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Post-wildland fire desertification: Can rehabilitation treatments make a difference?

Posted date: March 04, 2010
Publication Year: 
2009
Publication Series: 
Miscellaneous Publication
Source: Fire Ecology. 5(1): 129-144.

Abstract

Desertification, caused by land degradation as opposed to the immediate creation of classical deserts, is of prime concern in the 21st century. As a result of human activities and climate change, the land loses its proper hydrologic function and biological productivity. Desertification affects 33 % of the earth's surface and over a billion people. Fire-related desertification has a number of environmental, social, and economic consequences. The two key environmental consequences are soil erosion and non-native plant invasions. Erosion after wildland fires can be in the range of <1 Mg ha-1 to 370 Mg ha-1, depending on fire severity, degree of water repellency, slope, and post-fire rainfall events. Soil losses in the high end of that range definitely exceed soil loss tolerances and contribute to desertification. Non-native plants are typically ten times as abundant on landscapes burned by wildland fires than on unburned lands. Seeding has been used for many years as a prime Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) treatment. Until recently, this seeding contributed to non-native plant invasions because fast-growing but non native plant seeds were used. The use of native plant seeds and sterile hybrids has reduced this problem somewhat. However, even certified weed-free seed lots have low percentages of non-native plant seeds. Recent use of wet and dry mulches have contributed to reduced post-wildland fire erosion rates, but they are quite expensive. This paper examines post-wildland fire desertification and the capabilities of BAER treatments to deal with this growing problem.

Citation

Neary, Daniel G. 2009. Post-wildland fire desertification: Can rehabilitation treatments make a difference? Fire Ecology. 5(1): 129-144.