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Forest management, wildfire, and climate impacts on the hydrology of Sierra Nevada mixed-conifer watersheds


Forest Management, wildfire, and climate impacts on the hydrology of Sierra Nevada mixed-conifer watersheds by Philip Saksa. Ph.D. Environmental Systems. University of California, Merced. Committee Chair: Roger Bales. The research presented in this dissertation aims to 1) assess the water balance of headwater catchments in the Sierra Nevada and determine if fuel treatments implemented in 2012 impacted runoff, 2) use a hydro-ecologic model to simulate the effects of fuel treatments and modeled wildfire at a larger fireshed scale, and 3) to investigate the interaction of vegetation disturbance and projected temperature increases through 2100 to determine relative impacts on hydrologic fluxes. The high variability in annual precipitation, combined with low post-treatment precipitation, masked any detectable changes in headwater catchment runoff from fuel treatments. Model results, however, do show the potential of increased runoff with treatments at both the headwater and fireshed scales, particularly in the high precipitation region of the American River Basin, where vegetation is less water-limited. While the potential for increasing runoff with fuel treatments exists, and may be a co-benefit of reduced fire risk, high-precision equipment for measuring stream discharge may be necessary to verifiable detect these increases. Although increasing temperatures adversely affect snowpack storage, changes in runoff and evapotranspiration are limited to the highest potential temperature increases towards the end of the century, and have less of an impact than vegetation disturbances.

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