Q: Almost six months ago Hurricane Rita passed through East Texas destroying homes, businesses, and forestlands. Most people have rebuilt their homes and businesses but people such as me are still trying to salvage what is left of their forestlands. I fear that time is growing short for me to salvage my timber. Since time is of the essence do I still need to follow BMP guidelines when I am trying to get the timber out as quickly as possible?
A: Great question. Timber can sustain a lot of damage from events such as hurricanes, wildfires, and Southern Pine Beetle outbreaks. Hopefully we will not have to deal with another hurricane here in East Texas but there is always that possibility. However, if you find yourself conducting a salvage operation after such an event BMPs should be implemented just as if it were a normal harvest operation.
Generally there is a sense of urgency when it comes to harvesting timber in a salvage operation because damaged trees are more susceptible to insects and disease, lowering their economic value. It is still important to implement BMPs during these situations. BMPs are effective in preventing or reducing erosion, allowing your land to be managed in a sustainable manner. Following are a few recommendations to consider while conducting a salvage operation.
Prior to the salvage operation, the ground should be inspected to ensure that it is stable enough to support heavy machinery. Often times after an event such as a hurricane, tropical storm, or even an East Texas thunderstorm, the soil is saturated and operating heavy machinery on these soils can cause rutting. Rutting creates channels for water flow, which can lead to widespread soil movement. This reduces site productivity, decreases tree growth and financial returns, and impacts water quality. Firelanes installed to control wildfires should be cleaned up and stabilized with the proper water control structures to prevent additional erosion.
Streamside Management Zones (SMZs) should be visibly marked and all operations within the SMZ should be kept to a minimum. It may be necessary to flag the SMZ for greater visibility, because it is sometimes difficult for machine operators to see the original painted line with the additional debris on the ground. All roads, skid trails, decks, and firelanes should be located outside the SMZ. Removal of any felled timber within the SMZ should be done by dispersed skidding or by cable retrieval. This is done to prevent damaging the filtering capabilities of the SMZ and to keep the forest floor virtually undisturbed. Remember, even in salvage operations, 50 square feet of basal area should be left in the SMZ. Try to leave trees that have not been too severely damaged.
Personal safety should also be stressed when conducting a salvage operation. Treetops and limbs may be left dangling above the ground and could cause serious injury to ground personnel. It is also important to be aware of machine operators, especially when visibility is impaired from excessive debris.
For other recommendations regarding BMPs and salvage operations please refer to the Texas Forest Service BMP Bluebook. If you do not have a copy of the Bluebook you can obtain a copy from your local Texas Forest Service office or online at http://txforestservice.tamu.edu/water. If you have any questions or comments regarding BMPs please call me at (936) 639-8180.
* This article was published in the March 2006 issue of the Texas Logger