Red Oak will grow straight, tall, and fast in the right conditions. Being in the lumber business, we know the value of a straight and well formed tree vs. a crooked and poorly formed tree. Being in the forestry business, we know the value of a healthy and productive tree vs. a struggling tree.
Establishing Red Oak growing stock is the first challenge. Getting the young trees above deer browse stage with adequate root systems comes after that. Managing competition from other trees is the next challenge.
The photograph below shows the stem of a high quality Red Oak "pole" or young crop tree. Despite growing under the partial shadow of a variety of other trees including two Black Ash, it is perfectly straight. The over-story and mid-story competition at an earlier age did not significantly alter the vertical growth of this particular tree.
The top of this same tree, however, tells a different story, as shown in the photograph below. The photo doesn't show it well unless you open it and expand it a bit. As the top grew up and into the tops of the Black Ash trees it finally ran out of adequate light and deviated away from its competition. This lowers the quality and the value of the 2nd log in this tree. It's still a valuable tree and we're glad to have it for a future saw-log tree. But we need to harvest the Black Ash trees to release this Red Oak for improved growth rate and to prevent even further stem deviation.
The Red Oak pole in the photograph below, a close neighbor to the one above, is growing up in a nearly clear opening. There is another mature tree a short distance away (in this photograph it's to the left), but it has a small top and at present is not causing competition to the Red Oak. This is a very well formed tree, and we want to keep it that way.
Note that we have pruned the lower branches from both of these Red Oak poles. Red Oak responds exceptionally well to pruning.
The final photograph below shows a very young Red Oak. This particular tree struggled with deer browse for a number years. The first two feet from the ground are not high quality yet. There are numerous bumps and crooks due to repeated browse. However, as the tree was struggling through the browse years, it was developing a strong root system. When we performed a partial harvest on this site, the partially open canopy provided enough sunlight to allow the tree to flourish and grow rapidly. We also did some manual release in this area, cutting away the immediate competition around individual young trees. And we did some lower branch pruning of the young crop trees. All of these things helped to promote rapid growth - on the order of 3-4 feet per year.
Note the problem, however. The tree is already growing at an angle to get away from the Maple tree to its left. That Maple tree needs to be removed to give the Red Oak an opportunity to grow straight. The Maple tree has little commercial value to us due to its poor quality (it is poorly formed at the top and like so many of the Maples it has some rot in it), so harvesting it will be a money losing proposition. But sometimes that's what you have to do in order to establish quality timber for the future. Of course we probably would not come and harvest just this one Maple tree. Instead we will look for other opportunities to improve the stand at the same time.
The depiction above is somewhat of an oversimplification. In reality, we cannot and do not manage just for Red Oak quality and productivity. We also manage in real time for multiple species, multiple age classes, and multiple forest values. Major disturbances (clear cuts or nearly clear cuts) may be optimal for future Red Oak, but may not be compatible with our overall objectives for that site as it fits into the overall landscape. But we still want to keep Red Oak in these sites and we want them to ultimately be quality saw log trees. So they need to be straight.
We are closely observing a phenomenon in which the Red Oak seem to straighten out over time once they are finally given the ultimate canopy opening they need. Is this real or is it perceived? Is it wishful thinking? Time and careful observations will tell.