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Soil water repellency and infiltration in coarse-textured soils of burned and unburned sagebrush ecosystems

Author(s): Frederick B. Pierson, Peter R. Robichaud, Corey A. Moffet, Kenneth E. Spaeth, Christopher Jason Williams, Stuart P. Hardegree, Patrick E. Clark
Year Published: 2008

Millions of dollars are spent each year in the United States to mitigate the effects of wildfires and reduce the risk of flash floods and debris flows. Research from forested, chaparral, and rangeland communities indicate that severe wildfires can cause significant increases in soil water repellency resulting in increased runoff and erosion. Few data are available to document the effects of fire on the spatial and temporal variability in soil water repellency and potential impacts on infiltration and runoff on sagebrush-dominated landscapes. Soil water repellency, infiltration and runoff were assessed after two wildfires and one prescribed fire in three steep, sagebrush-dominated watersheds with coarse-textured soils. Water repellency was generally greater on unburned hillslopes and annual variability in water repellency had a greater impact on infiltration capacity than fire effects. The most significant impact of fire was canopy and ground cover removal on coppice microsites. Infiltration rates decreased on coppice microsites after fire even though soil water repellency was reduced. Fire-induced reduction in infiltration resulted from the combined effect of canopy and ground cover removal and the presence of naturally strong water repellent soils. Removal of ground cover likely increased the spatial connectivity of runoff areas from strongly water repellent soils. The results indicate that for coarse-textured sagebrush landscapes with high pre-fire soil water repellency, post-fire increases in runoff are more influenced by fire removal of ground and canopy cover than fire effects on soil water repellency and that the degree of these impacts may be significantly influenced by short-term fluctuations in water repellent soil conditions.

Citation: Pierson, F. B.; Robichaud, Peter R.; Moffet, C. A.; Spaeth, K. E.; Williams, C. J.; Hardegree, S. P.; Clark, P. E. 2008. Soil water repellency and infiltration in coarse-textured soils of burned and unburned sagebrush ecosystems. Catena. 74(2): 98-108.
Topic(s): Fire Effects, Ecological - First Order, Fire Intensity / Burn Severity, Ecological - Second Order, Vegetation, Soils, Water, Fire Regime
Ecosystem(s): Sagebrush steppe, Lower montane/foothills/valley grassland
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 11424
FRAMES RCS number: 7310
Record updated: May 10, 2018