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Northern mixedwood composition and productivity 50 years after whole-tree and stem-only harvesting with and without post-harvest prescribed burning

Muñoz Delgado, Bethany L., Kenefic, Laura S., Weiskittel, Aaron R., Fernandez, Ivan J., Benjamin, Jeffrey G., Dibble, Alison C.
Forest ecology and management 2019 v.441 pp. 155-166
shade tolerance, soil properties, carbon sinks, Picea, stand structure, Pinus strobus, prescribed burning, drainage, conifers, harvesting, intensive forestry, energy, Abies, whole tree harvesting, species diversity, site preparation, slash, clearcutting, hardwood, aboveground biomass, organic horizons, fuels, forest types, stand basal area, Maine
Whole-tree harvesting (WTH) is increasingly used to extract forest biomass for energy and commercial wood products. Slash burning, which is used for fuels reduction and site preparation, also reduces aboveground biomass. Yet effects of incremental biomass reduction, from either WTH or slash burning, on long-term forest productivity and composition are poorly understood. This research uses data from a 50-year-old study in northern mixedwood (Picea – Abies – hardwood) stands on the Penobscot Experimental Forest in Maine, U.S.A., to address these concerns. Clearcutting was conducted in 1964–65 with WTH, stem-only harvesting (SOH), and SOH with post-harvest prescribed burning of logging residues (SOHB). Growing stock, composition, and soil properties (O horizon thickness and soil drainage) were measured 50 years after treatment. Hardwood composition (percent of total basal area) increased from pre-treatment levels in all treatments but was greater in SOHB than SOH and WTH. Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus), though a minor species, was significantly more abundant in WTH than SOH or SOHB. Results indicated no other significant differences in species composition, or in stand structure or productivity (total basal area, stem density, dominant height, quadratic mean diameter, and total above-ground carbon stock) among treatments. Independent of treatment, we observed relationships between soil properties and stem density and quadratic mean diameter (qmd), such that lower stem density and greater qmd were observed on sites with greater O horizon thickness. These findings suggest that relative to SOH, WTH and SOHB do not degrade northern mixedwood stand productivity as expressed by stand structure and stocking 50 years after a single treatment, even on a site with low to moderate production potential. Nevertheless, species shifts associated with clearcutting (i.e., shade-tolerant conifer to intolerant hardwood composition) and prescribed burning in this forest type should be considered in light of the potential application of either for intensive silviculture treatments.