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Project ID: 08-2-1-14

Year: 2008

Date Started: 06/01/2008

Date Completed: 07/02/2014

Title: Effects of Fuel Treatments and Fire on Soil Productivity: A Synthesis and Interpretation for Resource Managers

Project Proposal Abstract: Soils are the foundation of terrestrial ecosystems. They provide essential nutrients, water, oxygen, heat, and physical support for the survival and growth of plants and living organisms. A soil?s capacity to function within an ecosystem and adjust to land use disturbance defines its "productivity" (Doran and Parkin 1994), and is a critical component of environmental sustainability. Because fire and fuel treatments can modify the natural function of soil, these processes risk altering soil productivity and thus the long-term health of our nation?s ecosystems. Throughout the United States, catastrophic fires have increased in number and size due to a history of fire suppression, invasive annual grasses, and widespread mortality brought on by insect infestations and drought conditions exacerbated by global warming. A variety of fuel reduction treatments are now used to limit hazardous fuel accumulation and help restore important ecological functions. Popular treatments include mechanical thinning, hand thinning, pile burning, prescribed burning, and masticating/chipping. Each treatment comes with its own inherent problems related to soil productivity. For example, mechanical thinning results in soil compaction, whereas pile burning can lead to extreme soil heating. Wildfires, too, present a major concern to land managers as increased fuel loading and wildfire severity can lead to permanent post-fire soil disturbance. Many regions in the United States now experience abnormally-high wildfire occurrence, and questions remain whether soil productivity will suffer irreversible damage. Why are changes to soil physical, chemical, and biological properties important? In most ecosystems there is an intrinsic relationship between soil and overall system health. Any disturbance may lead to a discontinuity in soil processes, resulting in detrimental changes in soil and ecosystem productivity. However, it is important to recognize that many soils are resilient or fully capable of recovering from disturbance given sufficient time. Thus, land managers need to know the potential risks of their actions on soil productivity and which circumstances (soil type, climatic region, proposed treatment, time of year) will likely result in a resilient response by the soil. As the wildland/urban interface continues to expand, many communities across the US are implementing fuel reduction projects, hoping to lessen wildfire effects. This has led to an increase in recent studies looking at soil productivity issues across the different regions. Therefore, it is important to develop a synthesis of findings that can identify soil impacts and responses to fuel reduction treatments, and that can also identify any short-comings among the available methods used to determine soil productivity. In addition, our synthesis of findings will strive to uncover new methods and correct any misconceptions regarding soil productivity. As a result, we will provide resource managers with a tool to assist in decision making, and a product for understanding and conserving soils in forest, chaparral, desert, and range ecosystems.

Principal Investigator: Matt D. Busse

Agency/Organization: Forest Service

Branch or Dept: PSW-Silviculture Lab-Redding

Other Project Collaborators




Branch or Dept

Co-Principal Investigator

Ken Hubbert

Forest Service

PSW-Forest Fire Lab-Riverside

Federal Cooperator

Matt D. Busse

Forest Service

PSW-Silviculture Lab-Redding

Project Locations

Fire Science Exchange Network




Great Basin

Great Plains

Lake States

Oak Woodlands

Northern Rockies




Southern Rockies



There are no project locations identified for this project.

Project Deliverables

Final Report view or print

("Results presented in JFSP Final Reports may not have been peer-reviewed and should be interpreted as tentative until published in a peer-reviewed source.")

  ID Type Title
view or print   1816 Government Publication Fuel Reduction Practices and Their Effects on Soil Quality

Supporting Documents

There are no supporting documents available for this project.

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