Effects of Forest Harvesting on Warm-Season Low Flows in the Pacific Northwest: A Review

  • R.D. (Dan) Moore University of British Columbia
  • Stefan Gronsdahl
  • Richard McCleary


Paired-catchment studies conducted on small (< 10 km2) rain-dominated catchments revealed that forest harvesting resulted in a period of increased warm-season low flows ranging from less than five years to more than two decades, consistent with the results of stand-level studies and process considerations. Of the five paired-catchment studies in snow-dominated regions, none revealed a statistically significant change in warm-season low flows in the first decade following harvest, although two exhibited non-significant higher flows in August and September and one had lower flows. Two studies, one of rain-dominated catchments and one of snow-dominated catchments, found that summer low flows became more severe (i.e., lower) about two decades or so following harvest. These longer-term results indicate that indices such as equivalent clearcut area, as currently calculated using monotonic recovery curves, may not accurately reflect the nature of post-harvest changes in low flows. Studies focussed on medium to large catchments (tens to thousands of km2 in area) found either no statistically significant relations between warm-season low flows and forest disturbance, or inconsistent responses. Attempts to synthesize existing studies are hampered by the lack of a common low-flow metric among studies, as well as detailed information on post-harvest vegetation changes. Further field
research and process-based modelling is required to help elucidate the underlying processes leading to the results from these paired-catchment studies and to enhance the ability to predict streamflow responses to forest harvesting, especially in the context of a changing climate.

KEYWORDS: streamflow; forestry; low flows; fish habitat; hydrologic recovery

Author Biographies

Stefan Gronsdahl

Department of Geography, University of British Columbia

Currently at Palmer

Richard McCleary

Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada