Technical Bulletins & Special Reports

Technical Bulletin No. 0924: Similarities and Differences between Harvesting- and Wildfire-Induced Disturbances in Fire-Mediated Canadian Landscapes

For decades, many have hypothesized that the effects of harvesting and wildfire differed significantly and that this would have significant effects on ecosystem processes and biodiversity. However, it is only recently that an appreciable amount of scientific data has emerged on this topic. In this report, we present our review of the similarities and differences between the ecological effects of fire- and harvesting-induced disturbances that have been noted in the scientific literature. Comparisons of the effects of these disturbances on numerous forest attributes (coarse woody debris, soil nutrients, productivity, plant diversity, wildlife response) are presented at two distinct spatial scales: stand and landscape.

At the stand scale, our review noted significant differences between harvesting and wildfire early after disturbance. Structurally, young post-fire stands are characterized by more snags, less downed woody debris, and significantly thinner forest floors than logged sites. Additionally, while both disturbances generate a pulse of extractable nutrients, the intensity of the pulse is greater after wildfire than clearcut harvesting and an increase in soil pH is observed after fire as opposed to little change or a slight decrease after harvesting.

Early after disturbance, biodiversity elements significantly differ between burned and logged sites. Dissimilar understory vascular and non-vascular communities generally colonize burned and logged sites, although differences are usually a question of abundance rather than species absence/presence. As compared to fire, faunal assemblages, be it mammals, invertebrates or birds, all seem to respond differently to harvesting.