Articles | Volume 16, issue 7
Research article
11 Jul 2012
Research article |  | 11 Jul 2012

The effects of cumulative forest disturbance on streamflow in a large watershed in the central interior of British Columbia, Canada

M. Zhang and X. Wei

Abstract. The Baker Creek watershed (1570 km2), situated in the central interior of British Columbia, Canada, has been severely disturbed by both logging and natural disturbance, particularly by a recent large-scale mountain pine beetle (MPB) infestation (up to 2009, 70.2% of the watershed area had been attacked by MPB) and subsequent salvage logging. The concept of equivalent clear-cut area (ECA) was used to indicate the magnitude of forest disturbance, with consideration of hydrological recovery following various types of disturbance (wildfire, logging and MPB infestation), cumulated over space and time in the watershed. The cumulative ECA peaked at 62.2% in 2009. A combined approach of statistical analysis (i.e. time series analysis) and graphic method (modified double mass curve) was employed to evaluate the impacts of forest disturbance on hydrology. Our results showed that severe forest disturbance significantly increased annual mean flow. The average increment in annual mean flow caused by forest disturbance was 48.4 mm yr−1, while the average decrease in annual mean flow caused by climatic variability during the same disturbance period was 35.5 mm yr−1. The opposite changes in directions and magnitudes clearly suggest an offsetting effect between forest disturbance and climatic variability, with the absolute influential strength of forest disturbance (57.7%) overriding that from climate variability (42.3%). Forest disturbance also produced significant positive effects on low flow and dry season (fall and winter) mean flow. Implications of our findings for future forest and water resources management are discussed in the context of long-term watershed sustainability.