The use of soil nutrient balances in deriving forest biomass harvesting guidelines specific to region, tree species and soil type in the Netherlands

Vries, Wim de; Jong, Anjo de; Kros, Johannes; Spijker, Joop


The substitution of biomass for fossil fuels in energy consumption is a measure to decrease the emissions of greenhouse gases and thereby mitigate global warming. During recent years, this has led to an increasing interest to use tree harvest residues as feedstock for bioenergy. An important concern related to the removal of harvesting residues is, however, the potential adverse effects on soil fertility caused by increased nutrient removal, relative to conventional stem-only harvesting. In the Netherlands this is a major concern, since most forests are located on poor sandy soils. To develop forest harvesting guidelines, we applied a mass balance approach comparing nutrient inputs by deposition and weathering with nutrient outputs by harvesting and leaching for various timber harvesting scenarios, including both stem-only harvesting and additional removal of tree tops and branches. A distinction was made in seven major tree species, six soil types (three sandy soils, loam, clay and peat soils) and nine regions, with clear variations in atmospheric deposition of phosphorus (P), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg) and potassium (K). For each region-tree-soil combination we calculated the maximum amounts that can be harvested such that the output of the nutrients Ca, Mg, K and P is balanced with the inputs. Results showed that at current harvesting rates, a negative balance of Ca, Mg, K or P is hardly calculated for the richer loamy to clayey soil types, while depletion can occur for the poorer sandy soils, particularly of P and K. Results are used to derive forest biomass harvesting guidelines, taking the uncertainties in the mass balance approach into account. The role of mitigating management approaches is also discussed.