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Erosion risk assessment of controlled burning of grasses established on steep slopes

Gyasi-Agyei, Y.
Journal of hydrology 2006 v.317 no.3-4 pp. 276-290
erosion control, railroads, slope, grasses, land restoration, prescribed burning, risk assessment, vegetation cover, runoff, plant establishment, sediment yield, Queensland
It is a standard practice to establish grasses on steep slopes (batters) of embankments and cuttings to minimise erosion problems. However, the increase in grass density (high biomass) on the steep slopes poses a greater risk of fire. Controlled burning is a common fuel hazard reduction program employed to minimise the fire risks. The increased risk of erosion on the steep slopes after controlled burning has received little attention if any. This paper assesses the erosion risks associated with controlled burning of grasses established on steep slopes. Grasses, with and without the aid of waste ballast rock mulch, were established on 10 m wide railway embankment batter experiment plots. Two-and-a-half years after the grass establishment, selected plots were controlled burned. Runoff and soil loss from the experimental plots were monitored throughout the 3 1/2-year period of the experiment. After one year the grass cover on the burned plots has hardly exceeded 60%, far below the average pre-burn levels of about 80%. All treatments achieved an incredible soil loss reduction of over 95% (compared with the bare scenario) without controlled burning at the end of the 3 1/2-year period. This percentage value was decreased numerically by 14 where controlled burning was implemented. Compared with the 100% grass cover treatment, runoff rates tripled while erosion rates increased by nine-fold for the waste ballast treatment, and 17-fold for the non-waste ballast treatment, during the first year following controlled burning.