How the White Oak initiative is protecting Michigan forests

Ben Savoie encourages everyone to take a walk in their woods.

“Just knowing what you have is important, and your local conservation districts have plentiful resources to help understand what you have and make decisions about your property,” explains Savoie, the District Forester for Barry, Allegan, and Ottawa Conservation Districts. 

Savoie has been working with the White Oak Initiative to help protect white oak trees throughout the state. The White Oak Initiative is a diverse coalition of universities, public agencies, nonprofits, and professional foresters that have come together in response to the troubles facing white oak regeneration and the future of sustainable white oak products.

“The White Oak Initiative is an organization founded by foresters, the cooperage industry, academia, and legislators to help promote the regrowth and sustainable use of white oak products,” adds Savoie. “The initiative is introducing legislation to protect oak forests, ensure oak products are used sustainably, and educate individuals about how to manage their land.”

Essential to Michigan forests

Oaks are an essential part of the forests of Michigan because they provide a bounty of food and shelter for birds, butterflies, and deer. Of the many oaks species Michigan has, white oaks have been significant in our forests due to the value of their timber, the exceptional acorns they provide, and the species' longevity. Recently, the forest product industry has been harvesting white oak at a rate the species cannot support, which is why the White Oak Initiative is helping to guide woodland owners and industry professionals in helping grow white oaks sustainably.

“Due to a history of mismanagement and over-harvesting, there are very few younger white oak trees that are growing to replace what large trees we have left,” expands Savoie. “Current models show that we can maintain roughly 20 years of the current production of oak products.”

Savoie and the network behind the White Oak Initiative work with those who own private forested land on how best to manage the oaks on their property. 

“This means I help with a wide range of subjects, from improving wildlife habitat to timber harvesting, and even managing tree pests and diseases,” explains Savoie. “My position is grant funded, so I can provide these services at no cost to landowners in my service area.”
Oak wilt threatens white oak trees.
The Forestry Assistance Program's biggest benefit is the opportunity for a free on-site assessment with a forester. This means that Savoie can walk with woodland owners and give them expert advice based on the actual conditions on the ground. 

Informational events

As part of a grant to the state of Michigan DNR, Savoie and his team are hosting five events to show off management practices that promote the growth of oak species. 

“Right now, we have already hosted two events in Barry County and are planning three more in Allegan and Ottawa counties this year,” says Savoie. “Attendees are shown how these practices are beneficial for oaks, as well as how to introduce them to their own property.”
There's an effort to protect oak trees from disease in West Michigan.

Ottawa County Parks is also hosting a White Oak Initiative field day at Stearns Creek Park on May 12, 2023, which will feature many speakers, including Savoie, that will be talking about oak management. Event registration will open near the beginning of March. 

“In the meantime, if anyone has more questions about the White Oak Initiative or all other things forestry, I encourage people to reach out,” Savoie says. 

Savoie can be reached at 269-908-4134 or by email at
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Kelsey Sanders.