Monday, December 1, 2003

December BMP Q&A

By: Jake Donellan, BMP Forester (Ret.), Texas Forest Service

Q: I am an industry forester and my company believes in and adheres to the Texas forestry BMP guidelines. I am conducting a harvest in a bottomland area and need some clarification on a specific situation we have encountered. Years ago when this stand was planted, the land was low and saturated for long periods of time so we installed drainage ditches to help get the stand established. These ditches have, over the years, apparently become the primary drains for this area of land. These ditches carry water most of the year and now they look more like streams than ditches. My question is, "Do we need to protect this ditch/stream with a streamside management zone (SMZ) or is it still just a ditch?"

A: Wow, this sounds like a complicated situation you have on your hands. The first thing I would recommend on a situation like this is that you find out if you are operating in a wetland. If you are not sure, you can always ask for assistance from the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS formerly the Soil Conservation Service or SCS). Those folks are experts in the area of wetland delineation and should be able to tell you for sure if you are operating in a wetland. The reason this is important is because there are 15 mandatory road BMPs that you must follow when operating in a wetland. Those 15 mandatory BMPs can be found in the bluebook in the Forest Wetlands section on pages 93 & 94.

This is an interesting situation and it is difficult to make recommendations without visiting the site for myself however, this is an area that is covered in the bluebook. The Forest Wetlands section mentioned previously also covers drainage ditches (on page 92). The book says,
"Drainage ditches that were formerly natural streams and have dredged and/or straightened need the protection of an SMZ only if they meet the flowing water criteria for a perennial or intermittent stream."
You may or may not know whether these ditches were formerly natural streams but, based on the situation you described, it sounds like you have, at the very least, an intermittent stream. An intermittent stream is defined as a stream that flows for at least 4 months of a typical year. Given that you have what sounds like an intermittent stream then I would say that you should leave an SMZ. Since this ditch has apparently become the natural stream then it should definitely be protected by a SMZ.

You can get a copy of the Blue book at your local Texas Forest Service office or you can view it online at If you have any questions regarding BMPs please contact me.

* This article was published in the December 2003 issue of the Texas Logger

Saturday, November 1, 2003

BMP Trivia Question

The BMP handbook contains plenty of useful information including a helpful Culvert Sizing Chart. Using that chart, what is the proper culvert diameter needed at a crossing that drains 75 acres on light, sandy soils, and that has an average slope of 10%?

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Wednesday, October 1, 2003

BMP Informer - October 2003

October Issue of the BMP Informer Now Available

October BMP Q&A

By: Jake Donellan, BMP Forester (Ret.), Texas Forest Service

Q:   I recently got a chemical applicator’s license and plan on offering chemical site preparation to landowners as part of my service. I don’t have a pilot’s license, so all of the site prep will be done from the ground with an ATV and a skidder modified for chemical applications. Are there any special BMPs that I need to follow when I spray?

A:   As many of you probably guessed, there is a section in the Bluebook that deals the application of silvicultural chemicals. Silvicultural Chemicals are addressed in section 8.0 and begin on page 24 of the Bluebook. This section provides information on both ground and aerial application of chemicals.

The first thing you want to do is to familiarize yourself with the chemical’s characteristics. You should read the label and the Materials Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for the chemical you are working with and follow all instructions. The next part of the planning process is to be familiar with the topography, soils, and drainage pattern of the land you will be working on in addition to any other factors that might be important for preventing water pollution during application.

You need to inspect your equipment for leaks. Leaks can lead to areas of high concentration of the chemical you are using and present a danger of direct chemical application into surface waters.

During ground application, carefully plan applications to avoid direct and indirect entry of chemicals into streams and other impoundments. Use extreme caution in areas immediately adjacent to open water. Special care should be taken when chemicals are used in the streamside management zone (SMZ). Avoid applying chemicals to vegetation protecting eroded slopes, gullies, drainages, and other fragile areas subject to erosion. Exercise care not to exceed intended or allowable dosages. Avoid chemical application during windy conditions that may cause unintended drift.

