Long-term effects of forest harvesting on summer low flow deficits in the Coast Range of Oregon

Abstract

Authors CatalinaSeguraaKevin D.BladonaJeff A.HattenaJulia A.JonesbV.Cody HalecGeorge G.Iced

This study examined long-term changes in daily streamflow associated with forestry practices over a 60-year period (1959 to 2017) in the Alsea Watershed Study, Oregon Coast Range, Pacific Northwest, USA. We quantified the response of daily streamflow to (1) harvest of mature/old forest in 1966, (2) 43- to 53-yr-and 48- to 58-yr-old old industrial plantation forests in 2006–2009, and (3) logging of the plantations using contemporary forest practices, including retention of a riparian buffer, in 2010 and 2014. Daily streamflow from a 40- to 53-yr-old Douglas-fir plantation was 25 % lower on average, and 50 % lower during the summer (June 15 to Sept 15 of 2006 to 2009), relative to the reference watershed containing mature/old forest. Low flow deficits persisted over six or more months of each year. Surprisingly, contemporary forest practices (i.e., clearcutting of the plantation with riparian buffers in 2009 and 2014) had only a minor effect on streamflow deficits. Two years after logging in 2014, summer streamflow deficits were similar to those observed prior to harvest (under 40- to 53-yr-old plantations). High evapotranspiration from rapidly regenerating vegetation, including planted Douglas-fir, and from the residual plantation forest in the riparian buffer appear to explain the persistence of streamflow deficits after logging of nearly 100 % of the forest plantation. Results of this study indicated that 40- to 50-yr rotations of Douglas-fir plantations can produce persistent, large summer low flow deficits. While the clearcutting of these plantations, with retention of riparian buffers, increased daily streamflow slightly, they did not return to pre-first entry conditions. Further work is needed to examine how intensively managed plantation forests along with expected warmer, drier conditions in the future may influence summer low streamflow and aquatic ecosystems.

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