Conservation and management of forest ecosystems are currently largely conflicting goals in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest biome. At present, all parts of the Atlantic Forest are protected and commercial logging is highly restricted. However, sustainable forest management systems can offer significant income opportunities for landholders, and thereby actively support the process of ecosystem rehabilitation and protection of the Atlantic Forest. This research is intended to contribute to enhancing the development of environmentally sound forest management alternatives in the Atlantic Forest biome. Through a case study, the harvesting impact of a conventional harvesting method (CM) was evaluated and compared with an alternative and improved harvesting method (AM), performed by a well-trained professional chainsaw operator experienced in reduced impact logging techniques, and included the use of a snatch block and a skidding cone. Following a full pre-harvest inventory, 110 different tree species were identified. The harvesting impact on the residual stand was classified and evaluated through a successive post-harvest inventory. Damage maps were developed based on interpolation of tree damage intensities with the triangular irregular networks (TIN) methodology. Our results showed noticeable high rates of tree hang-ups, observed for both harvesting methods. Furthermore, the harvesting damaged trees mainly in the lower diameter at breast height (DBH) classes. In comparison to winching, the felling process caused most of the damage to remnant trees for both methods, at 87% (CM) and 88% (AM). The number of damaged trees (above 11.9 cm DBH) per harvested tree, for CM, ranged from 0.8 trees to 2.5 trees and, for AM, ranged from 0.6 trees to 2.2 trees. Improvements of the AM method (operator skills, skidding cone and snatch block) over CM allowed for a reduction of the damaged basal area, a reduction of the “high damaged area” per plot, and a reduction of the winching disturbed ground area. Nonetheless, a suitable harvesting system should consider further improvements in the felling technique, and additionally integrate the local knowledge of CM regarding forest and tree species with the technical improvements of AM.
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