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Rocky Mountain Research Station
Forestry Sciences Laboratory - Moscow, Idaho
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Soil & Water
Research Areas:

Road Erosion
Fire Effects
Disturbed Forests
Upland Watersheds

Slope Stability
Erosion Modeling
Climate Modeling

Project Leader:
William J. Elliot
email Bill

Last Revised:

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Measuring Hillslope Erosion with Silt Fences

Cleaning out sediment first year, 2002 Hayman fire, Pike-San Isabel National Forest.

Measuring hillslope erosion has historically been a costly, time-consuming practice. An easy to install low-cost technique using silt fences (geotextile fabric) and tipping bucket rain gauges to measure onsite hillslope erosion was developed and tested. Equipment requirements, installation procedures, statistical design, and analysis methods for measuring hillslope erosion are discussed. The use of silt fences is versatile; various plot sizes can be used to measure hillslope erosion in different settings and to determine effectiveness of various treatments or practices. Silt fences are installed by making a sediment trap facing upslope such that runoff cannot go around the ends of the silt fence. The silt fence is folded to form a pocket for the sediment to settle on and reduce the possibility of sediment undermining the silt fence. Cleaning out and weighing the accumulated sediment in the field can be accomplished with a portable hanging or platform scale at various time intervals depending on the necessary degree of detail in the measurement of erosion (that is, after every storm, quarterly, or seasonally). Silt fences combined with a tipping bucket rain gauge provide an easy, low-cost method to quantify precipitation/hillslope erosion relationships. Trap efficiency of the silt fences are greater than 90 percent efficient, thus making them suitable to estimate hillslope erosion.
Installing silt fences to monitor the effectiveness of hydromulch after the 2003 Myrtle Creek fire, Idaho Panhandle National Forest.


Full fence after the 2000 Bitterroot Valley fires.

Key reference for silt fence installation and analysis:

Interactive spreadsheet files for silt fence statistical analysis in Microsoft Excel format:


Other publications regarding silt fence usage and data collection:

Cleaning sediment after the 1998 North-25 fire in the Wenatchee National forest.

Comparing the effectiveness of a straw waddle after the 2000 Bitterroot Valley fires.


Requester/Organization/Location Questions Being Studied Date

Hot Creek fire, Boise NF Postfire treatment effectiveness--flow check 2003
Myrtle Fire, Idaho Panhandle NF Postfire treatment effectiveness--hydromulch 2003
Roberts Fire, Flathead NF Postfire treatment effectiveness--surfactants 2003
Hayman Fire, Pike-San Isabel NF Postfire treatment effectiveness--wood straw 2002
Rodeo-Chediski Fire  
F. Sandberg, Sho Lo High School Postifre treatment effectiveness 2002
S. Moore, BLM-Oregon Postfire treatment effectiveness 2002
Dr. S. Wondzell, OSU Hillslope erosion from Rx fire--JFSP funded 2002
L. Wasniewski, Deschutes NF Monitoring BAER treatment effectiveness and salvaging logging effects 2002
E. Grote, USGS-BRD, Moab, UT Measure canyon road traffic effects 2001
C. Hermandorfer, Uinta NF
W. Christian
Hillslope erosion from various burn severities 2001
Dr. F. Smith, Watershed Science, CSU Hillslope erosion from various burn severities 2000
G. Orton, Umpqua NF Hillslope erosion from various burn severities 2000
Dr. J. McIvers, PNW Salvage logging effects 2000

Silt fence installation Finished silt fence

Silt fence installation and completion, after the 2003 Hot Creek fire, James Creek, Atlanta -- comparing to the effectiveness of straw mulch.