Saturday, September 1, 2001

September BMP Q&A

By: Hughes Simpson, BMP Forester, Texas Forest Service

Q:   After seeing the devastation caused by the Moore Branch and Chicken fires in East Texas last year, I would like to protect my timber investment from this possible hazard.  In order to do this, my forester has recommended that I install firelanes around my property. I am concerned about the possible erosion that may occur from the exposed soil. What can I do to prevent this from occurring? What other BMPs do I need to keep in mind when doing this?

A:   Installing firelanes around your timberland is an excellent way to reduce the threat of a wildfire.  These artificial barriers are used to stop the spread of fire by removing their fuel source.  Thousands of miles of these structures are built every year in Texas to prevent these disasters from taking place.  It is important that landowners realize the potential impacts that firelane erosion can have on water quality.  

The Texas Forest Service has published guidelines that address proper firelane construction and maintenance in the Texas Forestry Best Management Practices – Bluebook.  These recommendations are designed to prevent any unnecessary erosion from occurring on this type of forest management.

Firelanes should be constructed along the perimeter of the tract and follow the boundaries of Streamside Management Zones.  Locating these devices outside of SMZs will limit the amount of sedimentation that may result.  This will also protect the litter and organic matter of the SMZ so it can continue to serve as a filter.    

To allow for proper drainage and erosion control, waterbars and wing ditches should be installed in a timely manner.  Charts on pages 35 and 37 of the BMP Handbook show the recommended spacing between these structures.  When installing wing ditches, make sure that the runoff water is not being discharged directly into streams.   

Regular maintenance on firelanes is necessary to avoid potential erosion problems.  This includes periodic inspections, especially after heavy rains, to make sure that they are still functioning properly and are not washed out.  Mowing, rather than blading, is the preferred type of maintenance because it minimizes the amount of exposed mineral soil.  Care should be taken when blading is the only option. 

Implementing these control structures can be very costly when using heavy machinery. For economical as well as environmental reasons, it is important to only build firelanes as wide and deep as necessary. Woody debris and other flammable material should be kept away from firelanes. These objects can ignite, creating a pathway for the fire to spread into SMZs or adjoining lands. If you have a question regarding BMPs, please call me at (936) 639-8180.

* This article was published in the September 2001 issue of the Texas Logger

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