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Title: Finding balance between fire hazard reduction and erosion control in the Lake Tahoe Basin, California–Nevada

Author: Harrison, Nicolas M.; Stubblefield, Andrew P.; Varner, J. Morgan; Knapp, Eric E.;

Date: 2016

Source: Forest Ecology and Management. 360: 40-51

Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Description: The 2007 Angora Fire served as a stark reminder of the need for fuel reduction treatments in the Lake Tahoe Basin, California–Nevada, USA. Concerns exist, however, that the corresponding removal of forest floor fuels could increase erosion rates, negatively affecting the clarity of Lake Tahoe. To quantify trade-offs between fuel reduction and erosion, we conducted field-based snowmelt runoff simulation experiments at 16 sites within the Lake Tahoe Basin that had received mechanical mastication or prescribed fire treatments. Erodibility was measured to determine if thresholds of litter, duff, and woody fuel cover could be established that are sufficient for trapping sediment and increasing infiltration, without contributing to fire hazard. Field snow-melt simulations revealed that as little as 25% of the ground surface covered with masticated fuels over duff was sufficient to mitigate erosion. The post-prescribed fire environment characterized by heterogeneous patches of exposed bare mineral soil interspersed with unburned patches mitigated erosion by increasing infiltration. Considerable increases in sediment yield were observed in plots with >35% of ground area burned; the highest total sediment yields (values) occurred in plots where between 66% and 100% of the soil surface burned. Our field results suggest that erosion and wildfire severity can be simultaneously mitigated through the use of masticated fuel reduction treatments or prescribed fire treatments that leave sufficient organic matter to trap sediment but have sufficiently low fuel loading and/or enough fuel discontinuity or patchiness to limit fire spread.

Keywords: Fuels management, Mastication, Prescribed fire, Runoff simulation, Snowmelt

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Harrison, Nicolas M.; Stubblefield, Andrew P.; Varner, J. Morgan; Knapp, Eric E. 2016. Finding balance between fire hazard reduction and erosion control in the Lake Tahoe Basin, California–Nevada. Forest Ecology and Management. 360: 40-51.


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