Logging roads can rob forest soil of water

(Credit: jbdodane/Flickr)

The health of forests, especially forests that are being logged, depends on soil water infiltration—or the ability to absorb water and move it through different layers. This ability can affect how quickly forests regenerate after being logged.

Now, a new study in the journal Geoderma suggests that logging operations can negatively affect soil density and water infiltration within forests, particularly along makeshift logging roads and landing areas where logs are stored before being trucked to sawmills.

“We found that along these logging roads and landing areas, the soil was more dense and compact with slower water infiltration than in the surrounding, untouched areas of the forest,” says Stephen Anderson, professor of soil science at the University of Missouri.

“This can cause many environmental challenges in forests because dense soil prevents rainwater from soaking in; rather, this water will run off and cause erosion. This erosion can carry fertile topsoil away from forests, which enters streams and makes it difficult for those forests being logged to regenerate with new growth as well as polluting surface water resources.”

How to predict which trees will reach their 20s

For the study, researchers took soil core samples up to 40 centimeters deep from logging roads, log landing areas, and logged areas in portions of the Mark Twain National Forest in Callaway County, Missouri. The soil from logging roads and landing areas was more dense, had much slower water infiltration, and lower water retention capacity than the areas of forest that had been logged. The finding highlights the need for treatment of these impacted areas within logged forests.

“It is clear that even though logging companies can take precautions to prevent many types of negative environmental impacts from their operations, soil density and water infiltration are being negatively affected,” Anderson says.

“It is important these areas of compacted soil be identified and treated to reduce soil compaction and prevent long-term effects on forest regeneration and production. It is in the land managers’ best interests to ensure that forest soils remain a healthy density because dense soil can lead to reduced tree production and poor wood quality for future logging operations.”

Source: University of Missouri