Forest harvesting disrupts the nitrogen cycle, which may affect stream water quality by increasing nitrate concentrations, reducing pH and acid neutralizing capacity, and mobilizing aluminum and base cations. We tested the application of wood chips derived from logging slash to increase immobilization of N after harvesting, which should reduce nitrate flux to streams. In August 2004, a stand of northern hardwoods was patch-clearcut in the Catskill Mountains, NY, and four replicates of three treatments were implemented in five 0.2-ha cut patches. Wood chips were applied to the soil surface at a rate equivalent to the amount of slash smaller than eight inches in diameter (1?? treatment). A second treatment doubled that rate (2??), and a third treatment received no chips (0??). Additionally, three uncut reference plots were established in nearby forested areas. Ion exchange resin bags and soil KCl-extractions were used to monitor nitrate availability in the upper 5-10 cm of soil approximately every seven weeks, except in winter. Resin bags indicated that the wood chips retained 30% or 42% of the nitrate pulse, while for KCl extracts, the retention rate was 78% or 100% of the difference between 0?? and uncut plots. During the fall following harvest, wood-chip treated plots had resin bag soil nitrate concentrations about 25% of those in 0?? plots (p = 0.0001). In the first growing season after the cut, nitrate concentrations in wood-chip treated plots for KCl extracts were 13% of those in 0?? treatments (p = 0.03) in May and about half those in 0?? treatments (p = 0.01) in July for resin bags. During spring snowmelt, however, nitrate concentrations were high and indistinguishable among treatments, including the uncut reference plots for resin bags and below detection limit for KCl extracts. Wood chips incubated in litterbags had an initial C:N of 125:1, which then decreased to 70:1 after one year of field incubation. These changes in C:N values indicate that the wood-chip application can potentially immobilize between 19 and 38 kg N ha-1 in the first year after harvesting, depending on the rate of wood-chip application. Our results suggest that the application of wood chips following harvesting operations can contribute to the protection of water quality and warrant additional research as a new Best Management Practice following cutting in regions that receive elevated levels of atmospheric N deposition. ?? 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Additional publication details
Nitrogen immobilization by wood-chip application: Protecting water quality in a northern hardwood forest