By: Shane Harrington, BMP Forester (Ret.), Texas Forest Service
Q: In recent months the outbreak of wildfires and the threat of wildfires occurring has been high. I want to protect my timber from a possible wildfire by installing firelanes around my tract. Are there any BMPs that I should follow during this project to prevent any impacts on water quality from occurring?
A: Installing firelanes around your timber is a great way to protect your investment by reducing the threat of a possible wildfire. Firelanes work by creating a barrier and removing the available fuel source between adjoining stands or tracts. By removing the fuel source along these barriers aids in preventing a wildfire one stand or tract to another. However, it is important to remember that there are potential impacts to water quality that can occur if caution is not taken.
Guidelines for properly constructing and maintaining firelanes can be found in the Texas Forest Service’s BMP Bluebook. These recommendations are designed to prevent any unnecessary erosion form occurring thus minimizing the potential for impacts on water quality.
Firelanes should be constructed along the perimeter of the tract and follow the boundaries of Streamside Management Zones. Locating these barriers outside of SMZs will limit the amount of sedimentation that may result. This will also protect the litter and organic matter of the SMZ so it can continue to serve as a filter.
To allow for proper drainage and erosion control, waterbars and wing ditches should be installed in a timely manner. Recommendations for installing these devices can be found on pages 34 and 38 of the BMP Bluebook. These recommendations include how to properly build waterbars, proper spacing for waterbars, and specifications on properly installing wing ditches. When installing wing ditches, make sure that the runoff water is not being discharged directly into streams.
Regular maintenance on firelanes is necessary to avoid potential erosion problems. This includes periodic inspections, especially after heavy rains, to make sure that they are still functioning properly and are not washed out. Mowing, rather than blading, is the preferred type of maintenance because it minimizes the amount of exposed mineral soil. Care should be taken when blading is the only option.
Implementing these control structures can be very costly when using heavy machinery. For economical as well as environmental reasons, it is important to only build firelanes as wide and deep as necessary. Woody debris and other flammable material should be kept away from firelanes. These objects can ignite, creating a pathway for the fire to spread into SMZs or adjoining lands. If you have a question regarding BMPs, please call me at (936) 639-8180.
* This article was published in the July 2006 issue of the Texas Logger