Forest harvesting operations have been reported to increase the levels of both total mercury (THg) and methylmercury (MeHg) in runoff water and downstream biota. Mobilization of such harmful substances by logging may pose ecological risks that may be influenced further by site preparation and stump harvest. Stump harvest is currently being explored as a method to increase the supply of biofuels. In this catchment study we investigated the effects of stump harvest, in comparison with ordinary site-preparation, on the runoff concentrations of THg and MeHg as well as several other chemistry parameters. Both treatments were also compared with unharvested reference catchments. Water samples from watercourses draining these catchments were analyzed for various variables including THg, MeHg, total organic carbon, absorbance and total suspended solids. One year of pre-treatment data, starting when the treated areas were just logged, and 2 years of post-treatment data, after stump harvest or site-preparation, were collected with a sample frequency of twice a month.
The concentrations of THg and MeHg in the treated areas were decreasing after both stump harvest and site preparation relative to the reference catchment. Further, our results indicate that stump harvest has not caused increased concentrations of any of the studied parameters in relation to traditional site preparation. Two factors are proposed to be responsible for the lack of response to stump harvest and site preparation; (1) the areas are still undergoing recovery from the former logging which may have led to greater Hg export and/or (2) there is variability among sites in how they respond to forestry operations, depending on the biogeochemical and hydrological status of the area.
Although no forestry response caused by stump harvest or site preparation was found, we noted that the concentrations of both THg and especially MeHg were high (median THg: 4.5–10.4 ng L−1, median MeHg: 0.7–2.1 ng L−1) in all catchments both before and after treatment, compared to other studies. Variables indicating the organic carbon content were the ones most strongly correlated to the variation of both THg and MeHg in the PLS models based on the dataset from the whole sampling period and all catchments. The relatively high concentrations of THg and MeHg during the study period appeared to be more influenced by organic carbon, but also hydrology and temperature as well as possibly the initial logging rather than by the soil disturbance caused by either stump harvest or site preparation.
2013. Vol. 290, 83-94 p.