Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation

Meadow classification in the Willamette National Forest and conifer encroachment patterns in the Chucksney-Grasshopper meadow complex, Western Cascade Range, Oregon

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  • This study delineates and characterizes the distribution of montane meadows in the Willamette National Forest, identifies encroachment patterns in relation to topographic features and proximity to trees in the Chucksney-Grasshopper meadow complex, and examines tree species and age distributions in relation to distance from forest edges or isolated tree clusters in the West Middle Prairie meadow. The Willamette National Forest covers approximately 6780 km² and intersects two main physiographic provinces comprised of the Cascade Crest Montane Forests and Subalpine/Alpine regions to the east, and the Western Cascades Montane, Lowland, and Valley regions to the west. Tree species commonly found in the study area include firs, cedar, pine, larch, spruce, and hemlock. Non-forested openings, including meadows, are distributed throughout the study area. Matched Filtering analysis was applied to Landsat ETM+ imagery acquired in September 2002 and combined with ancillary data that delineates stand replacing fire and harvest disturbances that occurred between 1972 and 2004 to create a vegetation classification of the Willamette National Forest that identifies meadows. The meadow classification was then combined with data depicting topographic position, slope, aspect, and elevation. Chi-squared statistics were applied to determine if meadows were significantly concentrated in areas characterized by these physical factors. In the western extent of the Willamette National Forest, meadows are concentrated on steep, south and east facing ridges between 1000 and 2000m in elevation. In the eastern extent of the Willamette National Forest, meadows are concentrated in valleys between 500 and 1000 meters in elevation and occur on both gentle and steep, east and south facing slopes. The vegetation classification provides a consistent and comprehensive dataset of meadow distribution in the Willamette National Forest. The Chucksney-Grasshopper meadow complex is contained by the Chucksney Mountain roadless area and comprised of approximately 8 distinct meadows located 27 kilometers northeast of Oakridge in the Willamette National Forest. The meadows occur on mostly south and east facing steep slopes near the ridgeline, and host varied dry and mesic plant communities. Herbaceous cover for three snapshots in time was classified using aerial photographs taken in 1947, 1972, and 2005 to determine conifer encroachment into the meadows. Chi-squared statistics were applied to determine if encroachment patterns were associated with slope, aspect, or proximity to tree cover. Encroachment occurred significantly closer to existing trees in all meadows suggesting the ameliorating effects of forest create conditions favorable for seedling establishment. Encroachment was also significant on steep, south and east facing slopes in some meadows, but also on gentle, west facing slopes in other meadows indicating a complex interaction of land use history, physical, and biological factors. The encroachment history analysis provides the preliminary framework for a model that can be used to identify meadows at risk for invasion. The West Middle Prairie of the Chucksney-Grasshopper complex, also known as Meadow 4, is a 21 hectare meadow characterized by a dry meadow community at the northern boundary, a mesic forest-meadow mosaic towards the southern boundary, and a rock garden at the western boundary. This meadow underwent mechanical tree removal in 1964 and a prescribed burn in 1996 to thwart conifer invasion. Four transects intersecting burned and unburned areas at the forest edge and through isolated tree clusters were sampled to determine the distribution of tree species and ages relative to their position in the transect. Data imply Pinus contorta invasion was promoted by the 1996 burns and that seedling establishment has occurred progressively from forest edges as well as simultaneously in a band along the forest edge. These findings suggest the prescribed burn was not adequate to control invasion and such management methods should be reviewed in the context of on-going research into alternate eradication measures. This research also supports other work that suggests initial seedling establishment accelerates subsequent seedling establishment and that eradication of early invaders is important for efficient management. This study can inform meadow habitat maintenance and restoration in three ways: it provides and inventory of meadows in the Willamette National Forest, a framework for a tool to predict which meadows are at risk for invasion and therefore are potential targets for action, and finally a report on past maintenance efforts and observation of invasion patterns at a fine scale.
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