Bunching as a Method to Reduce Wood Moisture through Transpirational Drying following Forest Restoration Treatments in Northern Arizona

Marcos A. Riquelme, Richard W. Hofstetter, David Auty, Monica L Gaylord

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Thinning is a necessary silvicultural activity for restoring the long-term sustainability of pine forests in much of the southwestern United States. In northern Arizona, a landscape-scale restoration effort, called the Four Forest Restoration Initiative, has been implemented to recover the long-term sustainability of 2.4 million acres on four national forests. Cost-effective and efficient thinning methods are needed due to the scale of the project to help improve habitat, conserve biodiversity, protect old growth, reduce risk of severe wildfire, and restore natural forest structure and function. Mechanical cutting using a feller-buncher is the primary method of thinning in these forests due to the extreme high number of small-diameter ponderosa pine trees. A feller-buncher places harvested trees into small piles known as "bunches."In this review, we highlight advantages and disadvantages of bunching tree materials in restoration programs and review published studies on transpirational drying of bunches of various tree species in different forest habitats across the United States, including ponderosa pine in Arizona. Studies show that transpirational drying of trees in bunches can be an effective method to allow for wood drying, but this process can be affected by abiotic factors associated with seasonal climate and stand characteristics. Study Implications: The Four Forest Restoration Initiative makes up the largest landscape-level collaborative project in the history of the USDA Forest Service with more than 2.4 million acres of forest habitat. Thinning is a necessary silvicultural activity for restoring the long-term sustainability of these forests in northern Arizona. Because of the extremely high number (i.e., average of 720 trees per acre) of small-diameter ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) trees, mechanical cutting is more cost effective than individual saw cutting, which is why a feller-buncher machine is the primary thinning tool. During feller-buncher thinning, small piles of trees known as "bunches"are created. Bunching trees can allow for wood drying in the field that translates into lower operational costs because drier trees are lighter in weight, which reduces transportation costs. In northern Arizona, a 60-day time frame is allotted for transpirational drying before tree materials must be removed from the forest. However, because the drying process through bunching is affected by abiotic conditions, there may be a need to adjust this time frame to account for seasonal weather patterns. For example, during spring, when weather in northern Arizona is hot and dry, less time might be necessary for tree bunches to lose enough moisture while still rendering the thinning operation profitable and simultaneously avoiding bark beetle proliferation given that their life cycle consists of about 40 days. Furthermore, bunching studies should be developed to look at individual tree species in their respective locations and to investigate the effects of the presence, partial presence, or absence of branches and bark on trees within bunches. Studies should also be conducted to look at the effects of bunches on insect communities, particularly those that can cause extensive tree mortality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)625-635
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Forestry
Volume118
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020

Keywords

  • feller-buncher
  • ponderosa pine
  • transpirational drying
  • tree felling
  • wood drying

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Plant Science

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