Forest Investment Account (FIA) - Forest Science Program
FIA Project Y071075

    Extension Note 5: Local Level Vegetation Indicators for Boreal Mixedwood Forests: Vegetation Indicators of Sustainable Forest Management
Project lead: Haeussler, Sybille
Contributing Authors: Haeussler, Sybille; Kabzems, Richard; Boateng, Jacob 0.
Imprint: Vancouver, BC : University of British Columbia, 2007
Subject: Forest Investment Account (FIA), Sustainable Forest Management, British Columbia
Series: Forest Investment Account (FIA) - Forest Science Program
Indicators of sustainable forest management must provide unambiguous information about the state of the ecosystem and its response to forest management. The monitoring systems used to measure those indicators must be scientifically-based and both technically feasible and cost-effective to implement. Finding indicators to monitor each of the 11 values identified by the BC Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA) is more difficult than it initially seemed and early efforts to develop local level indicators have tended to become bogged down in the complexity of the task. In the case of vegetation indicators proposed for monitoring the status of plant communities and plant biodiversity, many proposed indicators are either too vague to be adapted to local ecological conditions or too difficult to measure (see for example, Canadian Model Forest Network 2000). The first draft of a field sampling protocol for stand level biodiversity indicators prepared under the FRPA Resource Evaluation Program (FREP 2005) does not include vegetation other than retention trees and invasive alien species, despite the fact that plants are identified both in the FRPA and the BC Biodiversity Guidebook (1995) as essential resource values requiring monitoring for sustainability. During the 1980s, the BC Ministry of Forests and Range (MOFR) and Canadian Forest Service established a series of very well replicated silvicultural trials in the Boreal White and Black Spruce Zone of northeastern B.C. (BWBmw1 biogeoclimatic variant) to test alternative methods of chemical, mechanical and manual site preparation and stand tending for the regeneration of white spruce plantations. Several of these trials, Inga Lake, Iron Creek and Wonowon, now approximately 20 years of age, have been maintained to the present-day and are some of the oldest, best documented silvicultural site preparation trials in Canada. Sybille Haeussler has conducted research on the response of forest plant communities on these trial sites since the 1990s and published a series of peer-reviewed scientific papers (Haeussler et al. 1999, 2002, 2004; Boateng et al. 2000) that document the development of plant community structure, diversity, and composition over time across gradients of silvicultural disturbance severity. The papers, notably Haeussler et al. (2002), assess risks to plant biodiversity from conventional clearcutting and associated site preparation and early stand tending practices and make recommendations for appropriate vegetation indicators for monitoring sustainability and biodiversity. None of these recommendations have been implemented in the study region and they have not been incorporated into the proposed FREP monitoring protocol (Nancy Densmore, FREP biodiversity coordinator, pers. comm. Dec. 2005). In our opinion, there are two primary limitations that have prevented the results presented in these scientific papers from being incorporated into operational sustainability monitoring: (1) lack of comparative benchmark data from comparable naturally disturbed ecosystems of the same age. Although the trials show how plant community structure, diversity and composition changes with increasing severity of silvicultural treatments, there are no comparable data from naturally disturbed sites (post-wildfire, post-insect outbreak, windthrow) to define the natural range of variability and determine what might be acceptable levels for the indicator variables of interest. (2) lack of clearly specified indicator variables and monitoring techniques for specific forest ecosystems (BEC site series). We propose to address these two limitions by undertaking the necessary fieldwork, data analysis and synthesis to produce a list of operational vegetation indicators and targets for monitoring plant community development and biodiversity on more-or-less mesic White Spruce Trembling Aspen mixedwood sites in the Boreal White and Black Spruce Biogeoclimatic Zone for the first 20 years after disturbance. We will adapt the methodology developed by Haeussler and Bergeron (2004) to pair the MOFR experimental trial sites with naturally disturbed sites of the same BEC site series and with similar predisturbance composition. We will carry out vegetation and soil sampling to ensure that the ecosystems are comparable and to measure the range of variability in selected indicators of plant community structure, diversity and composition with an emphasis on indicator species and groups shown to be most affected by conventional silvicultural practices (Haeussler et al. 2002). To produce the list of priority indicators, we will complement these data with results from the boreal aspen long term soil productivity study data (Haeussler and Kabzems 2005, Kabzems and Haeussler 2005) and compare our results to data from similar wildfire/clearcutting and ecosystem management studies conducted in Alberta by the Alberta Research Council (Song 2002) and Sustainable Forest Management Network (Macdonald and Fenniak, in review).


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Updated August 16, 2010 

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