Great Basin Fact Sheet No. 6: Wind Erosion Following Wildfire in Great Basin Ecosystems
By: Matthew J. Germino
Wind erosion is a problem in Great Basin shrublands, particularly following large wildfires or other disturbances that remove the protective cover plants provide to soil. This fact sheet aims to introduce the basic patterns, concepts, and terminology of wind erosion and to provide a basic framework for erosion risk assessment and response.
Soil structure and function are important to the resistance, resilience, and overall function of semiarid ecosystems of the Great Basin, and soil erosion can have large ecosystem effects. Much of the Great Basin is flat or gently sloped, so erosion is often wind driven (aeolian or eolian) rather than water driven. Wind erosion occurs semi-regularly in playas, sand dunes, some salt desert sites, and croplands, but shrub and grasslands of the Great Basin usually do not have appreciable wind erosion in their undisturbed state.
- Although soil stability is a major concern following wildfire, efforts to monitor, report, and evaluate wind erosion are rare. These actions are needed to respond to wind erosion events and to enable adaptive management.
- Wind erosion occurs in a variety of forms and impacts ranging from innocuous to severe, such as removal of topsoil, and degradation of downwind air, water, and land resources.
- A variety of indirect and direct methods can be used to measure soil stability, such as time-lapse photography, erosion bridges or pins, collectors that trap soil from passing air, and soil pedon classifications.
- Managers may reduce erosion impacts by avoiding destabilizing burned areas that are prone to erosion through treatments that further disturb soil or prolong bare soil exposure, and by avoiding putting investments like seedings and plantings where wind erosion may degrade them.
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This fact sheet is part of the Great Basin Fact Sheet Series compiled collaboratively by WAFWA, USFS, BLM, NRCS, RMRS, ARS, USGS, and FWS. The series provides land managers with brief summaries of current science concepts and management strategies related to conservation and restoration of the sagebrush sea.