Managing forests infested by spruce beetles in south-central Alaska: effects on nitrogen availability, understory biomass, and spruce regeneration
In Alaska, an outbreak of spruce beetles (Dendroctonus rufipennis) recently infested over one million hectares of spruce (Picea spp.) forest. As a result, land management agencies have applied different treatments to infested forests to minimize fire hazard and economic loss and facilitate forest regeneration. In this study we investigated the effects of high-intensity burning, whole-tree harvest, whole-tree harvest with nitrogen (N) fertilization, and conventional harvest of beetle-killed stands 4 years after treatment, as well as clear-cut salvage harvest 6 years after treatment. We measured available soil ammonium and nitrate and estimated N loss from leaching using in situ cation and anion resin exchange capsules. We also assessed spruce regeneration and responses of understory plant species. Availability and losses of N did not differ among any of the management treatments. Even a substantial application of N fertilizer had no effect on N availability. Spruce regeneration significantly increased after high-intensity prescribed burning, with the number of seedlings averaging 8.9 m−2 in burn plots, as compared to 0.1 m−2 in plots that did not receive treatment. Biomass of the pervasive grass bluejoint (Calamagrostis canadensis) was significantly reduced by burning, with burn plots having 9.5% of the C. canadensis biomass of plots that did not receive treatment. N fertilization doubled C. canadensis biomass, suggesting that N fertilization without accompanying measures to control C. canadensis is the least viable method for promoting rapid spruce regeneration.