Rill erosion in burned and salvage logged western montane forests: Effects of logging equipment type, traffic level, and slash treatment

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© 2016 Elsevier B.V. Following wildfires, forest managers often consider salvage logging burned trees to recover monetary value of timber, reduce fuel loads, or to meet other objectives. Relatively little is known about the cumulative hydrologic effects of wildfire and subsequent timber harvest using logging equipment. We used controlled rill experiments in logged and unlogged (control) forests burned at high severity in northern Montana, eastern Washington, and southern British Columbia to quantify rill overland flow and sediment production rates (fluxes) after ground-based salvage logging. We tested different types of logging equipment—feller-bunchers, tracked and wheeled skidders, and wheeled forwarders—as well as traffic levels and the addition of slash to skid trails as a best management practice. Rill experiments were done at each location in the first year after the fire and repeated in subsequent years. Logging was completed in the first or second post-fire year. We found that ground-based logging using heavy equipment compacted soil, reduced soil water repellency, and reduced vegetation cover. Vegetation recovery rates were slower in most logged areas than the controls. Runoff rates were higher in the skidder and forwarder plots than their respective controls in the Montana and Washington sites in the year that logging occurred, and the difference in runoff between the skidder and control plots at the British Columbia site was nearly significant (p = 0.089). Most of the significant increases in runoff in the logged plots persisted for subsequent years. The type of skidder, the addition of slash, and the amount of forwarder traffic did not significantly affect the runoff rates. Across the three sites, rill sediment fluxes were 5–1900% greater in logged plots than the controls in the year of logging, and the increases were significant for all logging treatments except the low use forwarder trails. There was no difference in the first-year sediment fluxes between the feller-buncher and tracked skidder plots, but the feller-buncher fluxes were lower than the values from the wheeled skidder plots. Manually adding slash after logging did not affect sediment flux rates. There were no significant changes in the control sediment fluxes over time, and none of the logging equipment impacted plots produced greater sediment fluxes than the controls in the second or third year after logging. Our results indicate that salvage logging increases the risk of sedimentation regardless of equipment type and amount of traffic, and that specific best management practices are needed to mitigate the hydrologic impacts of post-fire salvage logging.

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Journal of Hydrology