PRS Publications

Timing and duration of access mat use impacts their mitigation of compaction effects from industrial traffic

Thompson, K. A., K. S.James, C. N. Carlyle, S.Quideau and E. W. Bork. 2022.


Grasslands are declining worldwide and are often impacted by industrial activities, including infrastructure development. Current best management practices for low-disturbance development on grasslands include the use of wooden access mats as temporary work platforms and roadways to mitigate soil compaction and rutting due to heavy traffic. We assessed the impacts of heavy traffic (TON), and the impacts of the same heavy equipment driven over top of access mats (AM), on soil physical, hydrological, and nutrient responses in sandy and loamy soils in the Dry Mixedgrass prairies over a 2-year period. We also assessed how the timing (early vs. late in the growing season) and duration (6 vs. 12 vs. 24 weeks) of AM and TON affected the same metrics. Compared to undisturbed soils, TON increased soil penetration resistance (15 cm depth) up to 93% in loamy and up to 101% in sandy soils, and decreased water infiltration rates from 53 to 71%, respectively. Notably, the negative impacts of TON on soil physical characteristics and hydrology were larger in sandy vs. loamy soils, and when moist soils were exposed to traffic early in the growing season. AMs were effective at mitigating soil compaction from industrial traffic when used on sandy soils. However, AM use increased the supply of total nitrogen and other plant macro- and micro-nutrients, particularly in soils subject to longer (12 -24 wk) mat placement. Results indicate TON may have long-lasting effects on grassland (particularly sandy) soils, and that AM use represents an effective tool to mitigate traffic impacts. Further, early-season traffic should be avoided when soils are moist (whether with AM or not), and AMs should be placed on soils for limited durations (≤6 wk) to minimize potential nutrient losses.

Key Words

Energy infrastructure development Heavy equipment Water infiltration Penetration resistance Nutrient supply Grassland Dry mixedgrass prairie