Examining the Potential of Forest Residue-Based Amendments for Post-Wildfire Rehabilitation in Colorado, USA

Scientifica (Cairo). 2017;2017:4758316. doi: 10.1155/2017/4758316. Epub 2017 Feb 22.

Abstract

Wildfire is a natural disturbance, though elemental losses and changes that occur during combustion and post-fire erosion can have long-term impacts on soil properties, ecosystem productivity, and watershed condition. Here we evaluate the potential of forest residue-based materials to rehabilitate burned soils. We compare soil nutrient and water availability, and plant recovery after application of 37 t ha-1 of wood mulch, 20 t ha-1 of biochar, and the combination of the two amendments with untreated, burned soils. We also conducted a greenhouse trial to examine how biochar influenced soil nutrient and water content under two wetting regimes. The effects of wood mulch on plant-available soil N and water content were significant and seasonally consistent during the three-year field study. Biochar applied alone had few effects under field conditions, but significantly increased soil pH, Ca, P, and water in the greenhouse. The mulched biochar treatment had the greatest effects on soil N and water availability and increased cover of the most abundant native plant. We found that rehabilitation treatments consisting of forest residue-based products have potential to enhance soil N and water dynamics and plant recovery following severe wildfire and may be justified where erosion risk or water supply protection are crucial.