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Fire, Plant Invasions, and Erosion Events on Western Rangelands
- Pierson, Frederick B., Williams, C. Jason, Hardegree, Stuart P., Weltz, Mark A., Stone, Jeffry J., Clark, Patrick E.
- Rangeland ecology & management 2011 v.64 no.5 pp. 439-449
- aggregate stability, fire regime, landscapes, plant communities, rain intensity, rangelands, risk, runoff, soil water, storms, surface roughness, temporal variation, water resources, wildfires, woody plants
- Millions of hectares of rangeland in the western United States have been invaded by annual and woody plants that have increased the role of wildland fire. Altered fire regimes pose significant implications for runoff and erosion. In this paper we synthesize what is known about fire impacts on rangeland hydrology and erosion, and how that knowledge advances understanding of hydrologic risks associated with landscape scale plant community transitions and altered fire regimes. The increased role of wildland fire on western rangeland exposes landscapes to amplified runoff and erosion over short- and long-term windows of time and increases the risk of damage to soil and water resources, property, and human lives during extreme events. Amplified runoff and erosion postfire are a function of storm characteristics and fire-induced changes in site conditions (i.e., ground cover, soil water repellency, aggregate stability, and surface roughness) that define site susceptibility. We suggest that overall postfire hydrologic vulnerability be considered in a probabilistic framework that predicts hydrologic response for a range of potential storms and site susceptibilities and that identifies the hydrologic response magnitudes at which damage to values-at-risk are likely to occur. We identify key knowledge gaps that limit advancement of predictive technologies to address the increased role of wildland fire across rangeland landscapes. Our review of literature suggests quantifying interactions of varying rainfall intensity and key measures of site susceptibility, temporal variability in strength/influence of soil water repellency, and spatial scaling of postfire runoff and erosion remain paramount areas for future research to address hydrologic effects associated with the increased role of wildland fire on western rangelands.