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The effects of wildfire disturbance and streamside clearcut harvesting on instream wood and small stream geomorphology in south-central British Columbia Scherer, Robert Andrew


Few field studies have assessed the temporal and spatial dynamics of wood in small streams (bankfull widths < 5 m) flowing through forest ecosystems dominated by stand replacing wildfires. Comparisons of instream wood loads associated with clearcut harvesting, wildfire, and undisturbed, old forests are also scarce. The two main objectives of this research were: (1) to document the temporal and spatial variability of wood and its geomorphic role in relation to stand development stage; and (2) to compare wood loads and its geomorphic role in relation to streamside clearcut harvesting, wildfires and older, undisturbed forest stands. This research focused on 38 small streams with gradients less than 14% situated in the plateau regions of south-central British Columbia, Canada. A distinct temporal trend in wood loading was observed, with elevated volumes present 30-50 years subsequent to the wildfire disturbances following a “reverse J-shaped” trend in relation to time since the last major wildfire disturbance. The number of wood pieces was highly variable and few of the wood characteristics exhibited a significant trend in relation to time since the last major wildfire disturbance. Except at the smallest spatial scale (<3 m segments longitudinally along the stream) the spatial distribution of wood followed a random pattern with no trend, indicating that wood loads are related to local wood recruitment processes associated with episodic or chronic tree mortality and low wood transport. Instream wood volumes were three times higher in streams recently (30 – 50 years ago) disturbed by wildfire as compared to the older riparian forest stands, confirming that wildfire disturbance is an important mechanism to recruit wood into streams. No significant differences in wood loads were identified between the streamside clearcut streams and the wildfire-disturbed or older, undisturbed streams. The lack of reductions in wood loads are likely related to the low transport capacity of our study streams, retention of non-merchantable trees and recruitment of slash from harvesting. A lack of morphologic variability was observed in relation to the disturbances indicating that the streams included in this study are relatively robust and unresponsive to wildfire or streamside clearcut harvesting disturbances.

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