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Best Management Practices Protect Water Quality

by James B. “Jim” Kea
Area Extension Forestry Agent – now retired
Thursday, February 9th, 2006

The issue of water quality relative to timber harvesting is very important, but also badly misunderstood by the general public. The act of felling a tree causes no increase in overland water flow and insignificant changes in erosion, sedimentation or water quality, and this fact applies whether stands are clear cut or selectively harvested.
Rain falling on scattered patches of bare soil will not cause erosion unless the patches form long unbroken pathways downhill. Maintaining a continuous layer of forest floor litter such as leaves, weeds, grasses, twigs, and branches is sufficient to prevent sedimentation from most North Carolina soils.

The real culprit is not timber harvesting, but is timber removal via improperly constructed or poorly located skid trails and logging roads. Best management practices and proper road construction can virtually eliminate erosion and soil degradation from timber harvesting. It is essential that the landowner cooperatively plan the timber harvest with the logger and a forester and incorporate the following considerations into a written timber sale contract:

  • Filter strips should be left on all stream borders to trap sediment, provide wildlife habitat, and maintain cool water temperatures;
  • Roads and skid trails should be located to avoid steep slopes, or long downhill runs;
  • Culverts or bridges should be installed on stream crossings;
  • Water breaks, gravel, and out-sloping of roads should be applied to critical roaded areas;
  • Logging should be restricted during wet weather to prevent rutting and/or specialty equipment may be recommended on wet sites; and finally,
  • Roads and trails should be resurfaced and seeded following logging to supplement natural vegetation when needed.

Environmentally acceptable timber harvesting is feasible, but it is the landowner’s responsibility to insure that damage is avoided. For more information, contact your County Extension Office, or Division of Forestry Office and ask for Pocket Guide to the Forest Practices Guidelines related to Water Quality and Maintaining the Forestry Exemption Under the Sedimentation Pollution Control Act.


Revised 2/16/2006, 10/13/2011.