Consequences of pinyon-juniper woodland fuel reduction: Prescribed fire increases soil erosion while mastication does not


Karban, C. C., M. E. Miller, J. E. Herrick, and N. N. Barger. 2022. Consequences of piñon juniper woodland fuel reduction: Prescribed fire increases soil erosion while mastication does not. Ecosystems. 25:122-135.


Shay and Wray mesas in the Colorado Plateau, southeast Utah.

Description of Site

Elevation – 2,250 m (7,400 ft); Ppt –  394 mm (15.5 in); Soils – mostly shallow to moderately deep, calcareous, fine, sandy loams; Soil temperature/moisture regime is mesic/ustic; Plant communities – upland pinyon-juniper ecological sites with twoneedle pinyon (Pinus edulis), Utah juniper (Juniperus osteosperma), mountain big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata subsp. vaseyana), black sagebrush (A. nova), serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.), Indian ricegrass (Achnatherum hymenoides), blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis), and needlegrasses (Achnatherum spp.).


Treatments – Mastication, broadcast burning, pile burning, and broadcast seeding; Time period – two years; Measurements – sediment and plant cover.


Authors reported: “pile burning and broadcast burning significantly increased wind-related sediment fluxes by an average of 11-fold and 58-fold, respectively during the first two post treatment years. Mastication did not increase wind-related losses over untreated controls and seeding had little effect on erosion”. All three treatments resulted in an increase in invasive species abundance relative to the control.


The first two posttreatment years often produce the most dramatic results in soil loss, especially the first year after treatment.  The magnitude of soil loss and duration of accelerated erosion is influenced by several factors including 1) posttreatment weather conditions and 2) ecological site factors including topography, erodibility of the soils, remnant posttreatment plant and litter cover, and resilience of the site.  These factors will also influence the short and long-term response of invasive species (see Fick et al. 2022).