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Long-Term Soil Responses to Site Preparation Burning in the Southern Appalachians

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The mixed oak–pine ecosystems in the southern Appalachians are in decline because of a combination of drought and southern pine-beetle infestation. A commonly applied prescription for restoration of these degraded sites has been to fell all vegetation, allow it to dry, and conduct a site-preparation burn. However, there is little information on the mid- and long-term influences of this prescription on nutrient cycling. The fell-and-burn treatment was applied to three mixed oak–pine stands in the Nantahala National Forest in western North Carolina. Each stand had an untreated control area. Our objective was to determine the effects of this treatment on soil nutrient availability and potential nutrient loss. Exchangeable soil cations, pH, total carbon (C), and total nitrogen (N) were measured before and periodically for 5 years after treatment. Nitrogen transformations and nutrient availability in soil solution and in a stream draining one site were measured before and periodically for 3 years after burning. Exchangeable calcium and magnesium concentrations, soil pH, and N availability increased after treatment. There was no treatment effect on total soil C or N. Nitrogen mineralization rates were greater on burned versus control plots in 50% of the posttreatment measurements. This treatment increased nutrient availability and, although a significant amount of total site N was lost, there were no adverse effects on total soil nutrients or water quality. FOR. SCI. 50(4):540–550.

Keywords: Prescribed burn; environmental management; forest; forest management; forest resources; forest soil chemistry; forestry; forestry research; forestry science; mixed oak–pine; natural resource management; natural resources; nitrogen; nutrient availability

Document Type: Regular Article

Affiliations: 1: Research Soil Scientist Southern Research Station, Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory USDA Forest Service 3160 Coweeta Lab Rd. Otto NC 28763 Phone: 828-524-2128;, Fax: 828-369-6768, Email: jknoepp@fs.fed.us 2: Research Ecologist Southern Research Station, Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory USDA Forest Service 3160 Coweeta Lab Rd. Otto NC 28763 Phone: 828-524-2128 @fs.fed.us, Email: jvose@fs.fed.usjvose 3: Emeritus Scientist Southern Research Station, Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory USDA Forest Service 3160 Coweeta Lab Rd. Otto NC 28763 Phone: 828-524-2128, Email: wswank@sparc.ecology.uga.edu

Publication date: August 1, 2004

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  • Forest Science is a peer-reviewed journal publishing fundamental and applied research that explores all aspects of natural and social sciences as they apply to the function and management of the forested ecosystems of the world. Topics include silviculture, forest management, biometrics, economics, entomology & pathology, fire & fuels management, forest ecology, genetics & tree improvement, geospatial technologies, harvesting & utilization, landscape ecology, operations research, forest policy, physiology, recreation, social sciences, soils & hydrology, and wildlife management.
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