Date of Award

August 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Forestry and Environmental Conservation

Committee Member

Alex T Chow

Committee Member

Donald L Hagan

Committee Member

Martin TK Tsui


Forest management practices including prescribed burning and mechanical thinning are used to maintain the best health of a forest for the intended management goal. These management practices disturb natural biogeochemical cycles including carbon and mercury. Forest floor detritus materials and woody fuels serve as the main source of carbon and mercury that naturally grows and shrinks during normal decomposition cycles. Management manipulates the forest floor through material removal as a result of prescribed burning or an addition of materials due to mechanical thinning. Compounded with post management hydrologic factors there is potential for localized and downstream impacts. Management practices are chosen to meet managements goals with consideration to site specific factors like small-scale pile burning in previously fires suppressed areas compared to more traditional methods but should not neglect impacts on important biogeochemical cycles. In this study we examined rainwater leachate from prescribed burning and mechanical thinning materials from a South Carolina watershed in a controlled field experiment and surface water runoff from prescribed pile burning in Sierra Nevada, California to determine changes in water quality. In South Carolina we found that mechanical thinning leaf materials exported the largest quantities of dissolved organic carbon, but prescribed burning materials exported larger quantities of total dissolved mercury (filtered) which we attribute to the increased aromatic character. In California we find that prescribed pile burning exhibited no considerable impacts on water quality and therefore may be a suitable method for forest management, especially due to the low risk of a runaway wildfire when using this method.



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