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Title: Effects of forest fires and post-fire rehabilitation: a Colorado, USA case study

Author: MacDonald, Lee H.; Larsen, Isaac J.;

Date: 2009

Source: Cerdá, Artemi and Peter R. Robichaud (editors), Fire effects on soils and restoration strategies. Volume 5 of Series: Land Reconstruction and Management. Science Publishers, Enfield, NH.

Publication Series: Book

Description: Anthropogenic activities have increased the number of large, high-burn severity wildfires in the lower and mid-elevation coniferous forests in Colorado as well as much of the western US. Forests provide most of the water for cities and agriculture, and the increased runoff and erosion after wildfires is a major concern because of the potential adverse effects on flooding, water quality, and other aquatic resources. Areas burned at high severity are of primary concern because rainfall intensities of only 8 to 10 mm h-1 can generate substantial amounts of runoff and surface erosion. Typical post-fire erosion rates from areas burned at high severity are 5 to 10 Mg ha-1 yr-1 for the first 2 to 3 yr after burning, and this is about 5 to 80 times the values measured from areas burned at moderate or low severity. Post-fire sediment yields are most closely associated with the amount of surface cover and rainfall erosivity. Three to five years are-typically required before hills lope-scale sediment yields decline to near-background levels.

Studies on multiple fires indicate that the most effective post-fire rehabilitation treatments are those that immediately provide surface cover, such as straw mulching. Seeding and seeding combined with scarification did not increase the rate of vegetative regrowth and therefore did not reduce post-fire sediment yields. Hydromulching varied in its effectiveness, and this was attributed to the differences in the mixtures applied to different sites. Contour-felled log erosion barriers were effective only for small and moderate-sized storms, and the effectiveness of this treatment is easily negated by poor installation. The application of a polyacrylamide also failed to significantly reduce post-fire sediment yields. Mulching is the most cost-effective treatment at US$50 to US$150 per megagram reduction in sediment yields.

Post-fire sediment yields from Colorado are within the range of values reported from the western US and other countries. The results of this case study can provide useful guidance to land managers and researchers in other areas, as the basic principles and processes identified in this chapter are more broadly applicable.

Publication Notes:

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MacDonald, Lee H.; Larsen, Isaac J. 2009. Effects of forest fires and post-fire rehabilitation: A Colorado, USA case study. In: Cerdá, Artemi; Robichaud, Peter R., eds. 2009. Fire effects on soils and restoration strategies. Land Reconstruction and Management Series, Volume 5. Science Publishers, Enfield, NH. pp. 423-452


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