Red spruce (Picea rubens) and red spruce-northern hardwood mixed stands once covered as much as 300,000 ha in the Central Appalachians, but now comprise no more than 21,000 ha. Recently, interest in restoration of this forest type has increased because red spruce forests provide habitat for a number of rare animal species. Our study reports the results of an understory red spruce release experiment in hardwood-dominated stands that have a small component of understory red spruce. In 2005, 188 target spruce were identified in sample plots at six locations in central West Virginia. We projected a vertical cylinder above the crown of all target spruces, and in 2007, we performed a release treatment whereby overtopping hardwoods were treated with herbicide using a stem injection technique. Release treatments removed 0–10% (Control), 11–50% (Low), 51–89% (Medium), and ≤90% (High) of the basal area of overtopping trees. We also took canopy photographs at the time of each remeasurement in 2007, 2010, and 2013, and compared basal removal treatments and resulting 2010 canopy openness and understory light values. The high treatment level provided significantly greater six-year dbh and height growth than the other treatment levels. Based on these results, we propose that a tree-centered release approach utilizing small canopy gaps that emulate the historical, gap-phase disturbance regime provides a good strategy for red spruce restoration in hardwood forests where overstory spruce are virtually absent, and where red spruce is largely relegated to the understory.
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Vol. 36 • No. 1