We examined stream temperature response to forest harvest in small forested headwater catchments in western Washington, USA over a seven year period (2002-2008). These streams have very low discharge in late summer and many become spatially intermittent. We used a before-after, control-impact (BACl) study design to contrast the effect of clearcut logging with two riparian buffer designs, a continuous buffer and a patch buffer. We focused on maximum daily temperature throughout July and August, expecting to see large temperature increases in the clearcut streams (n = 5), much smaller increases in the continuously buffered streams (n = 6), with the patch-buffered streams (n = 5) intermediate. Temperature responses were highly variable within treatments and, contrary to our expectations, stream temperature increases were small and did not follow expected trends among the treatment types. We conducted further analyses in an attempt to identify variables controlling the magnitude of post-harvest treatment responses. These analyses showed that the amount of canopy cover retained in the riparian buffer was not a strong explanatory variable. Instead, spatially intermittent streams with short surface-flowing extent above the monitoring station and usually characterized by coarse-textured streambed sediment tended to be thermally unresponsive. In contrast, streams with longer surface-flowing extent above the monitoring station and streams with substantial stream-adjacent wetlands, both of which were usually characterized by fine-textured streambed sediment, were thermally responsive. Overall, the area of surface water exposed to the ambient environment seemed to best explain our aggregate results. Results from our study suggest that very small headwater streams may be fundamentally different than many larger streams because factors other than shade from the overstory tree canopy can have sufficient influence on stream energy budgets to strongly moderate stream temperatures even following complete removal of the overstory canopy.
Janisch, Jack E.; Wondzell, Steven M.; Ehinger, William J. 2012. Headwater stream temperature: interpreting response after logging, with and without riparian buffers, Washington, USA. Forest Ecology and Management. 270: 302-313.