LOGGING IN ALASKA'S BOREAL FOREST: CREATION OF GRASSLANDS OR ENHANCEMENT OF MOOSE HABITAT
Timber harvest in Alaska’s boreal forest can greatly enhance or severely reduce moose (Alces alces) habitat quality, depending on forest management objectives, timing and methods of harvest, and post-logging site preparation. Overstory removal associated with timely exposure of mineral soil favors establishment of early successional hardwoods important as moose browse. A combination of clear-cutting and soil scarification on mesic sites mimics fire, windfall, and fluvial erosion, important natural forces that drive regeneration of the boreal forest. When cut during dormancy, aspen (Populus tremuloides) and balsam poplar (P. balsamifera) Regenerate prolifically by root and stump sprouting. However, harvest of paper birch (Betula papyrifera) or white spruce (Picea glauca) with little or no disturbance to the organic mat covering the forest floor often results in establishment of a long lived herbaceous disclimax dominated by bluejoint reedgrass (Calamagrostis canadensis). This disclimax may persist for 25 to 100 years or more, limiting re-establishment of important deciduous browse species utilized by moose. With proper timber harvest, soil scarification, and good seedling establishment, carrying capacity for moose based upon forage supply can increase 20-45 fold (4-9 moose/km2) over mature forest. Increases of this magnitude are also observed following wild fire. Estimates of carrying capacity follow poor harvest practices with no scarification seldom exceed 0.2 moose/km2, similar to that of mature forest. Properly regenerated clearcuts yield high quantities of moose browse for approximately 20 years following logging. We discussed the importance of appropriate timber harvesting practices relative to moose and the boreal forest ecosystem in Alaska.
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