When a wildfire rages across your land, it often burns through the trees, plants and leaf litter covering the ground, sometimes leaving nothing behind but the scorched soil underneath.
Trees, vegetation and leaf litter generally serve as a sort of buffer for the soil, slowing down the rain and lessening the force of drops as they pelt the ground. But when that buffer has burned away, rain can easily wash away the most-fertile, top layer of soil.
With the fertile soil eroded and no leaf litter—which generally houses a bank of seeds from various plants—on the ground, it can be incredibly hard to get plants and trees re-established.
Soil erosion can also cause problems for the local water supply. As the soil erodes in the forest, it flows into water courses and water sheds, making the water cloudy. Soil erosion on farmland can be even more troubling because the soil often has been treated with pesticides and chemicals, which flow along with the soil into the water supply.
You can help prevent soil erosion and sedimentation by re-stabilizing the soil on your property and providing it with some structure.
- Sow rye seed along with a mix of native grasses and forbs (weeds) to help stabilize the soil. If possible, plant it shortly before it’s supposed to rain. Considered an annual, the rye grass may last through the winter, but it will eventually die. The native grasses and forbs then will establish themselves and help to hold the soil in place and provide wildlife with food.
- Fell (cut down) dead trees along the contour of sloped areas—also known as the contour felling of dead trees—and either tie them in with surrounding tree stumps or stake them to create barriers for water as it flows down the slope.
- Keep an eye on both exotic and native invasive species. The fire may have killed the top of the plant but it can still sprout from its base and regrow. You likely will need to follow up with herbicide treatments to ensure invasive species do not take over your property.
- Closely manage your oak tree stands to ensure that you do not end up with an overpopulated oak forest. Herbicide treatments also may be necessary in controlling the oaks that re-sprout following the burn.