Effects of Row Spacing and Debris Distribution on Deer Forage and Carrying Capacity in Newly Established Loblolly-pine Plantations in Louisiana

Intensively managed loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) forests are common in the southeastern United States and critical to providing fiber for global wood supply needs. There are concerns regarding possible effects of stand establishment treatments on plant communities, particularly availability and quality of browse for white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). We quantified response of non-pine vegetation productivity at either narrow (4.3 m) or wide (6.1 m) row spacing combined with either piled or scattered woody debris following clearcut harvest in Louisiana. We examined total (kg/ha) and preferred forage production and used crude protein percentages of preferred forage to estimate carrying capacity, based on lactation requirements, in each treatment (n = 16 replicates) for years 4-5-post treatment (2009-2010). We documented 95 genera or species of plants including 36 preferred forage species. Total forage production did not differ among years or between row spacing or type of debris distribution. Production of preferred forage increased from 2009 to 2010 and was reflective of increasing species diversity among vegetation communities. We found woody and semi-woody (i.e. shrubs, Rubus spp.) forage production to be greater in stands with scattered debris distribution. Lactation-level carrying capacity estimates were greatest in stands with a combination of narrower row spacing and scattered debris distribution. Increased production of semi-woody and woody browse in scattered debris may increase deer carrying capacity. However, an increased woody component can shorten the period of greatest plant diversity which occurs between establishment and canopy closure.

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