Vol. 4 No. 1 (2020): Effects of Forest Harvesting on Warm-Season Low Flows in the Pacific Northwest: A Review

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.

Published: 2020-07-27