The U.S. Department of Agriculture is conducting a long-term study to determine the causes in the decline of oak trees in the Allegheny Mountain region.

Thomas Schuler of the Forest Services Northeastern Research Station in Parsons says the oak decline over the past half century isn't necessarily a result of cuttings.

Officials are also exploring the impact of a decrease in small forest fires and the rising deer population.

Small fires clear the forest of other trees and brush, letting in light and giving the oaks room to grow.

These fires also speed the decomposition process, which is healthy for the soil.

Deer are a concern because when other food supplies are low, they depend on the acorns from oak trees as a winter protein source.

Oak is considered a valuable wood and its disappearance could affect saw mills, furniture and flooring.

Schuler says oak provides an important food source for turkey and other animals.