Prescribed fire effects on water quality and freshwater ecosystems in moist-temperate eastern North America.
Forests of the eastern United States provide numerous ecosystem services, including water filtration. Forest management activities of eastern forests often include prescribed fire to accomplish a variety of management objectives such as invasive species control, wildlife habitat improvement, ecosystem restoration, and hazardous fuel reduction. Despite widespread use of prescribed fire in this region and the need to maintain adequate water quality from forests impacted by this practice, there is a paucity of knowledge on prescribed fire's impacts on water quality. This article summarizes and consolidates known impacts of prescribed fire on chemical, physical, and biological properties related to water quality and freshwater ecosystems in moist-temperate eastern North America, including impacts on drinking water treatability. Based upon this synthesis, it appears that most prescribed fires in eastern forests are low intensity and low severity and cause minimal changes to forest soil properties, leading to minimal adverse impacts that might exacerbate soil erosion and adversely affect surface waters. In some cases, prescribed fire has been shown to enhance water quality in the region. Technological advancements in monitoring fire behavior have the potential to advance our knowledge regarding the effects of prescribed fire on water quality in the eastern forest region, particularly for fires of mixed or moderate severity and fires occurring in complex terrain.