UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Fate of Postharvest Woody Debris, Mammal Habitat, and Alternative Management of Forest Residues on Clearcuts: A Synthesis Sullivan, Thomas P.; Sullivan, Druscilla S.; Klenner, Walt


Coarse woody debris on the forest floor contributes to maintenance of forest biodiversity and long-term ecosystem productivity. Down wood is often dispersed over harvested sites during logging activities, thereby leaving piles of postharvest debris as “excess” material at landings and roadsides. These wood residues may be burned in most jurisdictions in North America to reduce a perceived fire hazard. The fire hazard debate needs to acknowledge the documented benefits of woody debris retention while striking a balance among biodiversity, bioenergy, and alternative uses for debris, while reducing ignitions by humans. The burning of excess woody debris also creates smoke, causes the release of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and creates human health issues, particularly for vulnerable individuals. The relationship of wildfire smoke to human health problems is well documented. However, there is no scientific evidence showing that postharvest debris piles are ignition points for forest fires, other than those caused by humans. Wood residues from forest harvesting or natural disturbance wood from wildfire and insect outbreaks may be used as renewable biomass “feedstocks” that could help improve energy supplies and reduce GHG emissions. If not marketable, the management of postharvest debris should seek alternative outlets that do not dispose of debris by burning, but still meet fire hazard abatement requirements. The construction of woody debris structures (e.g., piles and windrows) built at the time of forest harvesting and log processing, or later at the site preparation stages, has positive benefits for wildlife habitat and forest biodiversity. A windrow or series of piles may connect patches and reserves of mature forest and riparian areas on clearcut openings. Piles and windrows have consistently provided habitat on new clearcuts for southern red-backed voles (Myodes gapperi) and Microtus voles, as well as a host of other forest-floor small mammal species, at least up to 12 years postconstruction. Woody debris provides important habitat for foraging and cover attributes for marten (Martes americana), weasels (Mustela spp.), and other furbearers. A list of “What to do?” and “When and Where?” with options for construction of woody debris habitats: poorest, good, better, and best are given. In the cases where fire risk from humans is minimized and there are no marketable wood products, eight alternative management scenarios for postharvest woody debris are provided. These include: (1) piles for wildlife habitat; (2) distribution of debris in partial cut forests; (3) machinery to break up and crush debris; (4) protection of riparian zones with barriers for cattle; (5) construction of range fencing; (6) reclamation of landings and skid-trails; (7) soil fertility and reduction in weed competition and drought for planted conifers; and (8) slope stabilization and revegetation. Advantages and disadvantages (if known) are given for each alternative. A flow chart for the fate of excess postharvest woody debris with respect to fire hazard abatement and markets or nonmarkets is given.

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