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Short-Term Impacts of Tree Removal on Runoff and Erosion From Pinyon- and Juniper-Dominated Sagebrush Hillslopes
- Pierson, Frederick B., Williams, C. Jason, Kormos, Patrick R., Al-Hamdan, Osama Z., Hardegree, Stuart P., Clark, Patrick E.
- Rangeland ecology & management 2015 v.68 no.5 pp. 408-422
- Artemisia, burning, cutting, erodibility, ground vegetation, hills, mulches, overland flow, pinyon-juniper, rain, rangelands, risk, runoff, trees, water erosion, woodlands
- Tree removal is often applied to woodland-encroached rangelands to restore vegetation and improve hydrologic function, but knowledge is limited regarding effects of tree removal on hydrologic response. This study used artificial rainfall and overland flow experiments (9–13 m2) and measures of vegetation and ground cover to investigate short-term (1–2 yr) responses to tree removal at two woodland-encroached sites. Plots were located under trees (tree zone) and in the intercanopy (shrub-interspace zone, 75% of area). Before tree removal, vegetation and ground cover were degraded and intercanopy runoff and erosion rates were high. Cutting and placing trees into the intercanopy did not significantly affect vegetation, ground cover, runoff, or erosion 1 yr posttreatment. Whole-tree mastication as applied in this study did not redistribute tree mulch within the intercanopy, but the treatment did result in enhanced herbaceous cover and hydrologic function in the intercanopy. Fire removal of litter and herbaceous cover increased tree-zone runoff and erosion under high-intensity rainfall by 4- and 30-fold at one site but had minimal impact at the other site. Site response differences were attributed to variability in burn conditions and site-specific erodibility. Burning had minimal impact on shrub-interspace runoff and erosion from applied high-intensity rainfall. However, 1 yr postfire, erosion from concentrated overland flow experiments was 2- to 13-fold greater on burned than unburned tree-zone and shrub-interspace plots and erosion for burned tree zones was 3-fold greater for the more erodible site. Two yr postfire, overland flow erosion remained higher for burned versus unburned tree zones, but enhanced intercanopy herbaceous cover reduced erosion from shrub-interspace zones. The net impact of burning included an initial increase in erosion risk, particularly for tree zones, followed by enhanced herbaceous cover and improved hydrologic function within the intercanopy. The overall results suggest that erosion from late-succession woodlands is reduced primarily through recruitment of intercanopy herbaceous vegetation and ground cover.