Aerial application guidelines are very similar to those of ground application. When conducting an aerial application you should also carefully plan application to avoid direct and indirect entry of chemicals into streams and other water bodies. Leave well-marked buffer zones between the target area and surface water. Realize that significant portions of the SMZ will probably be left untreated. Chemicals should not be applied when stream pollution is likely to occur through aerial drift. A spray device capable of immediate shutoff should be used. Shut off chemical application during turns and over open water.

During any type of application of chemicals, should a spill occur, shovel up a dike around the spill. Use absorbent materials (kitty litter, slaked lime, sawdust, soil, etc.) to soak up fluids. Keep the spill from flowing into streams or bodies of water. Some spills will require that you notify the appropriate authorities.

You can get a copy of the Bluebook at your local Texas Forest Service office or you can view it online at If you have any questions regarding BMPs please contact me.

* This article was published in the October 2003 issue of the Texas Logger

Monday, September 1, 2003

BMP Trivia Question

In Part I of the BMP handbook, guidelines are covered for eight different areas of forest operations. Can you list the remaining seven areas?

1.) Planning

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Tuesday, July 1, 2003

BMP Informer - July 2003

July Issue of the BMP Informer Now Available

July BMP Q&A

By: Jake Donellan, BMP Forester (Ret.), Texas Forest Service

Q:   I am harvesting timber on a landowner’s tract and I came across an area that looked to me like some sort of wetland area. The landowner said he didn’t think that it was a wetland and not to worry about it. I know that timber harvesting is allowed in wetlands but how exactly can you tell what one looks like.

A:   You are correct, timber harvesting is allowed in wetlands under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act Amendments of 1977 as long as it 1) qualifies as “normal silviculture,” 2) is part of “established” silvicultural operation, 3) is not part of an activity whose purpose is to convert a water of the United States into a use to which it was not previously subject, 4) follows the fifteen Mandatory Road BMPs, and 5) contains no toxic pollutant listed under Section 307 of the Clean Water Act in discharge of dredge or fill materials into waters of the United States.

To address your question, let me first quote the definition of a wetland. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (U.S. ACE) and the Environmental Protection Agency jointly define wetlands as:
Those areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or groundwater at a frequency or duration sufficient to support and, under normal circumstances, do support a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions. Wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, bogs, and similar areas.
While this definition is fairly lengthy and in depth, the last sentence provides us with the best idea of what a wetland looks like; “swamps, marshes, bogs, and other similar areas.”

There are three criteria that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers look at when delineating wetlands: (1) hydrophytic vegetation (plants that have the ability to grow, compete, reproduce and or persist in anaerobic soil conditions), (2) hydric soils (soils that are saturated, flooded, or ponded long enough during the growing season for anaerobic soil conditions to develop, and (3) wetland hydrology (inundation by water sufficient to support hydrophytic vegetation and develop hydric soils). All three criteria must be present under normal circumstances for an area to be identified as a jurisdictional wetland.

There is an entire section, starting on page 82, in the Bluebook that is dedicated to helping you understand what a wetland is and how to minimize the impacts in these sensitive areas. This section also includes a list of the 15 Mandatory Road BMPs on pages 93 & 94. If you believe you are or will be operating in a wetland or wetland-like area, then you should definitely review the Forest Wetlands section of the Bluebook before beginning operations.

Landowners or loggers who have more questions or who are still unsure about wetlands should contact the Texas Forest Service or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. There are two U.S. ACE districts that cover east Texas, the Forth Worth District which you can reach at (817) 886-1326 or the Galveston District (409) 766-3004.

You can get a copy of the Bluebook at your local Texas Forest Service office or you can view it online at If you have any questions regarding BMPs please contact me.

* This article was published in the July 2003 issue of the Texas Logger

Sunday, June 1, 2003

BMP Trivia Question

On what two pages in the Texas Forestry Best Management Practices handbook (the Bluebook) can you find a chart that gives the information about which grasses are best suited to plant based on soil types, and season?

