Brown-Forman, producer of several wines and spirits, has helped establish the White Oak Initiative, a long-term sustainability effort of America’s white oak forests, as well as the economic, social and environmental benefits they provide.
The Kentucky and U.S. bourbon industry relies heavily on barrels made from white oak, and as the number of distilleries has exploded over the last decade, so has concern that demand will exceed the supply of trees. In the past 25 years Kentucky has gone from fewer than 10 to more than 100 distilleries while nationally there are now more than 3,000 operations.
It can take 60-80 years “to grow a stave” — for a white oak, whose dense wood does not leak, to mature enough so its timber can be made into barrels for whiskey. This is why the long-term sustainability of the trees is very important.
There are currently more than 104 million acres of public and private forestland across the U.S. that house the white oak species, according to the White Oak Initiative website.
White oak is responsible for not only carrying the bourbon industry, but supplying necessary materials for industries, such as furniture, flooring and cabinetry.
According to the project’s conservation plan, the goal is to have 3 million forested acres in the U.S. central hardwood region by 2032, land treated to establish white oak seedlings or to release white oak saplings, which will increase the number of white oak acres.
In order to accomplish this, the initiative will need to align knowledge and resources behind efforts, and ensure that infrastructure is in place to support a sustainable cycle in the future
The White Oak Initiative’s conservation plan states that to continue its cycle of learning, planning and working together, it needs to meet the following targets for the first three years (2022-2024):
     4,000 forest practitioners and logging operators receiving forest management guidelines for oak management
     500-1,000 practitioners trained on management guidelines
     50,000 landowners reached with information about oak sustainability
     5,000 landowners connected with practitioners or plans for restoring oak sustainability
     1,500 landowners managing their property for upland oak, with an emphasis on white oak
     100,000 acres treated to establish oak seedlings or to release saplings
     Increase the number of demonstration areas on public or private lands that highlight quality oak forests by nine or more
This initiative was developed by the American Forest Foundation and the University of Kentucky. Brown-Forman was one of nearly 40 financial supporters listed on the project’s website, as well as the Kentucky Distillers’ Association and Kentucky Division of Forestry.
By: Kristen Roberts
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