Using a Numerical Model to Assess the Geomorphic Impacts of Forest Management Scenarios on Streams

Friday, 19 December 2014
Sarah L Davidson, University of British Columbia, Geography, Vancouver, BC, Canada and Brett C Eaton, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
In-stream large wood governs the morphology of many small to intermediate streams, while riparian vegetation influences bank strength and channel pattern. Forest management practices such as harvesting and fire suppression therefore dramatically influence channel processes and associated aquatic habitat. The primary objective of this research is to compare the impacts of three common forest scenarios – natural fire disturbance, forest harvesting with a riparian buffer, and fire suppression – on the volume of in-channel wood and the complexity of aquatic habitat in channels at a range of scales. Each scenario is explored through Monte Carlo simulations run over a period of 1000 years using a numerical reach scale channel simulator (RSCS), with variations in tree toppling rate and forest density used to represent each forest management trajectory. The habitat complexity associated with each scenario is assessed based on the area of the bed occupied by pools and spawning sized sediment, the availability of wood cover, and the probability of avulsion. Within the fire scenario, we also use the model to separately investigate the effects of root decay and recovery on equilibrium channel geometry by varying the rooting depth and associated bank strength through time. The results show that wood loading and habitat complexity are influenced by the timing and magnitude of wood recruitment, as well as channel scale. The forest harvesting scenario produces the lowest wood loads and habitat complexity so long as the buffer width is less than the average mature tree height. The natural fire cycle produces the greatest wood loading and habitat complexity, but also the greatest variability because these streams experience significant periods without wood recruitment as forests regenerate. In reaches that experience recurrent fires, width increases in the post-fire period as roots decay, at times producing a change in channel pattern when a threshold width to depth ratio is exceeded, and decreases as the forest regenerates. In all cases, the effects are greatest in small to intermediate sized streams where wood is the dominant driver of channel morphology, and become negligible in large streams governed by fluvial processes.