Sep. 23—Motorists beware. It's no bumper crop for acorns.
Such is the conclusion that's been drawn from the 2022 Connecticut Oak Mast Surveillance Program survey, which found an abysmal acorn crop is on tap this fall. And that's bad news for the many species that feed on acorns, including deer, bears, squirrels, chipmunks and birds.
Deer looking for other nourishment perhaps pose the biggest danger.
"Without a consistent source of acorns, deer will wander in search of alternative food sources resulting in increased potential for collisions with vehicles," warned Joseph Barsky, a forester with the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station's Department of Environmental Science and Forestry.
In a news release Friday, the CAES reported that its annual assessment of the acorn crop, conducted during two weeks in August, "determined widespread acorn crop failure" for the fall. The assessment is part of the CAES's monitoring of mature oak trees in the state's 12 Deer and Turkey Management Zones.
Begun by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection's Wildlife Division in 2007, the program is coordinated among a half-dozen eastern states.
Over the past three summers, Barsky's been counting acorns on trees at sites across Connecticut, one of them being the Barn Island Wildlife Management Area in Stonington. Barsky said he looks through binoculars at 50 trees at each site, and counts acorns for 30 seconds at a time. The data is plugged into a database shared with the other states participating in the project.
"This year, we counted way lower numbers of acorns all over the state," Barsky said. "That's a problem for deer and other species that depend on acorns as a source of food."
Following last year's masting of acorns ― the production of a large crop ― this year's poor crop was expected.
Acorn abundance varies year to year based on the trees' allocation of resources, Barsky said, as if the forest is building up energy reserves in years in which there is adequate spring rainfall and good pollination. Such conditions lead to a good acorn crop the next year.
The trees' mast years occur every five to seven years, Barsky said, with wildlife populations fluctuating accordingly. In the past, he said, widespread outbreaks of spongy moths, which used to be called gypsy moths, have been responsible for acorn crop failure and oak mortality in eastern Connecticut.
"Oaks are a foundational component of many forest ecosystems in southern New England and their health is directly correlated with the health of the forest," Barsky said.