Background: The potentially negative effects of timber harvesting on biodiversity and habitat conservation leads to the consideration of a wide range of restrictions to forest logging in natural areas. In particular, high noise levels produced by forest machinery present a challenge to developing sustainable forest management plans. The Cinereous vulture (Aegypius monachus), the largest bird of prey whose nests are located in mature trees, is considered to be appropriate as an indicator species for environment-friendly forest planning. In this work, we evaluated spatially differences in sound propagation between stands. We hypothesized that differences due to the influence of orography in mountainous forests would allow the relaxation of spatial and temporary restrictions to timber logging, without causing any great disturbance at nesting sites of sensitive species.
Methods: Our study was conducted in a Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) forest of Spain, where an important colony of the Western European population of Cinereous vulture is located. We built 62 noise maps to characterize noise pollution due to tree logging at planning level. We modeled two different scenarios, in order to characterize; (i) the effect of a chainsaw operator during a complete cycle for felling a tree (Scenario 1), and (ii) the effect of the peak level produced by the breaking noise emitted by the trunk of the tree and its impact on the ground (Scenario 2). A strategy of three logical steps was designed; (i) landscape-scale analysis of noise propagation in stands, (ii) hierarchical cluster analysis of stands, (iii) assessment of the potentially significant influence of noise management in timber harvesting.
Results: The minimum distance (DIST) from chainsaw operator sites to the 40 dB(A) contour lines was the only variable that had a significant influence on the clustering results. On the other hand, mean values of a newly proposed metric called average radius or radial distance (ARD) oscillated between 174 m in cluster #1 (Scenario 1) and 407 m in cluster #2 (Scenario 2).
Discussion: Our results highlight the convenience of considering noise modeling tools at a forest planning level in order to address the compatibility of forest logging and the necessity of protecting nature. We found that spatial propagation of noise made by chainsaws at felling sites does not differ between stands even in a mountainous terrain, contrary to what we initially hypothesized. However, temporary logging restrictions could be excluded in about 36% of the current conditioned management areas according to ARD results in Scenario 2 (400 m). This proposal could be based on a sound pressure level (in decibels) criteria instead of conventional buffer protection distance criteria. In addition, it is suggested that the current size of restricted management areas could be generally extended from a 100 m radius to a 200 m one around the Cinereous vulture nest sites.
Keywords: Biodiversity; Cinereous vulture; Environmental noise; Forest logging; Forest management; Natural resources management; Noise mapping; Noise modeling.