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

Reference

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.

Location

Shay and Wray mesas in the Colorado Plateau se Utah

Description of Site

Elevation -7400’; PPT – 15.5”; Soils– mostly shallow to some moderately deep calcareous fine sandy loams, soil temperature/moisture regime is mesic/ustic;
Plant communities – upland shallow loam pinyon-juniper ecological sites, with twoneedle pinyon, Utah juniper, mountain big sagebrush, black sagebrush, serviceberry, Indian ricegrass, blue grama, and needlegrasses.

Treatment

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

Findings

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 relative to the control.

Comments

As the authors mentioned in their paper, 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 will be 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).