Prescribed burning and erosion potential in mixed hardwood forests of southern Illinois.
Prescribed fire has several benefits for managing forest ecosystems including reduction of fuel loading and invasive species and enhanced regeneration of desirable tree species. Along with these benefits there are some limitations like nutrient and sediment loss which have not been studied extensively in mixed hardwood forests. The objective of our research was to quantify the amount of sediment movement occurring on a watershed scale due to prescribed fire in a southern Illinois mixed hardwood ecosystem. The research site was located at Trail of Tears State Forest in western Union county, IL, USA and included five watershed pairs. One watershed in each pair was randomly assigned the prescribed burn treatment and the other remained as control (i.e., unburned). The prescribed burn treatment significantly reduced the litter depth with 12.6%-31.5% litter remaining in the prescribed burn treatment watersheds. When data were combined across all watersheds, no significant differences were obtained between burn treatment and control watershed for total suspended solids and sediment concentrations or loads. The annual sediment losses varied from 1.41 to 90.54 kg.ha-1.year-1 in the four prescribed burn watersheds and 0.81 to 2.54 kg.ha-1.year-1 in the four control watersheds. Prescribed burn watershed 7 showed an average soil sediment loss of 4.2 mm, whereas control watershed 8 showed an average accumulation of sediments (9.9 mm), possibly due to steeper slopes. Prescribed burning did not cause a significant increase in soil erosion and sediment loss and can be considered acceptable in managing mixed hardwood forests of Ozark uplands and the Shawnee Hills physiographic regions of southern Illinois.