Canadian Forest Service Publications

Effects of forest biomass harvesting on soil productivity in boreal and temperate forests – A review. 2011. Thiffault, E.; Hannam, K.D.; Paré, D.; Titus, B.D.; Hazlett, P.W.; Maynard, D.G.; Brais, S. Environ. Rev. 19:278-309.

Year: 2011

Issued by: Laurentian Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 32736

Language: English

Availability: PDF (request by e-mail)

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1139/A11-009

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Concerns about climate change and the desire to develop a domestic, renewable energy source are increasing the interest in forest biomass extraction, especially in the form of logging residues, i.e., tree tops and branches. We reviewed the literature to determine the site and soil conditions under which removal of logging residues along with the stem (i.e., whole-tree harvesting), especially at clearcut, results in negative impacts on soil productivity compared with conventional stem-only harvesting in boreal and temperate forests. Negative impacts of biomass harvesting on soil nutrient pools (e.g., nitrogen, phosphorus and base cations) and soil acid-base status are more frequent in the forest floor than in the mineral soil. In the first years post-harvest, however, biomass harvesting has the greatest potential to influence tree survival and growth, either positively or negatively, through its effects on microclimate and competing vegetation. Later in the rotation, impaired nitrogen and (or) phosphorus nutrition on whole-tree harvested sites has been shown to reduce tree growth for at least 20 years in some stands. Biomass removal can also reduce the concentrations of base cations in soils and foliage, but this has not, to date, been shown to affect tree productivity. There are no consistent, unequivocal and universal effects of forest biomass harvesting on soil productivity. However, climate and microclimate, mineral soil texture and organic C content, the capacity of the soil to provide base cations and phosphorus, and tree species autecology appear to be critical determinants of site sensitivity to biomass harvesting. Rigorous, long-term experiments that follow stand development through a rotation will facilitate the identification of categories of site or stand conditions under which negative impacts of biomass harvesting are likely.