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Hydrologic Effects of a Changing Forest Landscape, Report in Brief

Hydrologic Effects of a Changing Forest Landscape, Report in Brief

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Published by earthandlife
Of all the resources that forests produce, water may be the most important-streamflow from forests provides two-thirds of the nation's clean water supply. Forest managers face increasing pressure to cut trees to increase water supply for human uses, especially in western states where population is rising. However, cutting trees for short term water gains does not guarantee that water will be available in dry seasons, and it can ultimately degrade water quality and increase flooding vulnerability. At the request of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Forest Service, the National Research Council convened a committee to examine the present understanding of forest hydrology (the study of how water moves through forests), connections between forest management and attendant hydrologic effects, and directions for future research and management needs to sustain water resources from forests. The report concludes that forest hydrology must advance if it is to deal with today's complexities, and it identifies actions that scientists, forest and water managers, and citizens can take to help sustain water resources from forests.
Of all the resources that forests produce, water may be the most important-streamflow from forests provides two-thirds of the nation's clean water supply. Forest managers face increasing pressure to cut trees to increase water supply for human uses, especially in western states where population is rising. However, cutting trees for short term water gains does not guarantee that water will be available in dry seasons, and it can ultimately degrade water quality and increase flooding vulnerability. At the request of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Forest Service, the National Research Council convened a committee to examine the present understanding of forest hydrology (the study of how water moves through forests), connections between forest management and attendant hydrologic effects, and directions for future research and management needs to sustain water resources from forests. The report concludes that forest hydrology must advance if it is to deal with today's complexities, and it identifies actions that scientists, forest and water managers, and citizens can take to help sustain water resources from forests.

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Published by: earthandlife on Apr 08, 2011
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Hydrologic Effects of aChanging Forest Landscape
Of all the outputs of forests, water may be the most important—streamow from forests
providestwo-thirdsofthenation’scleanwatersupply.Removingforestcoveracceleratestherate
that precipitation becomes streamow; therefore, in some areas, cutting trees causes a temporaryincrease in the volume of water owing downstream. This effect has spurred political pressure to
cuttreestoincreasewatersupply,especiallyinwesternstateswherepopulationisrising.However,
cutting trees for water gains is not sustainable: increases in ow rate and volume are typically
short-lived,andthepracticecanultimatelydegradewaterqualityandincreasevulnerabilityto
ooding. Forest hydrology, the study of how water ows through forests, can help illuminate the
connectionsbetweenforestsandwater,butitmustadvanceifitistodealwithtoday’scomplexities,
including climate change, wildres, and changing patterns of development and ownership. Thisreport identies actions that scientists, forest and water managers, and citizens can take to help
sustainwaterresourcesfromforests.
T
he connectionsamong forests,water, and peopleare strong: forests cycle water from precipitation throughsoil and ultimately deliver 
it as streamow that is used
to supply nearly two-thirdsof the clean water supply inthe United States. Changesin forested headwater areas(which include the tributarystreams that feed into rivers)
inuence the quantity andquality of downstream
water resources; in this way,forests and water are closelyintertwined.Demand for water in theUnited States is increasing, andforest managers today are asked to provide higher 
quantities and qualities of water. Meeting these
increasing water supply needs in dynamic times of climate change, shifts in human population, andchanges in land use and ownership has heightenedtensions among competing uses for forests andwater. Forest hydrology—the study of how water moves through forests—has a critical role to playin resolving such tensions byincreasing the understanding of 
how forest properties inuence
downstream water resources.Forest hydrologists analyzehow changes to forest cover 
including wildres, insects and
disease, road networks, and
timber harvesting alter the ow
of water through forests.Reduction in forest cover,through timber harvesting,for example, can increase
streamow in the short term.
These increases in water yieldare generally not sustainedover the long-term, however;any increases in water yieldare most likely to occur duringhigh precipitation events andnot likely to occur during drier times when water demand is high. Removing trees for water yield can
also cause degraded water quality (due to increased
water temperatures and sedimentation), increased
risk of ooding in downstream areas, and negative
ecological impacts, such as loss of habitat and other ecosystem services otherwise provided by forests.The indirect and interacting effects of forest change
July 2008
 
