USDA Forest Service

Pacific Southwest Research Station

Pacific Southwest
Research Station

800 Buchanan Street
Albany, CA 94710-0011
(510) 883-8830
United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. USDA logo which links to the department's national site. Forest Service logo which links to the agency's national site.

Effects of pile burning in the Tahoe Basin on soil and water quality

Principal Investigators:
Ken Hubbert, USDA Forest Service-Pacific Southwest Research Station
Matt Busse, USDA Forest Service-Pacific Southwest Research Station
Steven Overby, USDA Forest Service-Rocky Mountain Research Station

Proposal [pdf]

Final Report [pdf]

Additional Reports:
2018 Follow-up Report [pdf]
Hubbert et al. 2015 [pdf]
Busse et al. 2013 [pdf]

Please contact Dr. Matt Busse with questions regarding the final report.

Project Summary

Recent efforts to restore the structure and composition of many western forests have resulted in an increase in the use of pile burning as a fuel reduction tool. Post-thinning slash piles are often relatively small, hand built, and more numerous per unit area compared with traditional tractor piling following intensive harvesting.

Burning of small piles gives managers a cost-effective alternative for reducing fuel loads when prescribed underburning is restricted (e.g., at the wildland-urban interface) or when ground-based mechanical harvesting is prohibited (e.g., slopes exceeding 30%). The ecological effects of pile burning have not been well understood and whether pile burning results in undesirable changes in soil properties or nutrient runoff has been unclear.

The final report presents findings from a three-year study of pile burning in the Lake Tahoe Basin. The goal of the project was to provide scientifically credible results that would inform land managers and the public about potential impacts of pile burning on soil and water quality.