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Mechanical Restoration of California Mixed-Conifer Forests: Does it Matter Which Trees Are Cut?


J. R. Miesel, email


The montane ecosystems of northern California have been subjected to repeated manipulation and active fire suppression for over a century, resulting in changes in community structure that contribute to increased wildfire hazard. Ecosystem restoration via reduction of stand density for wildfire hazard mitigation has received substantial attention in recent years; however, many ecological questions remain unanswered. This study compares belowground effects of two alternative forest thinning treatments designed to restore the large, old tree component of late-seral structure, one of which focuses on restoring Pinus ponderosa dominance (Pine-preference) and the other of which promotes development of large trees regardless of species (Size-preference). We evaluated forest floor and soil chemical and microbial parameters in six experimental thinning treatment units of 40 ha each in the Klamath National Forest of northern California 5–6 years after thinning. Inorganic N availability, soil organic C content, phenol oxidase activity, and forest floor C:N ratio were greater in the Size-preference treatment, whereas forest floor N and soil pH were greater in the Pine-preference treatment. Our results indicate that these two thinning strategies produce differences in the soil environment that has the potential to affect growth rates of trees that remain, as well as the growth and survivorship of newly established seedlings. Thus, which species/individuals are removed during structural restoration of these mixed-conifer forests matters both to the belowground components of the ecosystem today and the vegetation and productivity of the ecosystem in future decades.