Q: Do BMPs apply to land conversion operations? I am a landowner here in East Texas and I am considering converting my land from timber to pastureland. So do I still need to implement BMPs during and after this harvest job?
A: Today more and more timberland is being converted for other uses such as pastureland, residential expansion, and the list goes on and on. The Texas Forest Service (TFS) encourages the use of BMPs before, during, and after any silvicultural (forestry) operation. However, the BMP Bluebook only offers guidelines and recommendations for protecting water quality during forestry operations and not during land conversions. Although the Bluebook does not address land conversion operations, there are many reasons why you would want to follow many of the forestry BMPs.
Land conversion, just like forestry operations, has the potential to negatively impact water quality if done improperly. For this reason, I would recommend leaving a streamside management zone (SMZ) along both sides of any perennial or intermittent streams that may be running through the area that is being converted to pasture. The SMZ should follow the guidelines specified in the Bluebook and extend out 50 feet on both sides of the stream and retain a minimum of 50 square feet of basal area per acre.
It is important to remember that SMZs play an important role in filtering the runoff before it enters the stream. The fact that you are clearing the land will only increase the amount of water flow across the area thus increasing the chance of sediment or other types of nonpoint source pollution entering the stream. SMZs also provide valuable habitat for many different species of wildlife and since this is being converted to pasture, the SMZ may also serve as a good shady spot for livestock if you will have any grazing in this pasture. Not only does the SMZ provide shade for livestock but also for the steam, keeping the water temperature cool and the root systems of the trees aid in stabilizing streambanks keeping them from washing away.
The TFS would also recommend the use of water control structures such as waterbars, rolling dips, broad based dips, wing ditches, etc. on any road or skid trail left after the harvest job. Chances are that most if not all of the roads and skid trails used during the operation will be seeded and become part of the pasture. Until the seed has established itself water control structures should be used in order to prevent any dirt from moving off the road and possibly into the stream. Also by using these water control structures you are keeping your topsoil in place which is beneficial in producing a healthy pasture.
While forestry BMPs are not designed or expected to be implemented during land conversions, you can see that BMPs are very broad based and it makes sense to consider implementing some of these practices. Also, you may want to contact your local NRCS office to see if there are other agricultural BMPs that need to be followed that are more specific to pastureland. Whether you are conducting a forestry operation, land conversion, or some other operation remember that everyone plays a role in protecting the water quality of our lakes, rivers, and streams. Take time to review all aspects of your operation and things that can be done to minimize the impact on the surrounding environment.
If you have any questions regarding BMPs please call me at (936) 639-8180. Also if you need a copy of the newly revised BMP Bluebook please visit or call your local TFS office or you can view it online at http://txforestservice.tamu.edu/water.
* This article was published in the April 2005 issue of the Texas Logger