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Thursday, May 1, 2003


By: Jake Donellan, BMP Forester (Ret.), Texas Forest Service

Q:    I would like your advice on Woods Road Maintenance. Just exactly how do you maintain the road ditches. We are perpetually challenged with keeping our sandy woods roads open and preventing washes. I need to know how to work the ditches and not get the tractor stuck. Our ditches are wet through early summer. Thank you.

A:   This question actually came from a forest landowner rather than a logger, however, I thought it would be a good topic of discussion for this month’s Q&A. Maintaining the ditches on a woods road can often be very difficult especially when they are located on sandy soils. In a situation like this it may be better, when practical, to wait to conduct ditch maintenance in mid-to-late summer.

There are a couple of reasons why waiting to do ditch work in mid-to-late summer makes sense. One good reason for waiting is that there is usually not as much water or in many cases no water at all in the ditches. With very little water present, the soil should be able to be worked very easily with equipment without having to worry about bogging down or getting stuck.

Another reason for waiting until summer to work the road ditches is because of reduced rainfall. The amount of rainfall and the amount of vegetative cover on the soil play significant roles when considering the potential for erosion. By conducting ditch work in the summer when rainfall amounts are reduced, you can minimize the potential for erosion occurring in your ditches despite the lack of vegetative cover on the soil. The ditches should be vegetated with grass as soon as possible but that can often times be difficult during the summer months. If you look on pages 64 & 65 in the “Blue book,” (Texas Forestry Best Management Practices) there is a revegetation chart that describes information about which grasses are best suited to plant based on soil types, and season.

Based on the chart in the “Blue book” I would make a recommendation for this landowner that they conduct their ditch work in summer and then attempt to revegetate the disturbed soil with some type of millet seed which can be planted as late as August 1st. Since millet is an annual grass that needs to be re-established each year, I would also recommend that the landowner possibly follow-up with some type of Bermuda grass which could be sown beginning in January

There are many times that it is not possible to wait until summer to maintain the ditches. In those cases you must use your professional judgment to determine whether or not it is appropriate to conduct the maintenance. Ditch maintenance should be attempted when there is a minimal chance for significant erosion. Check the weather forecast and conduct the maintenance when there will several days of clear weather and when possible, revegetate the area immediately.

You can get a copy of the Blue book at your local Texas Forest Service office or you can view it online at If you have any questions regarding BMPs please contact me.

* This article was published in the May 2003 issue of the Texas Logger

Tuesday, April 1, 2003

BMP Informer - April 2003

April Issue of the BMP Informer Now Available

April BMP Q&A

By: Jake Donellan, BMP Forester (Ret.), Texas Forest Service

No question and answer this week, only a suggestion. I, like many of you, recently received a letter in the mail from the Texas Forestry Association and the Texas Logging Council reminding landowners, loggers, and foresters to be observant for any space shuttle material while operating in the woods. In the letter, Ron Hufford, the Executive Vice President of the Texas Forestry Association, urges loggers to walk tracts to look for shuttle debris before commencing operations. If you do find something that you suspect is shuttle material please mark the location (flagging, etc.) and call (936) 699-1032 or (936) 699-1034 or call your local sheriff’s office. If you find something that may be human remains please call (936) 699-1022. Do not handle or remove any debris you may encounter. The small amount of time it takes to conduct the walk could play a crucial part in the effort to help solve the shuttle tragedy and give closure to this event.

From a logging point of view, even after the shuttle recovery is over, I would encourage you to continue walking tracts before beginning your operations. In fact, the BMP program has always recommended to loggers that they walk the tract as part of the planning process before starting up operations on a tract.

