A new video, produced in collaboration between foresters and social scientists from UW-Madison, UW-Extension and the Department of Natural Resources, encourages Wisconsin woodland owners to adopt land management practices that encourage a future for oak trees in the state. Oak (Quercus sp.) is a species that has experienced a nationwide decline, with the forests of Wisconsin following similar trends. While oak is still a dominant forest type in the region, the understory is often lacking the younger age classes that would secure the future of oak; instead, oak is being replaced by more shade-tolerant tree species.

Successful oak regeneration requires active woodland management that can provide the light and conditions that oaks need to successfully compete and thrive. Most oak woodlands in the Midwest are under private ownership, and thus oak management and the future of oak lie in the hands of private landowners. To manage for oak, some recommended techniques include harvesting overstory trees and removing the understory shrubs and competing trees to provide the light that oak need, which can be labor intensive or costly. Encouraging woodland property owners to adopt a substantial new land management practice such as managing for oak is a challenge that can be partially addressed through more effective outreach informed by social science.

Based on a recent message testing study, researchers created a video emphasizing messages that are most effective for stimulating landowner interest in oak management practices. “We found that many people didn’t understand that oaks need a lot of open sunlight to thrive,” said Bret Shaw, who co-produced the video. Shaw is Associate Professor in the Department of Life Sciences Communication in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and Environmental Communication Specialist for UW-Extension. “Therefore, 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,” said Shaw.

“We also found that woodland owners already have positive attitudes about oak trees, admiring them for their majesty and value oaks as a source of food for desired wildlife,” said Tricia Gorby Knoot with UW-Extension (formerly with the Wisconsin DNR), who also co-produced the video. Animation and editing was performed by Eli Quinn, and the video was narrated by Larry Meiller, a long-time host of The Larry Meiller Show on Wisconsin Public Radio.

The research also indicated that the most trusted sources for messages about oak management was University of Wisconsin-Extension, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and woodland owner organizations such as MyWisconsinWoods, each of which is included as a sponsoring brand in the video. The video offers viewers a way to learn more about how to actively management for oak on their land on the MyWisconsinWoods web page. A link to the research report informing development of this video can be found here. The video was produced by Forestry Insights, a program of UW-Extension with promotional support by the Aldo Leopold Foundation.