Logging BMPs Protect Land And Water

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Published on: Aug. 2, 2002

Last revision: Nov. 12, 2010

Farming, construction and road building regularly expose soil to natural forces that break apart and dislodge soil particles. This exposure is where erosion begins. Compaction of soil by heavy equipment compounds the problem by causing increased runoff. Rather than being absorbed, rainwater runs along the surface of compacted soil, building force and volume along the way. This runoff carries soil particles downslope or downstream. Levels of water-borne soil can increase to the point that water quality becomes degraded. When this happens, soil - as sediment - becomes a pollutant.

Very little erosion occurs in a healthy and vigorous forest. The crowns of trees, the foliage and stems of shrubs and herbaceous plants, ground-level woody debris and leaf litter absorb much of the force of falling raindrops. Mineral soil is largely shielded from impact by organic material above it. In addition, forest soils are porous and easily absorb rainwater once it hits the ground. Consequently, there is little runoff, so little sediment leaves a forest environment.

That changes when a logging operation moves into the woods, but not as you might expect. Logging itself results in little erosion. Vegetative cover and leaf litter are still largely intact once a tree is felled. Most of the sediment flowing from a timber harvest area comes from soil exposed on skid trails, haul roads and log landings. BMPs help soften the impact by reducing erosion and runoff during and after a logging operation, and by shortening the time it takes for the forest to return to a pre-harvest condition.

Best Management Practices fall into two broad categories. They are: 1) measures to reduce erosion and runoff (and to eliminate chemical pollutants) coming from timber harvest areas; and 2) measures to protect streams, springs, ponds and other bodies of water directly by establishing stream-side management zones. The first category tells you what to do, while the second category warns you about what not to do.

Nearly 90 percent of the erosion from logging operations comes from roads laid down for access to the harvest area. Proper planning, placement and maintenance of roads are vital to prevent erosion and runoff. Before laying out roads, study a topographic map and a soil survey for your best routes. Remember that some topographic features and soil types can support a logging operation better than others. Build your roads with proper drainage in mind, and avoid wet areas if possible.

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