Best Management Practices for Forest Harvests

Maryland State law and regulations require that a sediment control plan be developed and approved before undertaking any earth disturbing activity in excess of 5,000 square feet. To assist loggers and landowners in meeting this requirement, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have developed a Compliance Agreement for the Standard Erosion and Sediment Control Plan for Forest Harvest Operations (also referred to as a Standard Plan). This plan lists the general sediment control requirements for each harvest and may be obtained at any Soil Conservation District office. Other regulations concerning forest harvest operations require approved Standard Plans, e.g., Nontidal Wetlands and Chesapeake Bay Critical Areas.

The State of Maryland offers each county the ability to enforce the minimum requirements of these laws and regulations within their own county system. This is referred to as "delegation." These counties receiving delegation must prove they will enforce at least the minimum requirements of State law and regulation regarding soil erosion and sedimentation. Some counties have increased the requirements for insuring no sedimentation or soil erosion will occur as result of a forest harvest. If you do not know the requirements of a particular county, contact the Soil Conservation District office in that county or the resident Department of Natural Resources forester.

When a harvest is planned on private property, it is necessary to go to the local Soil Conservation District office to obtain the Compliance Agreement for the Standard Erosion and Sediment Control Plan for Forest Harvest Operations (Standard Plan) and have it approved. Harvests on State and Federal land require plan approval by MDE. A provision of the plan requires that the landowner also agree to follow the sediment control requirements.

Requirements of the Standard Plan

The potential for loss of sediment from a forest harvest site is greatest at three general locations: entrance points to the site, forest access system (haul roads, skid trails and landings), and adjacent to watercourses. The Standard Plan, therefore, emphasizes sediment control in these areas. Instructions for installing the required sediment control practices are listed in a document entitled Soil Erosion and Sediment Control Guidelines for Forest Harvest Operations in Maryland. This document is available for a fee by calling the Maryland Department of the Environment at (410) 631-3000.

The primary requirements for these areas are as follows.

Site Entrance

Access points to the site which lead from a paved road must be protected with stone, wood chips, corduroy logs, wooden mats or other materials which will prevent soil or mud from being tracked onto the road. It is also necessary to prevent the existing drainage pattern from being blocked or damaged by the access construction. A culvert placed underneath the road entrance is the most effective way to maintain proper drainage.

Trails and Landings

Advance planning of the location of roads, trails and landings is an effective way to minimize the potential for soil erosion. Locating roads and trails along natural contours and minimum slopes will reduce the need for substantial cutting and filling operations.

When planning the road system avoid stream crossings whenever possible as they create one of the greatest potential sediment pollution hazards. Permits for a "Temporary Access Crossing" for streams may be required. You should check with the Maryland Department of the Environment Water Management Administration before proceeding.

Waterway Protection

Protecting watercourses from runoff and equipment damage is the most critical aspect of sediment control during harvest operations. Improper stream crossings, soil disturbance adjacent to streams, and logging debris left in streams may result in sediment pollution and flooding.

To protect streams and other watercourses, the Standard Plan requires that uncut buffer strips be left on either side of the watercourse. The undisturbed buffer will intercept sediment-laden water and filter out the sediment. Equipment is to be kept out of buffer areas to prevent soil compaction. If soil within a buffer becomes compacted, rainwater will not soak into the soil as effectively, and may enter the stream as sediment pollution. Runoff into streams also increases the volume of flow, thereby accelerating streambank erosion and flooding potential.

Additional Requirements

In addition to the practices listed for the above areas, it is necessary to stabilize certain portions of the harvest site with seed and/or mulch to prevent future erosion. This requirement generally applies to roads, trails and landings which would not regenerate natural vegetation because of steep slopes.

Modification of Standard Plans

Situations may arise when it is not possible, even with careful planning, to comply with all the requirements of the Standard Plan. The slope of the land may be such that road cuts or fills, roads, trails or landings must exceed requirements of the Standard Plan. If all the conditions of the Standard Plan can not be met it is necessary to have a plan amendment prepared by a licensed forester prior to Soil Conservation District approval of the plan. The modification can be prepared either by State or private consultant foresters.

