This headline reminds me of the past weekend’s Research Reveals that Elk Eat All Year.
Nevertheless, thought I should post this article… I am looking for the link to the research study. Note: journalists out there- please put the links in your stories.
Here’s the link and below is an excerpt, but the whole piece is of interest.
The researchers spent years exhaustively measuring the contrasting recovery of two stretches of forest, both on Stermer Ridge at the headwaters of the Little Colorado River. They estimated the surviving trees, the amount of wood on the ground, stream flows, soil absorption, the total mass of grass and shrubs and the number of elk, deer, squirrels, rabbits and other animals.
#Watershed A suffered a high-intensity crown fire, which means the flames jumped from one treetop to the next — rather than burning along the ground. The fire killed about 55 percent of the trees immediately — and about 75 percent of the survivors within a year or two. The patch of ground ended up bereft of trees, with even the fire-adapted gambol oaks mostly dying off along with the ponderosas and junipers.
#On the adjacent Watershed B, a road served as a firebreak that halted the crown fire next door. Instead, the fire there burned along the saplings, shrubs and downed wood on the ground. It consumed 5 percent of the trees immediately, with a total of about 15 percent dying from the effects of the fire in the next two years.
#The study demonstrated the dramatic effects of such high-intensity fires.
#For instance, the searing heat of the crown fire fused the soil in Watershed A, sharply reducing the rate at which the ground could absorb water — making it “hydrophobic.” Two-thirds of Watershed A had strongly hydrophobic soil and one third has moderately water repellent soil.
#By contrast, in Watershed B only one-third of the soil was strongly and 15 percent moderately hydrophobic.
#The combination of the loss of the trees and the changes in the soil produced dramatic changes for the next three years whenever it rained.
#For instance, a storm on Watershed A produced a stream flow that was 2,230 times what would have flowed into that same stream with the same amount of rainfall before the storm, according to estimates. By contrast, the storm increased stream flows in Watershed B by about 50 percent compared to pre-fire levels.
#In the fall of 2002, the severely burned area lost about 28 tons of topsoil per acre to erosion, compared to about 17 tons per acre in the moderately burned area. In the spring of 2004, the severely burned area lost 35 tons of topsoil per acre compared to about 20 tons in the moderately burned area. A stable area in a normal year will lose almost no topsoil to erosion.
#The figures offer a sobering cautionary note for Rim Country, whose water future now depends on the Blue Ridge Reservoir, which sits in a small, wet, thickly forested watershed. Payson officials have urged the U.S. Forest Service to make thinning the watershed of the Blue Ridge Reservoir a high priority, for fear a crown fire could cause a dramatic increase in erosion — which would reduce the life of the deep, narrow reservoir.
#The study found that plants, grass and shrubs returned to both areas quickly — with the severely burned area actually producing more grass and shrubs initially than the lightly burned area. That’s probably because in the lightly burned area most of the trees survived and continued to shade the ground and compete for water with the ground cover.
#Elk actually used the severely burned area more than the lightly burned area initially, probably reflecting the initial, denser growth of grass. Mule deer returned quickly to both areas, but in smaller numbers.
#On the other hand, many of the smaller animals like rabbits remained all but absent in the severely burned area — along with pine tree dependent species like Abert’s Squirrels.
#Fewer birds also returned to the severely burned area, probably because they no longer had the diverse habitat offered by the tree canopy.
Yes, you heard some of these observations first by individuals on this blog. I would just comment that people can figure out how to plant trees and get them to grow back. About 40 years ago the Forest Service started a major effort to figure it out. The FS had reforestation experts hired, administrative studies of various cultural practices and nurseries to experiment with practices, investments in refrigerated trucks and tree coolers, etc. If we had a small amount of the bucks directed to downscaled modeling, I bet we could figure it out.