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