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Natural Wonders | Vegetation in Forillon National Park

Protecting Red Oak at Forillon National Park of Canada

Red Oak restoration program
Red Oak restoration program
© Parks Canada / J.Pleau

The red oak, a rare species at Forillon

Red oak is one of the 58 species of oak present on the North American continent. It is an important species, ecologically speaking, since its acorns are consumed by several animal species. Specimens of the red oak are very rare in Forillon National Park of Canada (FNPC). Preserving them is a major challenge, all the more so because the few remaining stands are considered vestiges, being located at the northeast limit of their North American distribution range. For this reason, they can present a number of vulnerability traits, such as episodic regeneration, high sensitivity and generally weak growth.

Because the red oak is so rare on Forillon park lands, a restoration program was implemented on the basis of the species' particular ecology. This program encompasses a range of techniques and methods that will be tested out over the next several years. The experiments, to be conducted over small areas, are designed to identify the treatments best suited to ensuring the protection and regeneration of the red oak at FNPC.

At this time, there are approximately 44 known red oak sites, located primarily in the northwest portion of the park. In total, there are approximately 300 individuals across the park's lands. On most of the stands visited, regeneration is limited, and all signs seem to suggest that the red oak could be replaced by maple or other species if no action is taken.

A framework for the ecological restoration of the white pine and the red oak has already been drafted. It not only contains a full description of the set of issues surrounding red oak regeneration at FNPC, but it also presents strategies for preserving current stands.

The trials, which call for using burning and traditional silvicultural techniques, will enable FNPC staff to build their knowledge and  expertise respecting red oak regeneration and controlling competing species. These experiments will be conducted over an approximately 10-year period.

The exact status of red oak in the immediate vicinity of Forillon remains to be defined – a fact that justifies conducting further in-depth research. A number of studies have already been launched, and others will follow – all with a view to improving our knowledge concerning the status of stands as well as their origin and patterns of evolution. This research, coupled with the above-mentioned experiments, will provide a basis for defining long-term objectives and selecting those actions best suited for perpetuating red oak stands.

Fire is a natural mechanism serving to enhanceecosystem diversity.
Fire is a natural mechanism serving to enhanceecosystem diversity.
© Parks Canada

According to the scientific literature, the perpetuation of red oak-dominated stands over the centuries owes in part to the relatively  frequent occurrence of surface fires. Red oak is considered to be a fire-adapted species. To begin with, the thick bark of adult oaks enables them to survive a surface fire of moderate intensity. Younger trees that do not survive fire nevertheless have the capacity to regenerate vigorously through stump shoots. Furthermore, the thin litter formed from burned leaves creates surroundings that are conducive to the burying of acorns by squirrels and jays, thus promoting germination. For oak stands, the biggest benefit of fire is the control of competing species and the creation of canopy openings allowing light to penetrate to the forest floor.

Among the tools tested within the framework of this experimental project, the park will be using  prescribed burning. Burns will be conducted on a small scale under rigorously controlled conditions and will be directed toward specific goals, thereby keeping the risks of spreading fire to a minimum.

It is important to note that park authorities will not, under any circumstance, allow a forest fire that has broken out on park lands to burn. In the event of a forest fire, every effort will be made to put it out.

Where fire management is concerned, Parks Canada boasts in-depth knowledge, broad experience, quality expertise and skilled resources. The Agency is, moreover, recognized the world over as an expert organization in ecological fire management and prescribed burning.

Prescribed burning in images

Parks Canada's commitment

If fire must be used to accomplish a recognized ecosystem conservation goal in a national park, irrefutable proof must be provided that this solution is appropriate and feasible, in light of both the fire fighting resources available and public safety concerns. On account of the above considerations and the inherent dangers of fire for life and property, Parks Canada and Forillon National Park of Canada shall, on behalf of the public's welfare, rigorously evaluate and manage any project that involves fire management.