Public Acceptability Thresholds of Clearcutting to Maintain Visual Quality of Boreal Balsam Fir Landscapes

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Clearcutting transforms forest landscapes by creating important visual contrasts between cut areas and adjacent stands. The object of this study was to determine if it is possible to harvest a certain proportion of the visible landscape while maintaining a visually acceptable setting in the social and ecological context of the boreal balsam fir (Abies balsamea L. Mill.) forest of central Québec. Using an adaptation of the Scenic Beauty Estimation (SBE) method, a survey was conducted through slide presentations to 309 persons from 11 groups of forest users. Levels of acceptability for single-patch and dispersed-patch cutting strategies were established for this ecosystem. The results confirmed that an increase in the percentage of clearcut areas in the visible landscape induced a lower level of acceptability and that even a small clearcut created a visual impact. However, despite a generally unfavorable reaction to clearcuts, a certain level of landscape alteration was acceptable to the tested groups. When clearcuts were in the form of a single patch, the acceptability threshold of the user groups was reached at an average percentage of 25% of the visible landscape harvested by clearcutting. The dispersed-patch strategy reduced the negative visual impact; for 6 of the 11 groups, the acceptability threshold increased to a harvesting level of 50%. To remain visually acceptable, clearcuts must be in a subdominant position in the visible landscape. The visual impact of a clearcut is effectively mitigated when the vegetation has reached a minimum height of 4 m. For. Sci. 43(1):46-55.

Keywords: Dispersed-patch cutting strategy; visual impact thresholds; visual landscape management; visually effective green-up

Document Type: Journal Article

Affiliations: Département des sciences du bois et de la forêt, Faculté de foresterie et de géomatique, Université Laval, Sainte-Foy, Québec, Canada, G1K 7P4; (418)656-2131, Fax: (418)656-3177

Publication date: February 1, 1997

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