Factors Influencing Watershed Resilience to Wildfire

Warner College of Natural Resources




Primary Topic:

Natural Resources and Sustainability

Other Topics:

No additional topic areas, only my selection from previous question

Lead Mentor:  

Ellen Wohl

Professor of Geology

Internship Overview:

Both mentors have extensive experience mentoring and advising students. We will provide hands-on training, guidance, and support for self-motivated and curious students interested in problems that bridge important environmental and societally relevant issues.

Goals, Scope and Objectives:

Watershed resilience to post-fire increases in water and sediment fluxes depends partly on physical characteristics such as watershed size and steepness, and valley network configuration. Resilience also depends on characteristics that humans have modified in the past (e.g., beaver presence, logjams in the channel, hydrologic connectivity of the channel and floodplain) and can manage in the future to increase resilience. We have a distinct contrast between subwatersheds in the Poudre River drainage basin that exhibited lack of resilience following the 2020 Cameron Peak Fire (e.g., Black Hollow) and subwatersheds that were remarkably resilient to post-fire floods and debris flows (e.g., Little Beaver Creek, or LBC). We will examine differences between these subwatersheds to understand what promotes resilience. We know that both subwatersheds experienced (i) very intense rainfall during the 2021 and 2022 runoff seasons and (ii) flash floods and debris flows. We hypothesize that LBC was more resilient because it includes numerous abandoned beaver dams and logjams that attenuated downstream fluxes of water and sediment during these runoff seasons. This hypothesis will be tested using remote topographic data (lidar coverage) and field-based measurements of the abundance, spatial distribution, and geomorphic effects (water & sediment storage) of beaver modifications and logjams. The intern will participate in field data collection, data processing, and analysis. Results of this study will contribute important insights regarding the sources and restoration of watershed resilience post-fire. This information will be used to support post-fire restoration to enhance watershed resilience to fires.

With which stakeholder group(s) will the intern work?

The City of Fort Collins, US Forest Service, and private landowners.

What student learning outcomes do you anticipate and what are the opportunities for professional development?

The student intern will gain proficiency in field measurements of large wood and beaver dams and associated sediment storage, sediment collection and grain-size analyses, topographic surveying using state-of-art equipment, vegetation plot counts, and collaboration with diverse stakeholders. Professional development will occur through exposure to applied, interdisciplinary research, interactions with diverse faculty and extension mentors, graduate students and stakeholders, opportunities for continued involvement with the project including sediment analyses, GIS-based analyses, and communicating the results to the broader community.
Scroll to Top