Prescribed Fire Effects on Runoff, Erosion, and Soil Water Repellency on Steeply-Sloped Sagebrush Rangeland over a Five Year Period
Friday, 19 December 2014
Fire is an inherent component of sagebrush steppe rangelands in western North America and can dramatically affect runoff and erosion processes. Post-fire flooding and erosion events pose substantial threats to proximal resources, property, and human life. Yet, prescribed fire can serve as a tool to manage vegetation and fuels on sagebrush rangelands and to reduce the potential for large catastrophic fires and mass erosion events. The impact of burning on event hydrologic and erosion responses is strongly related to the degree to which burning alters vegetation, ground cover, and surface soils and the intensity and duration of precipitation. Fire impacts on hydrologic and erosion response may be intensified or reduced by inherent site characteristics such as topography and soil properties. Parameterization of these diverse conditions in predictive tools is often limited by a lack of data and/or understanding for the domain of interest. Furthermore, hydrologic and erosion functioning change as vegetation and ground cover recover in the years following burning and few studies track these changes over time. In this study, we evaluated the impacts of prescribed fire on vegetation, ground cover, soil water repellency, and hydrologic and erosion responses 1, 2, and 5 yr following burning of a mountain big sagebrush community on steep hillslopes with fine-textured soils. The study site is within the Reynolds Creek Experimental Watershed, southwestern Idaho, USA. Vegetation, ground cover, and soil properties were measured over plot scales of 0.5 m2 to 9 m2. Rainfall simulations (0.5 m2) were used to assess the impacts of fire on soil water repellency, infiltration, runoff generation, and splash-sheet erosion. Overland flow experiments (9 m2) were used to assess the effects of fire-reduced ground cover on concentrated-flow runoff and erosion processes. The study results provide insight regarding fire impacts on runoff, erosion, and soil water repellency in the immediate and short-term post-fire recovery years for steeply-sloped sagebrush sites with fine-textured soils. The study results also serve to inform development and enhancement of the Rangeland Hydrology and Erosion Model for predicting runoff and erosion responses from disturbed and undisturbed sagebrush rangelands.