Rainfall Response of Degraded Soil Following Reforestation in the Copper Basin, Tennessee, USA

Harden, C. P. and Mathews, L., 2000. Environmental Management

Original research (primary data)
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After a century of degradation due to mining, logging, acidification, and grazing, the 130-km(2) Copper Basin in southeastern Tennessee became the site of increasingly extensive and successful reforestation efforts. To determine the effectiveness of more than 50 years of reforestation efforts, we compared rainfall infiltration sediment detachment, and soil organic matter of reforested sites to those properties of unvegetated sites and forested reference sites outside the basin. Results of 54 rainfall simulation experiments is conducted in zones of the basin known to have been planted during different decades demonstrate that hydrologic recovery of soils in the Copper Basin lags significantly behind the establishment of tree cover and the protection offered by vegetation against soil erosion. Soils in new “forests” have significantly less organic malter and lower infiltration than forests more than 50 years old. The long-term persistence of low infiltration rates serves as a reminder that, at sites where the A and B soil horizons have been lost, restoration of the hydrologic function of a landscape requires decades, at least.

Case studies

Basic information

  • Case ID: INT-118-1
  • Intervention type: Restoration
  • Intervention description:

    Reforestation: More than 2.8 million trees and shrubs were planted in the basin in the 1930s and 1940s ... in 1973 reforestation treatments, which included ripping the subsoil; applying fertilizer, lime, or sewage sludge; and planting seedlings inoculated with the ectomycorrhizal fungus Pisolithus ... extended its replanting efforts to include aerially broadcasting acid-tolerant seed and fertilizer by helicopter, hand-planting rootstock and shrubs, and ripping the subsoil to a depth of over 0.5 m

  • Landscape/sea scape ecosystem management: Yes
  • Climate change impacts Effect of Nbs on CCI Effect measures
    Soil erosion  Positive detached sediment: sediment detached by each rain event as a measure of the relative erodibility by splash of soil surfaces
    Freshwater flooding  Mixed results Runoff (mm per 25 mm rain)
  • Approach implemented in the field: Yes
  • Specific location:

    The Copper Basin covers 130 km2 in the southeast- ern corner of the state of Tennessee, extending slightly across the state line into Georgia

  • Country: United States of America
  • Habitat/Biome type: Temperate forests |
  • Issue specific term: Not applicable


  • Notes on intervention effectivness: Effectiveness determined by comparing to unvegetated (unrestored) plots Mixed results for run-off because in the sites that had been reforested for longer, there was an effect of reduced runoff but at sites reforested more recently, there was no effect compared to the unrestored plots
  • Is the assessment original?: Yes
  • Broadtype of intervention considered: Not applicable
  • Compare effectivness?: No
  • Compared to the non-NBS approach: Not applicable
  • Report greenhouse gas mitigation?: No
  • Impacts on GHG: Not applicable
  • Assess outcomes of the intervention on natural ecosystems: No
  • Impacts for the ecosystem: Not reported
  • Ecosystem measures:
  • Assess outcomes of the intervention on people: No
  • Impacts for people: Not reported
  • People measures:
  • Considers economic costs: No
  • Economic appraisal conducted: No
  • Economic appraisal described:
  • Economic costs of alternative considered: No
  • Compared to an alternative: Not reported

Evaluation methodology

  • Type of data: Quantitative
  • Is it experimental: Yes
  • Experimental evalution done: In-situ/field
  • Non-experimental evalution done: Not applicable
  • Study is systematic: