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    The logging debris that remains after timber harvest traditionally has been seen as a nuisance. It can make subsequent tree planting more difficult and become fuel for wildfire. It is commonly piled, burned, or taken off site. Logging debris, however, contains significant amounts of carbon and nitrogen—elements critical to soil productivity. Its physical presence in the regenerating forest creates microclimates that influence a broad range of soil and plant processes. Researchers Tim Harrington of the Pacific Northwest Research Station; Robert Slesak, a soil scientist with the Minnesota Forest Resources Council; and Stephen Schoenholtz, a professor of forest hydrology and soils at Virginia Tech, conducted a five-year study at two sites in Washington and Oregon to see how retaining logging debris affected the soil and other growing conditions at each locale. They found that keeping logging debris in place improved soil fertility, especially in areas with coarse-textured, nutrient-poor soils. Soil nitrogen and other nutrients important to tree growth increased, and soil water availability increased due to the debris’ mulching effect. The debris cooled the soil, which slowed the breakdown and release of soil carbon into the atmosphere. It also helped prevent invasive species such as Scotch broom and trailing blackberry from dominating the sites. Forest managers are using this information to help maximize the land’s productivity while reducing their costs associated with debris disposal.

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    • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.


    Kirkland, John. Harrington, Timoth B. 2012. Logging debris matters: better soil, fewer invasive plants. Science Findings 145. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 6 p.


    logging, soil, Washington, Oregon, hydrology, invasive plants

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