Highlights: The thinning response in young downy birch stands was low and the mortality of merchantable stems was tolerable even in dense unthinned thickets during the rotation of 50 years; The production of above-ground woody biomass and stem volume or even the production of pulpwood increased with stand density, with these values being greatest for unthinned or very lightly thinned plots.
The objective of the study was to ascertain the relationship of thinning intensity of downy birch (Betula pubescens Ehrh.) stands with height, crown, and diameter development as well as pulpwood, stem volume, and biomass increment using long-term (20−30 years) field experiments. Diameter growth of birches increased with thinning intensity during the first 15 years from thinning in all development phases, though after that it did so only for the youngest stands. The thinning response was low. Thinning intensity had no influence on increase in height. In terms of stem volume with bark, the mortality in unthinned stands during the study period was 30–45 m3 ha-1. The mean stem number in unthinned birch thickets fell from 25 000 ha-1 at a dominant height of 7 m to 3000 ha-1 at 18 m. The stem volume increment over the first 15 years was highest (5–6 m3 ha-1 a-1) on the very lightly thinned or unthinned plots, but later there was no significant difference between initial thinning intensities. The maximum above-ground leafless biomass (over 100 Mg ha-1) was achieved on very lightly thinned plots. Also, the total production (including thinning removal) of biomass or stem volume or even the production of pulpwood increased with stand density, with these values being greatest for very lightly thinned or unthinned plots. During 50-year rotation, the highest leafless above-ground biomass production was 2.5 Mg ha-1 a-1 as a mean value from the experiments. The highest mean annual production of pulpwood (d > 6.5 cm) was 3.2 m3 ha-1 a-1, and, in practice, no saw timber or veneer timber was produced, because of the small size and low quality of the stems. A thinning in downy birch stands increased slightly the size of stems to be removed in future cuttings, but with exception for very light thinning it decreased the production of biomass and merchantable wood.