A conceptual model for forest naturalness assessment and application in Quebec's boreal forest.
Research Highlights: To inform eco-designers in green building conception, we propose a conceptual model for the assessment of the impact of using wood on the quality of ecosystems. Background and Objectives: The proposed model allows the assessment of the quality of ecosystems at the landscape level based on the condition of the forest and the proportion of different practices to characterize precisely the forest management strategy. The evaluation provides a numerical index, which corresponds to a suitable format to inform decision-making support tools, such as life cycle analysis. Materials and Methods: Based on the concept of naturalness, the methodology considers five naturalness characteristics (landscape context, forest composition, structure, dead wood, and regeneration process) and relies on forest inventory maps and data. An area within the boreal black spruce-feathermoss ecological domain of Quebec (Canada) was used as a case study for the development of the methodology, designed to be easily exportable. Results: In 2012, the test area had a near-natural class (naturalness index NI=0.717). Simulation of different management strategies over 70 years shows that, considering 17.9% of strict protected areas, the naturalness index would have lost one to two classes of naturalness (out of five classes), depending on the strategy applied for the regeneration (0.206 ≤ ΔNI ≤0.413). Without the preservation of the protected areas, the management strategies would have further reduced the naturalness (0.274 ≤ ΔNI ≤0.492). Apart from exotic species plantation, the most sensitive variables are the percentage of area in irregular, old, and closed forests at time zero and the percentage of area in closed forests, late successional species groups, and modified wetlands after 70 years. Conclusions: Despite the necessity of further model and parameter validation, the use of the index makes it possible to combine the effects of different forestry management strategies and practices into one alteration gradient.