Alum Creek Experimental Forest

Long-term data source for hydrologic studies in the Interior Highlands

Guaging weir on the Alum Experimental Forest. Photo by U.S. Forest Service
Guaging weir on the Alum Experimental Forest. Photo by U.S. Forest Service

The 4,660-acre Alum Creek Experimental Forest (Alum Creek) was established in the late 1950s in the upper headwaters of the Lake Winona Basin near Jessieville, Arkansas. Managed by the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station Southern Pine Ecology and Management unit, Alum Creek is affiliated administratively with the Ouachita National Forest.

From 1960 until the mid-1980s, Alum Creek was primarily used to study the effects of different silviculture treatments on forest hydrology. During this period, 10 small watersheds within and adjacent to the Alum Creek were instrumented to monitor streamflow and water quality. In addition, two weather stations were established to measure precipitation, air temperature, and other meteorological variables.

Data series ranging from 20 to 40 years were collected from the gauging stations on the 10 small watersheds; three of the stations were used to record long-term baseline data in undisturbed basins until they were shut down, one in 1996 and two in early 2016.

Past studies using data from the Alum Creek watersheds established the effects of silviculture treatments on streamflow amounts and water quality within the Ouachita Mountains and paralleled studies undertaken at other gauged sites within the Interior Highlands.

Dan Marion, though research hydrologist with the SRS Center for Bottomland Hardwoods, is actually stationed in Hot Springs, Arkansas, where the primary focus of his research is on the effects of forest management on the watershed processes of the upland forests of the Interior Highlands. Marion still uses the data from the gauged systems on Alum Creek to quantify the movement of water, sediment, and nutrients and as the basis for developing models for other areas of the region.

“In contrast to other regions, there’s been no consistent nexus of hydrologic research in the Interior Highlands,” says Marion. “Since the 1930s, the work shifted among several locations, including Alum Creek and the E.F. Koen Experimental Forest.”

Meanwhile, management goals for forests have shifted from improving timber values to restoring ecosystems and maintaining their integrity. “These newer goals affect our thinking about water resources and research needs,” says Marion. “At the same time, societal concerns about the effects of forest practices have shifted from concerns about floods to water quality and downstream or cumulative effects on water resources.”

Marion notes the importance of Alum Creek as a field site for research on upland forest hydrology in Arkansas. “Much of what we know about how to manage Ouachita Mountains shortleaf pine and pine-hardwoods forests in ways that minimize adverse effects on soils and water came from Alum Creek,” says Marion.

In the mid-1990s, the scale of research changed as Alum Creek became part of a large ecosystem management study across upper Lake Winona basin that encompasses the experimental forest and investigates the landscape-level effects of different kinds of forest management on vegetation, soils, water, and wildlife.

To support this research, five new gauging stations were added to the existing hydrometeorological network at Alum Creek. These new stations were established in two adjacent basins, as well as five new stations in a basin near Alum Creek managed using industrial forestry practices. Each basin serves as an example of different silvicultural treatments applied to large (greater than 1,000-acre) areas.

“In addition to evaluating the effects of different treatments on forest streams, this work provides excellent reference data for streamflow within managed forest landscapes of the Ouachita Mountains,” says Marion. “It may also prove useful in landscape-based wildlife studies, where riparian habitat use by migratory birds and forest bats, for example, may be greatly affected by streamflow occurrence and persistence.”

For more information, email Dan Marion at dmarion@fs.fed.us.

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