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Potential Erosion from Bladed Firelines in the Appalachian Region Estimated with USLE-Forest and WEPP Models

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Fire control agencies often control wildfires by blading firelines with bulldozers. Erosion from bladed firelines can degrade water quality, thus fireline rehabilitation best management practices (BMP) can be applied to reduce erosion. The study objective was to estimate the erosion potential produced from bladed firelines as influenced by fireline slope, rehabilitation, and litterfall. Data were collected from six wildfires located in the Ridge and Valley and Blue Ridge physiographic regions of Virginia. The Universal Soil Loss Equation adapted for forestland (USLE-Forest) and the Water Erosion Prediction Project (WEPP) were used to estimate erosion. Firelines were stratified into three slope classes: flat 0‐5%, intermediate 5‐30%, and steep > 30%. Five erosion samples were taken within each slope class; one each from the nonburned and burned areas, and three from the fireline. Erosion estimates from 15 areas were obtained within each wildfire. USLE-Forest estimates indicated that the steep firelines produced 4‐45-fold more erosion (P = 0.0005) than lower slope firelines. Using WEPP erosion estimates on new firelines, the steep firelines produced almost four-fold more erosion than the intermediate slope class, and 9 times more erosion than the flat slope class (P = 0.0068). Both erosion models indicated that rehabilitation treatments and natural litterfall reduced erosion within all slope classes. Results emphasize the importance planning firelines and the importance of timely fireline rehabilitation.
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Keywords: best management practices; erosion; fireline; universal soil loss equation; water erosion prediction project

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 August 2013

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