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Predicting Risk of Long-Term Nitrogen Depletion Under Whole-Tree Harvesting in the Coastal Pacific Northwest

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In many forest plantation ecosystems, concerns exist regarding nutrient removal rates associated with sustained whole-tree harvesting. In the coastal North American Pacific Northwest, we predicted the depletion risk of nitrogen (N), the region's most growth-limiting nutrient, for 68 intensively managed Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii [Mirb.] Franco) plantations varying widely in productivity. We projected stands to rotation age using the individual-tree growth model ORGANON and then calculated a stability ratio for each stand, defined as the ratio of N removed during harvest to total site N store (soil and forest floor). We assigned a risk rating to each site based on its stability ratio under whole-tree and stem-only harvest scenarios. Under whole-tree harvest, 49% of sites were classified as potentially at risk of long-term N depletion (i.e., ≥10% N store removed in harvest), whereas under stem-only harvest, only 24% of sites were at risk. Six percent and 1% of sites were classified as under high risk of N depletion (i.e., ≥30% N store removed in harvest) under whole-tree and stem-only harvest, respectively. The simulation suggested that sites with <9.0 and <4.0 Mg ha−1 site N store are potentially at risk for long-term N depletion and productivity loss under repeated whole-tree and stem-only harvest, respectively. Sites with <2.2 and <0.9 Mg ha−1 site N store are at high risk of N depletion under whole-tree and stem-only harvest, respectively. The areas with the highest concentrations of at-risk sites were those with young, glacially derived soils on Vancouver Island, Canada, and in the Puget Sound region of Washington.
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Keywords: Douglas-fir; nutrient; plantation; stability ratio; sustainability

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2014-04-01

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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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