Historic fire suppression efforts have increased the likelihood of large wildfires in much of the western U.S. Post-fire soil erosion and sedimentation risks are important concerns to resource managers. In this paper we develop and apply procedures to predict post-fire erosion and sedimentation risks on a pixel-, catchment-, and landscape-scale in central and western Colorado. Our model for predicting post-fire surface erosion risk is conceptually similar to the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation (RUSLE). One key addition is the incorporation of a hydrophobicity risk index (HY-RISK) based on vegetation type, predicted fire severity, and soil texture. Post-fire surface erosion risk was assessed for each 90-m pixel by combining HYRISK, slope, soil erodibility, and a factor representing the likely increase in soil wetness due to removal of the vegetation. Sedimentation risk was a simple function of stream gradient. Composite surface erosion and sedimentation risk indices were calculated and compared across the 72 catchments in the study area. When evaluated on a catchment scale, two-thirds of the catchments had relatively little post-fire erosion risk. Steeper catchments with higher fuel loadings typically had the highest post-fire surface erosion risk. These were generally located along the major north-south mountain chains and, to a lesser extent, in west-central Colorado. Sedimentation risks were usually highest in the eastern part of the study area where a higher proportion of streams had lower gradients. While data to validate the predicted erosion and sedimentation risks are lacking, the results appear reasonable and are consistent with our limited field observations. The models and analytic procedures can be readily adapted to other locations and should provide useful tools for planning and management at both the catchment and landscape scale.
Additional publication details
Predicting post-fire erosion and sedimentation risk on a landscape scale: A case study from Colorado