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Individual Highlight

Planning it Forward: Building Erosion Prediction Databases to Support Rapid Assessment of Post-fire Erosion Risks

Photo of Straw bales to be spread on the most erodible parts of U.S. Bureau of Land Management-administered land following the 2015 Butte Fire near Sacramento, Calif. U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.Straw bales to be spread on the most erodible parts of U.S. Bureau of Land Management-administered land following the 2015 Butte Fire near Sacramento, Calif. U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.Snapshot : Following wildfires, Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) teams are frequently assembled to quickly assess on-site and off-site risks to resources such as water supplies, bridges and culverts, recreational resources, and human life and property. One of the assessments BAER teams frequently carry out is the risk of erosion, and how that erosion risk is distributed throughout the burned area. Forest Service scientists and their research partners developed an online databse to combine various sources of information for managers enabling a quick spatial analysis of erosion risk.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Elliot, William J.  
Research Location : Idaho, Montana, California - applicable nationwide
Research Station : Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS)
Year : 2016
Highlight ID : 1186

Summary

Following wildfires, Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) teams are frequently assembled to quickly assess on-site and off-site risks to resources such as water supplies; bridges and culverts; recreational resources; and human life and property. One of the assessments BAER teams frequently carry out is the risk of erosion, and how that erosion risk is distributed throughout the burned area. Historically, it took more than a week to assemble the necessary data to evaluate erosion risks for large fires. This is because of the numerous agencies involved, like the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), and the need to format the data in a Geographic Information System (GIS) for predictive models. Because of this difficulty, BAER teams were unable to carry out a detailed spatial analysis of erosion risk on larger fires. Forest Service scientists at the agency’s Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS), in collaboration with Michigan Technological Research Institute (MTRI), received a grant from NASA to develop an online database that would quickly combine the information provided by satellite images that showed the distribution of fire severity with USGS and NRCS databases and deliver that information in a format that was readily accessible by the Water Erosion Prediction Project Geospatial Interface. During the development of the online database, MTRI and the Forest Service assisted with the evaluation of numerous wildfires in California, Oregon, and Idaho. In one of the 2014 analyses in California, the predicted erosion distribution was used to target more than $1 million in mulching to the critical areas above a water supply reservoir. The database proved to be extremely valuable in 2015 when two fires (Butte Fire and Valley Fire) in central California covering more than 100 square miles each were both modeled within a week to assist federal and state agencies in evaluating risks and targeting mitigation. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management used the results to target mulching on critical hillslopes. The NRCS used the information to provide private land owners with federal funds to supplement the cost of erosion and runoff mitigation. The scientists are working to integrate additional components into the software and to make it more accessible.

For more information, or to access the database, go to:http://geodjango.mtri.org/geowepp/

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

 
  • Mary Ellen Miller, Michigan Technological Research Institute