If you are working on a private tract, ask the landowner or the landowner’s forester to be a part of the walk through, or if you are on an industry tract ask the company forester to come along. By walking a tract, you can find a wealth of information that can help you conduct an efficient and well-organized harvest operation. You can identify the best location to cross a creek, locate a skid trail or road, or place a loading deck. You can also get a feel for problem areas such as steep slopes or wet areas that may not be easily planned for from a map or aerial photo. Locating boundary lines is another important reason to walk a tract before starting. If it is a private tract, the landowner may identify special areas that may require a little more care and attention when harvesting. By paying attention to those sorts of things, you can certainly save yourself some headaches down the road. There is a lot of useful information that can be gained by a simple walk around a tract before starting an operation, especially if you include the landowner. That information may, in the end, save you some grief, it will save you some time and possibly even save you some money.

The forestry community has already done a fabulous job in assisting with the Columbia space shuttle recovery and your efforts are greatly appreciated by many. I would urge you all to continue with your gracious assistance by conducting a walk through on your tracts before starting up operations. Something you find may be the key to unraveling the mystery about what caused this terrible tragedy. While you are out there scanning the woods for shuttle material, take a few more minutes to be observant about the tract itself. These tract inspections, for obvious reasons, are something you definitely need to do right now, and something you should consider doing from now on. And if you are not anywhere near the shuttle recovery site, give this walk through a try and see if it helps and then let me know how it turns out.

* This article was published in the April 2003 issue of the Texas Logger

Saturday, March 1, 2003

March BMP Q&A

By: Hughes Simpson, BMP Forester, Texas Forest Service

Q:   I have been reading the Texas Forestry Best Management Practices (Bluebook) and am a little confused about some of the Streamside Management Zones (SMZ) guidelines, especially regarding thinning within these areas. Would you mind trying to clarify these guidelines?

A:   Certainly! SMZs are very important areas that should be established when conducting forestry operations. These areas provide many benefits to us, mainly through the protection of water quality by filtering runoff water before it enters waterways. To offset potential monetary losses for establishing SMZs, tax incentives were passed by the 76th Texas Legislature to encourage these practices.

A SMZ is a 50-foot strip of trees between the stream channel and the harvest area. These zones are primarily left on perennial and intermittent streams, but depending on site conditions, you may also want to establish them on ephemeral streams. Specific attention is given to management activities within these areas to protect instream and downstream water quality.

Partial harvesting (thinning) is acceptable within the SMZ. A minimum residual density of 50 square feet of basal area per acre should be retained. Basal area is generally measured using a 10 factor angle gauge (prism) and is based on the theory of the probability of selection being proportional to tree size. There is no minimum diameter limit for residual trees.

If you are not familiar with the concept of ' 'basal area" or do not have a prum, a. general rule of thumb that you can use is to retain a minimum of 50% of the original Crown cover. This is easily accomplished by looking up at the canopy and visualizing how it will look after the harvest while you are marking the trees to be cut. Keep in mind that in order to stay Within the guidelines, you usually must remove less than half of the original timber in the SMZ.

When thinning the SMZ, it is important to remember that the residual trees should be evenly distributed. Large gaps or open patches where the basal area falls below 50 square feet per acre should be avoided when possible. This can reduce the filtering and shading capacity of the SMZ. It is also important to plan for the damage and accidental felling of "leave" trees while thinning within this zone. SMZs that do not have an original basal area of 50 square feet per acre should not be thinned.

Placing a higher priority on removing the more valuable timber (mature pine) over lesser valuable timber (scrub hardwoods) can help reduce the financial burden of leaving an SMZ. However, harvesting this timber under certain site conditions may cause additional water quality impacts. Operating heavy equipment while the ground is saturated may cause rutting and sedimentation. If you have a question regarding BMPs, please contact me at (936) 639-8180.

* This article was published in the March 2003 issue of the Texas Logger

Saturday, February 1, 2003

February BMP Q&A

By: Hughes Simpson, BMP Forester, Texas Forest Service

Q:   I recently received a reminder card in the mail from the Texas Forest Service (TFS) regarding a Texas Logger Questionnaire that was mailed in mid–November. I don’t remember receiving one in the mail, but may have misplaced it. Would you mind sending me another questionnaire that I can fill out? Also, I would appreciate some background information on this questionnaire.