It is important that two types of information be included with plan modifications. The first is the location of the modification and the second is the specific sediment control to be used. The location of the modification should be described on a sketch of the job site (or whatever map is required by a particular county). Once the area where a plan modification is to occur has been identified, it is necessary to describe the extra precautions that will be taken to ensure adequate sediment control. For example, if road grades are to exceed fifteen percent, and turnouts are to be used to drain water from the road, the location of the turnouts should be noted on the plan sketch. To prevent water from the turnout from creating side bank erosion it may be necessary to install stone at the point where the water is discharged. The location of the stone should also be identified on the plan modification sketch.

Another example would be where a landing must be located on a slope exceeding ten percent. It may be necessary to install a silt fence or straw bale dike on the down-slope side of the landing to act as a sediment barrier.

In this case, the location of sediment controls and the type of final stabilization to be used at the landing should be noted on the plan. In summary, the important thing to remember is that it is necessary to identify the location and describe the specific sediment controls to be used whenever a plan modification is prepared.

Buffer Management Plans

The Standard Plan requires that uncut buffer zones, called Streamside Management Zones (SMZ), be maintained on all sides of perennial or intermittent streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, bogs or marshes. The width of the buffer is dependent upon the slope of the land adjacent to the watercourse. Because of the high potential for soil compaction, erosion and stream damage, roads, trails and harvesting equipment are not allowed in the buffer except as approved in a "Modification of the Standard Plan" or to provide access to approved stream crossings.

The Standard Plan does, however, allow limited harvesting within the buffer provided that a "Buffer Management Plan" is prepared by a licensed forester. "Buffer Management Plans" need to be very specific in describing which trees are to be cut, what precautions for sediment control will be taken, and where the sediment controls will be located. The location of any harvesting within a buffer must be identified on a sketch of the buffer. The sediment controls to be used for waterway protection and topography within the buffer must also be located on this sketch.

"Buffer Management Plans" should be prepared according to the following guidelines.

  1. A sketch shall be prepared which identifies all buffer areas to which the management plan applies. The location of any road, trails or stream crossings shall be noted on the sketch. Harvesting within a buffer will require the installation of specific sediment control measures and seeding and/or mulching of soil exposed during the harvest. The sketch should also note the location of any sediment controls, such as silt fence or straw bale dikes that are to be used.
  2. The objective of the "Buffer Management Plan" is to ensure that an effective wooded buffer (60 square feet/acre minimal basal area of evenly distributed trees, which are 6 inches or greater in diameter) of acceptable growing stock remains after harvest and that there is minimal damage to the humus and litter layers within the buffer.
  3. Stream crossings require authorization from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE)​.
  4. Except for stream crossings, no roads or trails shall be permitted within buffer zones without a plan modification. With a plan modification, use of wheeled or tracked equipment shall be limited so that the humus layer will not be removed or compacted to limit its water holding capacity. Damage to the humus layer will be repaired immediately.
  5. The approximate basal area to be removed and retained shall be specified in the plan, as well as the method of harvest and provisions to ensure that sufficient regeneration is established. Any restriction on harvesting during adverse weather conditions should also be included.
  6. Trees scheduled for removal are to be individually marked with paint at eye level and at the base to facilitate enforcement and avoid confusion during the harvest.
  7. No material originating outside the buffer zone may be deposited within the buffer.
  8. Trees should be felled away from the streambanks thereby keeping the tops and slash well away from the water and in such position that they can not be moved into the stream by flood waters.
  9. Any exposed soil within the buffer shall be seeded and mulched according to the requirement of final stabilization. This notation must appear in the "Buffer Management Plan."
  10. Any proposed activity within the buffer strip must not lead to contamination of a watercourse by sediment or any other pollutant.
  11. Each site must be evaluated on its own individual characteristics and limitations. The above list represents a guide upon which to build in order to achieve water quality goals.