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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract - Ecosystem Restoration

Rapidly Eroding Piñon–Juniper Woodlands in New Mexico


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 32 No. 4, p. 1290-1298
    Received: Mar 15, 2002

    * Corresponding author(s): bhastings@balancehydro.com
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  1. Brian K. Hastings *,
  2. Freeman M. Smith and
  3. Brian F. Jacobs
  1. Watershed Science Program, Colorado State Univ., Fort Collins, Colorado 80523


The piñon (Pinus edulis Engelm.)–juniper [Juniperus monosperma (Engelm.) Sarg.] woodlands of Bandelier National Monument are experiencing accelerated erosion. Earlier studies suggest that causes of these rapidly eroding woodlands are related to an unprecedented rapid transition of ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa C. Lawson) savanna to piñon–juniper woodlands as a result of cumulative historical effects of overgrazing, fire suppression, and severe drought. To study the effectiveness of slash treatment in reducing accelerated erosion, we used sediment check dams to quantify sediment yield from twelve paired microwatersheds (300–1100 m2) within an existing paired watershed study. Six of the twelve microwatersheds were located in a 41-ha (treatment) watershed with scattered slash treatment, whereas six microwatersheds were located in an adjacent 35-ha untreated (control) watershed. The primary purpose of our research was to quantify the rates of sediment yield between the treated and control microwatersheds. Sediment yield was measured from 15 individual storms during the months of June–September (2000 and 2001). In response to slash treatment, mean seasonal sediment yield for 2000 equaled 2.99 Mg/ha in the control vs. 0.03 Mg/ha in the treatment and 2.07 Mg/ha in the control vs. 0.07 Mg/ha in the treatment in 2001. The practice of slash treatment demonstrates efficacy in reducing erosion in degraded piñon–juniper woodlands by encouraging herbaceous recovery. Our data show that slash treatment increases total ground cover (slash and herbaceous growth) beyond a potential erosion threshold. Restored piñon–juniper woodlands, as the result of slash treatment, provide a forest structure similar to pre-grazing and pre-fire suppression conditions and decrease catastrophic fire hazard.

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Copyright © 2003. American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Soil Science SocietyPublished in J. Environ. Qual.32:1290–1298.