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Postfire seeding for erosion control: effectiveness and impacts on native plant communities

Author(s): Jan L. Beyers
Year Published: 2004
Description:

Large, high-severity wildfires remove vegetation cover and expose mineral soil, often causing erosion and runoff during postfire rain events to increase dramatically. Land-management agencies in the United States are required to assess site conditions after wildfire and, where necessary, implement emergency watershed rehabilitation measures to help stabilize soil; control movement of water, sediment, and debris; prevent permanent impairment of ecosystem structure and function; and mitigate significant threats to human health, safety, life, property, or downstream values. One of the most common postfire treatments is broadcast seeding of grasses, usually from aircraft. Non-native annual or perennial grasses typically are used to provide quick, temporary ground cover to hold soil in place until native plants are reestablished. Critics argue that seeded grasses compete with native vegetation and do not effectively reduce erosion. Few data exist on the effectiveness of erosion control; less than half of the studies I reviewed showed reduced sediment movement with seeding. In all vegetation types, successful growth of seeded grasses-enough to affect erosion-appears to displace native or naturalized species, including shrub and tree seedlings. Due to the competitiveness of seeded grasses, they are used to attempt suppression of noxious weeds in some postfire seeding operations. In burned sagebrush range, postfire seeding is frequently used to replace non-native cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) with native or introduced bunchgrasses, with at least short-term success. In recent years, native species and sterile cereal grains have increasingly been used for seeding. Use of aerially applied straw mulch has increased as well, with the risk of weed introduction from contaminated bales. More research on the effectiveness and ecosystem impacts of these alternatives is needed.

Citation: Beyers, Jan L. 2004. Postfire seeding for erosion control: effectiveness and impacts on native plant communities. Conservation Biology. 18(4): 947-956.
Topic(s): Post-fire Management, Post-fire Rehabilitation, Erosion Control, Seeding
Ecosystem(s): Montane dry mixed-conifer forest, Ponderosa pine woodland/savanna, Sagebrush steppe, Lower montane/foothills/valley grassland
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article, Synthesis
NRFSN number: 7911
FRAMES RCS number: 3553
Record updated: May 14, 2018