Modern timber management practices often influence forage production for elk (Cervus elaphus) on broad temporal and spatial scales in forested landscapes. We incorporated site-specific information on postharvesting forest succession and forage characteristics in a simulation model to evaluate past and future influences of forest management practices on forage values for elk in a commercially managed Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii, PSME)-western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla, TSHE) forest in western Washington. We evaluated future effects of: (1) clear-cut logging 0, 20, and 40% of harvestable stands every five years; (2) thinning 20-year-old Douglas fir forests; and (3) reducing the harvesting cycle from 60 to 45 years. Reconstruction of historical patterns of vegetation succession indicated that forage values peaked in the 1960s and declined from the 1970s to the present, but recent values still were higher than may have existed in the unmanaged landscape in 1945. Increased forest harvesting rates had little short-term influence on forage trends because harvestable stands were scarce. Simulations of forest thinning also produced negligible benefits because thinning did not improve forage productivity appreciably at the stand level. Simulations of reduced harvesting cycles shortened the duration of declining forage values from approximately 30 to 15 years. We concluded that simulation models are useful tools for examining landscape responses of forage production to forest management strategies, but the options examined provided little potential for improving elk forages in the immediate future.
Additional publication details
Simulating secondary succession of elk forage values in a managed forest landscape, western Washington