Date of Award
Master of Science
Prescribed fire has become a management tool utilized to restore or maintain the ecology of the mixed hardwoods ecosystem in the Ozark hills of southwestern Illinois. One effect of prescribed burning is consumption of fuel beds, including the litter layer that protects soil from erosion. Amount of sediment loss after prescribed burning in the steep topography of the Ozark hills is unknown. Erosion after prescribed burning could lead to increased soil loss and possibly stream sedimentation (Bladon etal., 2014). The objective of this research was to quantify the amount of sediment transport occurring on a watershed scale. Sediment yields were measured from five paired watersheds located in Trail of Tears State Forest in Union County, IL, USA from April 2009 into 2010. This location was selected because of the highly erodible loess soils and steeps slopes which present the highest probability of sediment transport following a prescribed burn treatment. One of the paired watersheds was randomly assigned as the control and the other assigned as the treatment. The treatment was a prescribed burn applied at standard burn prescription levels. Sediment loads were determined by collecting samples from a known volume of overland flow held in storage tanks below each watershed after rain events which produced runoff. The prescribed burn treatment significantly reduced the litter depth with 12.6%–31.5% litter remaining in the prescribed burn treatment watersheds. When data were combined across all watersheds, no significant differences were obtained between burn treatment and control watershed for total suspended solids and sediment concentrations or loads. The annual sediment losses varied between 1.41 to 90.54 kg·ha-1·year-1 in the four prescribed burn watersheds and 0.81 to 2.54 kg·ha-1·year-1 in the four control watersheds. Prescribed burn watershed 7 showed an average depth of soil loss of 4.2 mm, whereas control watershed 8 showed an average accumulation of sediments (9.9 mm), possibly due to steeper slopes. Prescribed burning did not cause a significant increase in soil erosion and sediment loss and can be considered acceptable in managing mixed hardwood forests of Ozark uplands and the Shawnee Hills physiographic regions of southern Illinois.
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