, Volume 24, Issue 2, pp 171-184
Date: 12 Nov 2008

Logging pattern and landscape changes over the last century at the boreal and deciduous forest transition in Eastern Canada

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Abstract

Forestry practices associated with the industrial era (since ~1900) have altered the natural disturbance regimes and greatly impacted the world’s forests. We quantified twentieth century logging patterns and regional scale consequences in three sub-boreal forest landscapes of Eastern Canada (117,000, 49,400 and 92,300 ha), comparing forestry maps depicting age and forest cover types for early industrial (1930) and present-day (2000) conditions. Results were similar for the three landscapes, indicating large-scale forest change during the twentieth century. In 1930, previous logging activities had been concentrated in the lowlands and along the main hydrographical network, as compared to a more even distribution over the landscapes in 2000, reflecting a decreasing influence of the environmental constraints on forest harvesting. In 1930, old-aged forests (>100 years) accounted for more than 75% of the unlogged areas of the three landscapes, as compared to less than 15% for the present-day conditions. Logging practices have thus inverted the stand age distribution of the landscapes that are currently dominated by young and regenerating stands. The 1930 forest cover types showed a clear relationship with elevation, with conifers located in the lowlands and mixed and deciduous stands restricted to the upper slopes. Between 1930 and 2000, 58–64% of the conifer areas transformed to mixed and deciduous forests, such that no clear altitudinal relationships remained in 2000. We conclude that twentieth century logging practices have strongly altered the preindustrial vegetation patterns in our study area, to the point that ecosystem-based management strategies should be developed to restore conifer dominance, altitudinal gradients, as well as the irregular structure inspired from old forest stands.