Alteration to woodland structure through midstory mastication increased fuel loading and cover of understory species in two upland hardwood stands.
The contemporary decline of open woodlands in the eastern United States has prompted land managers to implement management prescriptions that encourage landscape and habitat diversity, often using mechanical thinning and prescribed fire as tools to alter stand structure. To increase habitat diversity and restore natural processes, a long-term oak woodland restoration project was planned for two upland hardwood stands in the Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky, United States. As an initial phase of restoration, we examined the effects of midstory mastication on stand structure, understory vegetation response, and fuels. The mastication treatment reduced stem density and basal area of trees ≤7.9 in. (20.1 cm) dbh by 69 percent and 47 percent, respectively, encouraged vigorous stump/root sprouting, and increased ground cover of forbs (204 percent) and native graminoids (253 percent) the first year on treated plots. Additionally, mastication created a variable cover of woody mulch on the forest floor and increased 1-h and 100-h time-lag fuels compared with controls. In year 2, Microstegium vimineum (invasive grass) cover increased by 700 percent on treated plots. This study imparts novel information on the mastication of upland hardwoods to benefit land managers in directing future treatments to shape desired stand structures and compositions, and increase landscape heterogeneity.