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Retention of logging debris to reduce deer browsing and promote forest regeneration
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One of the most important species in northeastern forest ecosystems is the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). Browsing by these herbivores can influence patterns of forest regeneration following a timber harvest. Logging debris, or ?slash?, has the potential to inhibit deer browsing and enhance forest regeneration in a cutover area. At two heavily logged sites in the Arnot Forest, NY, study plots containing experimental seedlings and natural vegetation were created in May 2004 and monitored thru November 2006. Each plot received one of three treatments: open - cleared of logging debris; tops ? tree tops and debris-covered; or fenced - cleared of debris and fenced to exclude deer. Levels of deer browsing in experimental seedlings and natural vegetation, tree seedling growth, and natural vegetation richness, were compared among these treatments. We found significantly higher deer browsing on experimental seedlings (p = .0053) and palatable herbaceous vegetation (p = .0094) in open plots, than tops-covered or fenced plots. Cumulative deer browsing negatively correlated with mean experimental seedling height at the plot level (p = .0296), resulting in higher black cherry (Prunus serotina) seedling growth in protected fenced and tops treatments. Additionally, logging debris was found to benefit common management objectives, such as herb richness and relative abundance of desirable timber tree seedlings. We conclude that logging debris left in place after a forest thinning can effectively inhibit deer browsing and promote forest regeneration. The degree of protection afforded by tree tops was intermediate between unprotected and fenced areas. The minimal effort and cost associated with this technique would make it highly preferable to constructing fences to improve regeneration. As white-tailed deer become increasingly overabundant, alternative options for the sustainable regeneration of forests are necessary; the post-harvest retention of logging debris in situ provides such an alternative.
dissertation or thesis