscape, we are most concerned about oaks – white , burr, and swamp white are what we have planted. Oak savanna – a landscape of scattered oaks and prairie – was here pre-settlement, sustained by fire and keystone grazer species. Oaks, it turns out, harbor more species of invertebrates (insects and spiders) than any other tree species. North American oaks support over 550 species of lepidoptera – moths and butterflies – whose energy-dense caterpillars feed the neo-tropical migrants and other bird species’ broods during the nesting season. This compares to just 130 species supported by walnut trees, for example. On top of that, their mast, aka nuts, provide energy and protein to feed all sorts of other wildlife. We might not be around to see our mature savanna, but we think the oaks are well worth a little effort to protect.