Forestry herbicide influences on biodiversity and wildlife habitat in southern forests
In the southern United States, herbicide use continues to increase for timber management in commercial pine (Pinus spp.) plantations, for mod@ing wildlife habitats, and for invasive plant control. Several studies have reported that single applications of forestry herbicides at stand initiation have minor and temporary impacts on plant communities and wildlife habitat conditions, with some reports of enhanced habitat conditions for both game and nongame species. Due to the high resiliency of floral communities, plant species richness and diversity rebound rapidly after single herbicide treatments, with short- and long-term compositional shifts according to the selectivity and efficacy of the herbicide used. Recently, however, a shift to the Southeast in North American timber supplies has resulted in increased forest management intensity. Current site-preparation techniques rely on herbicide combinations, often coupled with mechanical treatments and 21 years of post-planting applications to enhance the spectrum and duration of vegetation control. This near-total control of associated vegetation at establishment and more rapid pine canopy closure, coupled with shortened and repeated rotations, likely will affect plant diversity and wildlife habitat quality. Development of mitigation methods at the stand and landscape levels will be required to minimize vegetative and wildlife impacts while allowing continued improvement in pine productivity. More uncertain are long-term impacts of increasing invasive plant occupation and the projected increase in herbicide use that will be needed to reverse this worsening situation. In addition, the potential of herbicides to meet wildlife management objectives in areas where traditional techniques have high social costs (e.g., prescribed fire) should be fully explored.