Restoration intensity shapes floristic recovery after forest road decommissioning

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Elsevier BV


Forest roads fragment and degrade ecosystems and many have fallen into disrepair and are underutilized, to address these issues the United States Forest Service is restoring, or “decommissioning,” thousands of kilometers of forest roads each year. Despite the prevalence of decommissioning and the importance of vegetation to restoration success, relatively little is known about floristic responses to different forest road decommissioning treatments or subsequent recovery to reference conditions. Over a ten year period, this study assessed floristic cover, diversity, and composition responses to and recovery on forest roads decommissioned using three treatments varying in intensity (abandonment, ripping, recontouring), in Montana, USA. Initially, floristic cover groups were lowest on the recontoured roads, however, they demonstrated the fastest temporal response (e.g. increased litter and vegetative cover). The floristic communities of both active treatments (ripped and recontoured) had more species and were more diverse than the communities of the abandoned (control) treatment. Among the three on-road plant communities, the recontoured treatment was most associated with desirable species, including the native shrubs Rosa woodsii and Spirea betulifolia, while the abandoned treatment was most associated with two non-native species, Taraxacum officinale and Trifolium repens. Assessed using a restoration index, recovery to reference conditions was limited in all treatments, however, the recontoured treatment had a positive restoration trajectory in seven of eight metrics and was the best recovered treatment. Community composition on the recontoured treatment had more native species than the other treatments, and was moving toward, though still substantially different from, reference communities. These findings demonstrate that restoration of forest roads benefit from active restoration methods and, while forest road recontouring facilitates floristic recovery in the first decade after decommissioning, full recovery will likely take years to decades longer.



Road removal, Forest restoration, Active restoration, Vegetation recovery, Road recontouring, Biodiversity


Larson, C. D., & Rew, L. J. (2022). Restoration intensity shapes floristic recovery after forest road decommissioning. Journal of Environmental Management, 319, 115729.
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