International Journal of Wildland Fire International Journal of Wildland Fire Society
Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire

Synthesis of sediment yields after wildland fire in different rainfall regimes in the western United States

John A. Moody A B and Deborah A. Martin A

A US Geological Survey, 3215 Marine Street, Suite E-127, Boulder, CO 80303, USA. Email:

B Corresponding author. Email:

International Journal of Wildland Fire 18(1) 96-115
Submitted: 4 November 2007  Accepted: 15 May 2008   Published: 17 February 2009


Measurements of post-fire sediment erosion, transport, and deposition collected within 2 years of a wildfire were compiled from the published literature (1927–2007) for sites across the western United States. Annual post-fire sediment yields were computed and grouped into four measurement methods (hillslope point and plot measurements, channel measurements of suspended-sediment and sediment erosion or deposition volumes). Post-fire sediment yields for each method were then grouped into eight different rainfall regimes. Mean sediment yield from channels (240 t ha–1) was significantly greater than from hillslopes (82 t ha–1). This indicated that on the time scale of wildfire (10–100 years) channels were the primary sources of available sediment. A lack of correlation of sediment yield with topographic slope and soil erodibility further suggested that sediment availability may be more important than slope or soil erodibility in predicting post-fire sediment yields. The maximum post-fire sediment yields were comparable to long-term sediment yields from major rivers of the world. Based on 80 years of data from the literature, wildfires have been an important geomorphic agent of landscape change when linked with sufficient rainfall. These effects are limited in spatial scale to the immediate burned area and to downstream channel corridors.


The present project started in 1996 as a multi-disciplinary effort within the US Geological Survey (USGS) supported by the National Research Program of the USGS Water Resources Discipline to visit burned areas across the western United States in order to learn about fire regimes, post-fire consequences, invasive species, research gaps, and data needs. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the land managers and scientists within the USDA Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and elsewhere who took their time to show us sites, and share published literature and unpublished reports and their knowledge gleaned from burned watersheds. Many of these site visits have led to fruitful multiagency collaborations. We particularly thank Craig Allen, USGS-Biological Resources Discipline, for his generous support for additional site visits and this synthesis through the project, ‘Response of Western Mountain Ecosystems to Climatic Variability and Change: the Western Mountain Initiative’. Thanks to Dr Claire Hay, Metropolitan State College of Denver, for helpful discussions and the GIS map in the present report. The manuscript has been considerably improved by suggestions by Waite Osterkamp, USGS, and Tom Lisle, USFS, and the insightful comments of two anonymous reviewers.


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