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Ponderosa pine understory vegetation recovers quickly following timber harvest

Date: September 09, 2015


Creating and maintaining a healthy forest relies on the resiliency of understory vegetation. The understory vegetation is largely responsible for providing ecosystems services such as nutrient cycling and maintaining biological diversity. Timber harvesting not only provides the resource for a broad variety of wood products but can also be a valuable management tool for maintaining a healthy population of trees that can resist insects and diseases, as well as promote a productive and diverse understory.


Permanent study plot in 2010 three years following timber harvest.
Permanent study plot in 2010 three years following timber harvest.
Scientists with the Rocky Mountain Research Station and university partners are investigating the short- and long-term resiliency of understory vegetation of ponderosa pine forests to a variety disturbances associated with timber harvest. They chose the Black Hills National Forest to conduct their research given its long history of timber harvest. Its first timber sale occurred in 1899 and since then, all land suitable for timber harvest has been logged one to four times. Using established study sites in active timber cutting units, scientists compared one-, two-, three- and seven-year post-harvest data with pre-harvest information.

Findings indicate that the understory vegetation is very resilient, often approaching pre-harvest condition within a few years. Scientists also found that expansion of invasive plant species appears to be restricted to a few heavily disturbed sites. Although much of the post-harvest focus is usually on trees, the understory vegetation is also important to focus on, as it is provides a variety of support services to the ecosystem.


Principal Investigators: 
Forest Service Partners: 
Black Hills National Forest
Western Wildlands Environmental Threat Assessment Center
Pacific Northwest Research Station
External Partners: 
South Dakota State University
Western Washington University