on water resources underscore the need to better 
understand how forest management and modications
trigger hydrologic effects at the large watershed scaleand over long periods of time.
At the request of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and
the US Forest Service, the Water Science and Technology
Board of the National Research Council convened a
committee to study and produce a report on the presentunderstanding of forest hydrology, connections betweenforest management and attendant hydrologic effects, anddirections for future research and management needs tosustain water resources from forests.
State of Forest Hydrology Science
Forest hydrology draws from several branches of hydrological sciences, water resources engineering, and
forestry to address primary questions about forests andwater: What are the owpaths and storage reservoirs
of water in forests and forest watersheds; how do
modications of forests inuence water owpaths and
storage; and how do changes in forests affect water 
quantity and quality?
Researchers seeking to answer these kinds of 
questions have obtained most of their data from what
are known as “paired watershed” studies. Using thisapproach, two watersheds that are similar in size,initial land use or land cover, and other attributes
are selected for study. Both are monitored, and
while one is left as a “control,” the other is “treated”(subjected to manipulations such as forest cutting, road
 building, res, and so on). The measured changesin the streamow and water quality between the twowatersheds quantify the effects of forest treatment and
growth. Paired watershed studies, along with processmeasurements, plot-scale studies, and hydrologicmodeling, are important elements of forest hydrology.However, study plots and paired watershed studies havegenerally been conducted in small, homogenous, areasand over short time spans, ranging in size from less
than a square meter to 2 km
2
and typically spanningonly a few growing seasons.
Future Researc
hNeeds:ALandscapePerspective
Forest hydrology science has led to a clear understanding of general principles of water movementthrough forests. These principles focus on generalhydrologic responses to changes in forests in smallareas over short time scales. Forests are now beingaffected by many interacting factors, including climatechange, forest disturbances, forest species compositionand structure, and land development and ownership,which can break up forests into smaller, noncontiguous parts. Today’s forest and water managers need foresthydrology science that helps them understand and
 predict how such factors will affect water quantity andquality across large areas and over long time scales.
The most important unresolved issue in forest
hydrology is how to “scale up” ndings from the general
 principles of forest hydrology that were developed insmall, homogeneous watersheds to improve predictionsof hydrologic responses across large, heterogeneouswatersheds and landscapes. A landscape perspectiveallows analysis of forest and water connections over larger areas so as to be able to use the general principlesof forest hydrology to make predictions about forestsand water that can address current and anticipatedfuture issues, including cumulative watershed effects,climate change, and forest management practices in the
21st century.
Cumulative Watershed Effects
Cumulative watershed effects are thehydrologic effects resulting from multiple land useactivities over time within a watershed. Extreme precipitation events often reveal cumulative watershedeffects and spur public interest in better understandinghow land uses in forested headwaters are related to
downstream ooding and other effects. Assessingcumulative watershed effects requires an understanding
of the physical, chemical, and biological processthat route water, sediment, nutrients, pollutants, andother materials from slopes and headwater streams todownstream areas. Future research in this area shouldstrive to elucidate the relationships among forests,
water owpaths and quality, and watershed land use
over large spatial and long temporal scales.
Climate Change
The effect of climate change on forests and water is increasingly evident, and future aspects of climatechange are likely to have major effects on foresthydrology. Direct effects of climate warming on forestsand hydrology are being observed, such as changes in the
timing of snowmelt runoff and increases in wildres, but
more research is needed to better predict indirect effectsof climate change, including evaluations of how changes
in forests and forest management inuence hydrologic
response.
 
Forest Management 
Forest management practices evolve over time.The forces that modify forests today are triggering forestmanagers to institute novel and contemporary forestmanagement practices. These new practices—suchas thinning for fuel reduction and best management practices that manage wider riparian buffers for species protection—have not yet been assessed for their attendant hydrologic effects. Hydrologic effectsof these contemporary management practices need to be understood over long temporal and large spatialscales.
ActionsforScientists,Managers,and
Citizens to Take
Scientists who study forest hydrology, forestand water managers, and citizens each have a roleto play in sustaining water resources from forests.Through individual and collective actions, they canapply the current understanding, explore researchgaps and information needs, and pursue the followingrecommended actions.
 Scientists
Scientists are poised to advance forest hydrology
science to address critical water issues. New research
approaches should be pursued, and many of the currentresearch agendas should be maintained or expanded.Scientists should:continue current small watershed experiments andre-establish small watershed experiments whereresearch has been discontinued;catalogue historical and modern hydrologicrecords;use the whole body of paired watershed data asa “meta experiment” to better understand hydro-logic responses to forest disturbance over large
Principlesofhydrologicresponsetochangesinforeststructure
1
Partial or complete removal of the forest canopy decreases interception (precipitation captured by leavesand branches) and increases net precipitation arriving at the soil surface.
2
Partial or complete removal of the forest canopy reduces transpiration (water lost from plants to theatmosphere).3Reductions in interception and transpiration increase soil moisture, water availability to plants, andwater yield.4Increased soil moisture and loss of root strength reduces slope stability.5Increases in water yield after forest harvesting are transitory and decrease over time as forests regrow.6When forests of high interception (or higher annual transpiration losses) replace forests with lower inter-ception (lower transpiration losses), this change reduces water yield as the new forest grows to maturity.
Principles for changes in water owpaths in soils and subsoils
7
Impervious surfaces (roads and trails) and altered hillslope contours (cutslopes and llslopes) modifywater owpaths, increase overland ow, and deliver overland ow directly to stream channels.
8Impervious surfaces increase surface erosion.9
Altered hillslope contours and modied water owpaths along roads increase landslides.
Principlesofhydrologicresponsetoapplicationsofchemicals
10Forest chemicals can adversely affect aquatic ecosystems especially if they are applied directly to wate
 bodies or wet soils.
11Forest chemicals (fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, re retardants) affect water quality based on the
type of chemical, its toxicity, rates of movement, and persistence in soil and water.
12
Chronic applications of chemicals through atmospheric deposition of nitrogen and sulfur acidify forest
soils, deplete soil nutrients, adversely affect forest health, and degrade water quality with potentiallytoxic effects on aquatic organisms.

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