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Quantifying long-term post-fire sediment delivery and erosion mitigation effectiveness

Author(s): Peter R. Robichaud, Sarah A. Lewis, Joseph W. Wagenbrenner, Robert E. Brown, Frederick B. Pierson
Year Published: 2020

Large wildfires can have profound and lasting impacts not only from direct consumption of vegetation but also longer‐term effects such as persistent soil erosion. The 2002 Hayman Fire burned in one of the watersheds supplying water to the Denver metropolitan area, thus there was concern regarding hillslope erosion and sedimentation in the reservoirs. The efficacy of various treatments for reducing erosion were tested, including hand scarification on contour, agricultural straw mulch, wood mulch, burned controls and unburned reference plots. Simulated rill erosion experiments were used both immediately after the fire and again 10 years post‐fire. To better understand untreated recovery, the same experiments were applied to control plots in post‐fire years 1, 2, 3, and 4 and in unburned reference plots in years 4 and 10. Results indicate that control and scarified plots produced significantly greater sediment flux rates, 1.9 and 2.8 g s‐1 respectively, than the straw and wood mulch treatments 0.9 and 1.1 g s‐1 immediately after the fire. Mulch treatments reduced runoff rate, runoff velocity, and sediment concentration and flux rate. The straw mulch cover was no longer present, whereas the wood mulch was still there in year 10. Vegetation regrowth was slow and mulch treatments provided effective cover to reduce sediment right after the fire. In post‐fire year 10, there were no significant differences in sediment flux rates across treatments; it is notable however, that the wood mulch treatment (0.09 g s‐1) most closely approached the unburned condition (0.07 g s‐1). The burned control plots had high sediment flux rates until post‐fire year 3 when flux rates significantly decreased and were statistically no longer higher than the than unburned levels. These results will inform managers of the longer‐term post‐fire sediment delivery rates and of the ability of post‐fire emergency hillslope treatments to mitigate erosion rates.

Citation: Robichaud, Peter R.; Lewis, Sarah A.; Wagenbrenner, Joseph W.; Brown, Robert E.; Pierson, Fredrick B. 2020. Quantifying long-term post-fire sediment delivery and erosion mitigation effectiveness. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 45(3):771-782. https://doi.org/10.1002/esp.4755
Topic(s): Fire Effects, Ecological - Second Order, Soils, Post-fire Management, Post-fire Rehabilitation, Erosion Control
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 20975
FRAMES RCS number: 58925
Record updated: Apr 8, 2020