Long-term Effects of Prescribed Fire and Fire Surrogate Treatments on Southern Appalachian Mountain Forest Soil Chemistry

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Virginia Tech

As a response to rising wildfire hazard and forest structure and composition concerns, the National Fire and Fire Surrogate Study was established in 2000 to determine how fuel reduction and ecosystem restoration techniques might affect ecosystem properties and processes across the United States. Soil chemistry and the southern Appalachian Mountains were an ecosystem property and ecoregion of interest, respectively. Treatments utilized at this site included: prescribed fire alone (3 burns), mechanical cutting of understory shrubs and midstory trees alone (2 cuttings), and a combination of the two (2 installations). Soils were sampled in 2018 to determine potential treatment impacts for: O horizon and mineral soil (0-10 cm depth) carbon (C), nitrogen (N), carbon:nitrogen (C:N) and mineral soil calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), and pH. Results suggested slight, but statistically significant changes in O horizon C and N and mineral soil C, N, C:N, Ca, and P values from 2001-2018 differed statistically between the treatments. Soil responses differed significantly between the replications utilized in this study and also did not fully agree with results from previous sampling that occurred following the first implementation of these treatments. This research highlights the spatial and temporal nature of soil responses to management. When considered with previously reported vegetation and fuels results from this site, it appeared that prescribed burning with and without mechanical cutting presented the most promise to achieve ecosystem restoration and fuel reduction properties without altering forest soil chemistry.

ForestrySoil Chemistry, Ecosystem Restoration, Wildfire Hazard