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