Hardwood tree survival in heavy ground cover on reclaimed land in west Virginia: mowing and ripping effects

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Current West Virginia coal mining regulations emphasize reforestation as a preferred postmining land use on surface mined areas. Some mined sites reclaimed to pasture are being converted to forests. In the spring of 2001, we compared the establishment and growth of five hardwood tree species on a reclaimed West Virginaia surface mine with compacted soils and a heavy grass groundcover. We planted 1-yr-old seedlings of five species (black cherry [Prunus serotina Ehrh.], red oak [Quercus rubra L.], yellow poplar [Liriodendron tulipifera L.], black walnut [Juglans nigra L.], and white ash [Fraxinus americana L.]) into sites that were mowed and unmowed on north- and south-facing aspects. We applied a ripping treatment, which loosened the compacted soils and disturbed the heavy ground cover. First year results showed >80% survival for all species. After 7 yr black cherry survival averaged 36%, red oak 47%, yellow poplar 66%, black walnut 80%, and white ash 98% across all sites and treatments. Seedling survival was best on north, unmowed, and ripped areas. Average growth (height x diameter2) of trees after 7 yr was greatest with white ash (434 cm3), followed by yellow poplar (256 cm3) and black walnut (138 cm3), then by black cherry (31 cm3) and red oak (27 cm3). Browsing by wildlife had a negative impact on tree growth especially on south aspect sites. Overall, mowing reduced survival of black cherry, red oak, and yellow poplar, but not for black walnut and white ash. Ripping increased survival of black cherry, red oak, and yellow poplar. Growth of all species was improved with ripping. Using inverse linear-quadratic plateau models, the time required for tree survival to stabilize varied from 1 yr for white ash to 6 to 9 yr for the other species.

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