Paper describes soil properties in site-prepared loblolly pine 25 years after wet weather harvesting

Intensively managed pine forests occur throughout the southeastern United States and provide a large proportion of global demand for forest products. Many of these forests are located on coastal plain wet flats.

Managers typically seek to avoid using heavy equipment during wet site conditions. However, use of heavy equipment sometimes cannot be avoided and can potentially affect soil properties and site productivity.

Some sites have natural mechanisms, such as sediment deposition and resilience to compaction, that facilitate long-term recovery from soil disturbances. Site preparation techniques, such as bedding, also can be used to enhance soil properties and productivity.

Although researchers have suggested that site preparation is essential to ameliorate properties and productivity of soils disturbed by logging, few studies have investigated the long-term effects of mechanical site preparation on soil properties. Results from such studies would help managers develop site preparation prescriptions that promote long-term sustainability. 

Recently, Virginia Tech, the U.S. Forest Service, and NCASI collaborated to evaluate the effects of site preparation and wet weather primary skid trails on selected soil properties and stand productivity in loblolly pine stands 25 years after salvage logging (stand age 23). Dr. Eric Vance managed NCASI’s involvement in the study.

Results for loblolly pine productivity were presented in Neaves et al. (2017a) as described in Volume 29, No. 8 of the NCASI Forestry Environmental Program News. The investigators have now reported soil property responses over time to site preparation treatments in a second paper that also was published in Forest Ecology and Management (Neaves et al. 2017b). The abstract follows.

“Harvesting traffic may alter soil properties and reduce forest productivity if soil disturbances are not mitigated. Logging operations were conducted during high soil moisture conditions on the South Carolina, USA coast to salvage timber and reduce wildfire potential following Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Long term study sites were established on wet pine flats to evaluate effects of primary skid trails and site preparation on soil properties and loblolly pine productivity. The experiment was analyzed as a split-plot within an unbalanced randomized complete block design having 12 blocks, two levels of traffic (primary skid trail (On), no obvious traffic (Off)) and four levels of site preparation (bedding (Bed), disking with bedding (D/B), disking (Disk), no site preparation (None)). Remeasurement of the study was conducted in 2015 at 25 years after salvage logging (stand age 23 years). Bed and D/B treatments had greater saturated hydraulic conductivity (p = 0.0567) and macroporosity (p = 0.0071) and lower bulk density (p = 0.0226) values than Disk and None treatments. Macroporosity benefits were evident two years after site preparation installation, but bulk density and saturated hydraulic conductivity were not, suggesting these two measurements were affected over time by differences in rooting activity influenced by initial aeration benefits. Depth to iron depletion (p = 0.0055) was significantly greater and soil carbon (p < 0.0001) was significantly lower in Bed and D/B treatments due to bed elevation above the water table and improved drainage. This implies greater aeration for roots, but trade-offs in above-ground biomass and soil carbon storage. However, above and below ground carbon differences balanced one another between treatments so that combined carbon storage in soil and above ground loblolly pine biomass was not significantly different by site preparation treatment (p = 0.1127). Bed and D/B resulted in approximately double the stand biomass (p < 0.0001) and stand density (p < 0.0001) than Disk and None. Bed and D/B generally created more favorable soil properties and enhanced long term loblolly pine stand productivity. Differences in soil properties and stand productivity between traffic levels, with and without site preparation, were negligible suggesting natural soil recovery mechanisms were mitigated effects of wet site harvesting over 25 years.”  

References 

Neaves, C.M., W.M. Aust, M.C. Bolding, S.M. Barrett, C.C. Trettin, and E.Vance. 2017a. Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.) productivity 23 years after wet site harvesting and site preparation in the lower Atlantic coastal plain. Forest Ecology and Management 401:207-214. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foreco.2017.07.007 

Neaves, C.M., W.M. Aust, M.C. Bolding, S.M. Barrett, C.C. Trettin, and E.Vance. 2017b. Soil properties in site prepared loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.) stands 25 years after wet weather harvesting in the lower Atlantic coastal plain. Forest Ecology and Management 404:344-353. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.foreco.2017.08.015