Analysis of mechanical thinning productivity and cost for use at the wildland urban interface
Forest management in many parts of the urbanizing Southeastern U.S. is becoming more difficult due to fragmentation, alternative management objectives, and social conflicts with management activities. However, the public benefits from management of these are still high. This study compared the productivity and costs of mechanical thinning treatments using conventional thinning and two alternative thinning approaches in even-aged loblolly pine plantations. The alternative treatments removed more stand basal area and were intended to promote transition to uneven-aged stand management. Production studies and cost analysis were completed for conventional, heavy, and strip measurements. The conventional treatment was a fifth row and select removals to 16 m2ha-1 residual basal area. The heavy treatment was a fifth row and select removals to 9 m2ha-1 residual basal area. The strip treatment included a conventional thinning treatment with alternating reserve and clearcut strips established on the contour. The resulting residual basal area was 11.5 m2ha-1. The alternative treatments provided substantially lower costs and higher residual values ($1 to 3 m-3) in the 4 ha stands but smaller advantages in 8 and 12 ha stands. The difference from lower harvest costs for the alternative treatments may enable landowners to attract interest in small acreage sales that result from fragmentation.