The wildfire regime in Canada’s boreal region is changing; extended fire seasons are characterized by more frequent large fires (≥200 ha) burning greater areas of land, whilst climate-mediated drying is increasing the vulnerability of peatlands to deep burning. Proactive management strategies, such as fuel modification treatments, are necessary to reduce fire danger at the wildland-human interface (WHI). Novel approaches to fuel management are especially needed in peatlands where deep smouldering combustion is a challenge to suppression efforts and releases harmful emissions. Here, we integrate surface compression within conventional stand treatments to examine the potential for reducing smouldering of near-surface moss and peat. A linear model (adj. R2=0.62, p=2.2e-16) revealed that ground cover (F(2,101)=60.97, p<0.001) and compression (F(1,101)=56.46, p<0.001) had the greatest effects on smouldering potential, while stand treatment did not have a significant effect (F(3,101)=0.44, p=0.727). On average, compressed Sphagnum and feather moss plots showed 57.1% and 58.7% lower smouldering potential, respectively, when compared to uncompressed analogs. While practical evaluation is warranted to better understand the evolving effectiveness of this strategy, these findings demonstrate that a compression treatment can be successfully incorporated within both managed and unmanaged peatlands to reduce fire danger at the WHI.
A suite of autogenic ecohydrological feedbacks and moss traits are important for protecting vast peatland carbon stocks following wildfire disturbance. Here, we examine how peat burn severity and water table depth (WTD) affect the strength of one such feedback—the hydrophobicity–evaporation feedback (HEF). The HEF is an evaporation‐limiting feedback known to minimize water loss following wildfire. The peatland surface becomes hydrophobic creating an evaporative cap and thereby reducing post‐fire evaporation; however, recent studies hypothesize that this is dependent on peat burn severity. To test this hypothesis, we studied plots along a peat burn severity gradient in a partially drained black spruce peatland that burned during the 2016 Fort McMurray Horse River wildfire. Evaporation rates were significantly lower in plots where hydrophobicity was present. Hydrophobicity was lowest in the severely burned area, and the average instantaneous evaporation rate (2.75 mm day−1) was significantly higher than moderately and typical‐lightly burned areas (0.82 and 1.64 mm day−1, respectively). Based on lab results, increasing WTD affected hydrophobicity within lightly burned (singed) feather moss samples but not in heavily burned feather moss, showing the importance of post‐fire ground cover and in situ WTD. Our results provide evidence of a burn severity threshold where increased depth of burn removes the feather moss evaporative cap and causes the HEF to break down. We argue that this threshold has important implications for boreal peatlands, which are predicted to undergo climate‐mediated pre‐fire drying and increasing burn severities, potentially leading to further carbon losses due to enhanced post‐fire drying and concomitant decomposition.