Conservation Corner: Aug. 20, 2020

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Forest Health and Wildfire

What is hydrophobicity and why are hydrophobic soils significant? Many resources are dependent upon each other, leaving no room for error in one without affecting several others. Severe fires burning with high intensity impact the soil, forest, and watershed health for many years to come. 

After a fire burns a landscape and the fire fighters go home, the real impacts become noticeable. The baked soil, devoid of most nutrients, develops a waxy coating that repels the water. This is known as a hydrophobic soil.  Flash floods, landslides, and sediment build up in streams and reservoirs because the rain cannot penetrate the hydrophobic soils. Irrigators and municipalities must spend significant time and money cleaning out irrigation channels and rebuilding water structures. Overall water quality is affected and can impact fish habitat.

Overall forest health can influence the size and intensity of a wildfire. Healthy forests are less likely to burn at such a high intensity or succumb to mega fires. More frequent and less intense fires can clear the understory or ladder fuels from forest floors, encouraging smaller fires and healthy regrowth.  

Certain plants are pyrophytic- meaning they tolerate and thrive in fire. This happens by fire melting the seed casings or chemical signals from the smoke breaking their dormancy. 

Other species such as ponderosa pines thrive with 5 – 25-year fire cycles which burn the grasses, shrubs, and small trees, and maintained an open stand of larger ponderosa pine trees. 

Proactive management of forests will promote better soil, vegetation, and watershed health, while decreasing the likelihood of a devastating wildfire. Additional forest health information can be found at http://www.whiterivercd.com/forestry.html.