A:   No problem! We will be happy to send you a copy of the Texas Logger Questionnaire. After you have finished filling it out, just place it in the postage-paid Business Reply envelope and drop it in the mail. This will help minimize your time and cost throughout this process.

The purpose of this survey is to gather your input on how the TFS can better serve loggers in Texas. It is designed to collect information about your activities and needs as loggers. The results will be used to help the TFS understand and address the needs of the logging community.

On November 13, 2002, 1,955 Texas Logger Questionnaires were mailed to the logging community. Survey responses started to steadily trickle in shortly after this date. On December 6, 2002 a reminder card was sent to encourage more replies. To date, we have received 269 surveys.

A total of 28 questions are on this four-page survey. Multiple choice and scale questions comprise the majority of the survey, but there are a few areas where respondents are given the opportunity to actually write out their answers.

There are certain questions that are asked to reveal general information about the demographics of the logging community (i.e. What is your primary position? What area of the state are you located? How many years have you been in the logging business?). Other questions on the survey provide direct feedback to the TFS regarding its service to the logging community (i.e. Is the support and outreach provided by the TFS important to the logging community? Does the TFS meet your needs? Please list some areas that the TFS could do better or is doing well to meet your needs.).

The Texas Logger Questionnaire is completely confidential and anonymous, and only summary information will be reported in the study results. Participants may request a complimentary copy of the results by contacting the TFS at (936) 639-8180 or (903) 665-7400. The results will also be posted on our webpage at

We appreciate your participation in this survey. If you have a question regarding BMPs, please contact me at (936) 639-8180.

* This article was published in the February issue of the Texas Logger

Wednesday, January 1, 2003

January BMP Q&A

By: Hughes Simpson, BMP Forester, Texas Forest Service

Q:    A tract that I have been working on in Southeast Texas has started to get wet from all of the recent rains. I pulled my crew off when I noticed that my skidders were starting to cause some rutting. This is really frustrating knowing that I am almost finished with the job and that it will probably be site prepared this summer. What is the big deal about rutting anyway?

A:    First, I would like to commend you for moving off the job site when you noticed the rutting. It can be difficult and very tempting not to do this, especially when you only have a small piece left to finish. It is this kind of attitude that will allow Texas to maintain its high BMP implementation rates and keep the guidelines from becoming regulatory.

The major concern with rutting, as with any BMP guideline, is water quality protection. Ruts, especially on hillsides and slopes, can channel rainwater so that sediment will be delivered to streams. These ruts eventually turn into gullies, and become much harder to control. Also, if you are working in wetlands, it is important not to impede, restrict, or change natural water flows and drainages.

Other problems associated with rutting that are not directly related to water quality include site productivity and accessibility. Extensive rutting can lead to soil compaction, which can have a significant impact on future tree growth. Costly site preparation work must be done to correct this problem. In low-lying areas, rutting can cause water to pond. This is especially troublesome on roadways that receive heavy traffic.

As a general rule of thumb, rutting should not exceed a depth of six inches over a distance of more than 50 feet. This guideline is normally applied to haul roads and skid trails, but if this is occurring over the whole tract, it is probably time to move off. Roads should be reworked to remove ruts that exceed these guidelines. Reducing skidder loads is a good way to help minimize rutting under wet conditions.

If wet weather forces you to pull off a job, be sure to dress up the skid trails and temporary roads with waterbars or other structures if necessary. It may be a long time before you are able to move back on the site with your equipment and significant erosion can occur. Road washouts may cause you to spend extra time fixing the road when you could otherwise be finishing the operation.

This subject is covered in both the Recommended Specifications section (blue) and the Forest Wetlands section (green) of the Blue Book. If you have a question regarding BMPs, please call me at (936) 639-8180.

* This article was published in the January 2003 issue of the Texas Logger