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Individual Highlight

Long-term Study Points to the Benefits of Partial Cutting Over Clearcutting in the Southern Appalachian Mountains

Photo of Horse logging was once common in the southern Appalachians.Horse logging was once common in the southern Appalachians.Snapshot : Results from a USDA Forest Service research study initiated in 1942 are now available. The study assessed the long-term impact of harvesting practices that were common prior to the 1950s. The study shows that historical partial harvesting practices did not affect tree species composition and diversity, whereas clearcut harvesting reduced diversity and altered species composition.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Elliott, Katherine J. 
Research Location : Otto, North Carolina
Research Station : Southern Research Station (SRS)
Year : 2019
Highlight ID : 1558


Prior to the 1950s, partial harvesting operations were common in the southern Appalachians and involved the removal of logs by ground skidding and construction of steep access roads and skid trails. Because little was known about how these historical practices affected long-term vegetation changes, USDA Forest Service researchers at the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory partially harvested a small watershed from 1942–1952 using these exploitive practices. The scientists compared the partial-cut watershed to a clearcut watershed and an untreated, reference watershed. The scientists and cooperators analyzed patterns in aboveground biomass accumulation, species composition, and diversity among partial-cut, clearcut, and the untreated, reference watershed. Contrary to expectations, the partial-cut watershed recovered to reference levels of aboveground biomass and similar species composition. The clearcut watershed had greater abundance of tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) and black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) than the other two watersheds. Diversity in the partial-cut watershed increased over time but remained less diverse than the reference watershed. In contrast, the clearcut watershed had lower diversity than the other two watersheds, and its diversity did not change over time. Despite the extreme soil disturbance, long-term species composition and diversity did not change as dramatically in the partial-cut watershed as it did in the clearcut watershed. These results will inform forest managers, conservationists, and hydrologists about long-term effects of partial-cutting versus clearcutting.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • North Carolina State University