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 http://txforestservice.tamu.edu/water. If you have any questions regarding BMPs please contact me.
* This article was published in the July 2003 issue of the Texas Logger