Why Wetlands?"Wetland" is a general term used to describe a variety of wet environments, such as marshes, wet meadows, bogs, bottomland hardwood forests and wooded swamps, which are transitional zones between open water and dry land. Many types of wetlands are obvious. However, other wetlands are dry during certain seasons and are not always recognized as wetland sites.Wetlands are valuable resources with many benefits including:
What Are Wetlands?Federal regulation define wetlands as "those areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or ground water at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that 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." The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) 1987 publication, Corps of Engineers Wetland Delineation Manual, (Technical Report Y-87-1), is currently used by the USACE and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to identify wetlands and delineate wetland boundaries. Under this methodology, wetlands possess three essential characteristics; (1) hydrophytic vegetation, (2) hydric soils, and (3) wetland hydrology.
What is forestry's role in protecting wetlands and water quality?While working in wetland areas, the forestry community has the dual responsibility of both protecting against the loss of wetlands and protecting the water quality. Wetland protection is addressed primarily through Section 404 of the Clean Water Act of 1977. Protection of water quality from nonpoint source pollution is addressed under Section 319 of the Act. The purpose of this brochure is to outline the major responsibilities of the forestry community under these two programs.
Section 404Under Section 404, most activities that will result in the discharge of dredged or fill materials into the waters of the United States require a permit from the USACE. Failure to obtain a permit or comply with the terms of the permit can result in civil and/or criminal penalties.Timber production is recognized as a land use that is compatible with wetland protection as long as provisions are made for protection of water quality and wetland characteristics. Because of this, forestry operations are exempt from having to obtain an individual Section 404 permit as long as the activity meets the following conditions:
What is normal silviculture?Normal silvicultural activities include those activities associated with plowing, seeding, cultivation, minor drainage and harvesting that are generally accepted as state-of-the-art procedures for tending and reproducing timber crops. Thus, activities such as road construction, timber harvesting, mechanical or chemical site preparation, bedding, tree planting, timber stand improvement, and fire protection are exempt from Section 404 permit requirements, as long as the other criteria for exemption are also met.
What is an established silvicultural operation?In order for a silvicultural operation to be an exempt activity, it must be part of an established or on-going silvicultural operation. On-going activities are operations and maintenance activities that are part of a conventional silvicultural rotation system and are introduced as part of an established operation on the property. In determining whether an operation is established, the USACE will review the historical use of the property. The existence of a written management plan, evidence of past harvesting with either natural or artificial regeneration, or evidence of fire, insect or disease control to protect timber would be among the factors considered by the agency to be indicative of an established operation.An operation ceases to be established when the area on which it was conducted has been converted to another use or has lain idle so long that modifications to the hydrological regime are necessary to resume operations.
When is forestry NOT exempt from 404 permitting?A forestry activity will require a 404 permit from the USACE when any of the above conditions are not met.If harvesting will not be followed by continued regeneration of forest crops on the wetland, the operation will cease to be considered an on-going silvicultural operation. In this case, discharges of dredged and fill material associated with the activity will require a 404 permit.When an activity will result in the conversion of wetlands to uplands, it is not exempt from permitting. If filling activities, including normal silviculture, on any wetland site would result in a change in hydrology, soil characteristics, and/or plant community structure such that the area would no longer be classified as a wetland, or if the area is reduced in size or the flow is modified, the filling activities are not exempt.Forest management activities relating to wildlife management, recreation or other forest products other than timber are not exempt from Section 404 permit requirements. Only activities for the purpose of timber production are covered under the silvicultural exemption.One example of an activity that would require a permit would be a farmer who wishes to harvest the timber from a wetland site where timber production has been the established use and convert it to use as pasture, cropland, or real estate development. IN this case, the timber harvesting activity is not exempt because it is an activity whose purpose is to convert a wetland to another use.
Section 319Section 319 of the Clean Water Act relates to the protection of water from nonpoint source pollution (NPS). NPS pollution is water pollution that is created from an activity that has many diffuse sources. Typically, NPS pollution arises from man's activities and is carried over and through the soil by rainfall runoff. Silvicultural activities such as road construction, timber harvesting and site preparation have the potential to create NPS pollution by introducing sediment, nutrients, organic material, and chemicals into the water.To deal with the potential for NPS pollution, a set of non-regulatory Best Management Practices (BMP's) have been developed for forestry activities. These guidelines provide practical methods of minimizing erosion and keeping sediment and other pollutants out of water bodies.Texas does not have a separate set of voluntary BMP's for wetland operations; the BMP's are intended for use on both upland and bottomland sites.
The Texas Forestry BMP's are organized into eight activity areas:
Special consideration for protecting water quality in wetlandsForested wetlands are environmentally sensitive areas. Unless precautions are taken, a harvesting operation can be many times more damaging to wetland sites and water quality than on upland sites. For this reason, special attention to the proper use of BMP's is essential if water quality is to be protected while working in wetland areas.Careful planning is an essential first step. Planning will assist in identifying sensitive ares to avoid, help minimize stream crossings, and identify the best locations for roads, skid trails and log sets. Also, planning will allow operations to be scheduled during dry periods to minimize adverse impact on soils and water. If wet conditions develop, the operator should consider temporarily closing down the activity until the area dries out sufficiently. Be prepared to move off the site before conditions reach a point where moving equipment will cause excessive damage.Research has shown that logging roads and skid trails are the primary cause of NPS pollution in forestry operations. Remember that the federal mandatory BMP's for road construction must be followed in jurisdictional wetlands in order to maintain the Section 404 permit exemption for the operation. These mandatory BMP's are designed to protect wetland values. Additionally, Texas' non-regulatory BMP guidelines for road construction and maintenance should also be followed to insure protection of water quality.Rutting along skid trails and roads will be minimized if operations are conducted during the dry season of the year. During the dry season, soil compaction is minimized if skidding is dispersed across the tract. During wet conditions, concentrated skidding with subsequent repair of rutted ares may be less damaging. However, operators should also consider using wood mats, board roads, or other means to reduce rutting and soil compaction in wet spots.Streamside Management Zones (SMZ's), buffers of specially managed forest along the banks of water bodies, are particularly important in wetland areas. Timber may be logged carefully and selectively from within these areas. The forest floor is maintained in a relatively undisturbed condition to act as a filter for any sediment that may flow overland toward the protected water body. When necessary to preserve the filtering effect of the SMZ, disturbed areas should be re-vegetates as quickly as possible.
MANDATORY Road BMP'sForest roads must be constructed and maintained in accordance with the following baseline Best Management Practices in order to retain Section 404 permit exemption status for the road operations:
More information is available...Landowners or operators who have questions about their operations as they relate to wetland regulations should contact the local USACE office, their county Soil Conservation Office, or the Texas A&M Forest Service.Copies of the complete set of voluntary BMP's for water quality protection are available in the handbook entitled Texas Best Management Practices for Silviculture. In addition, the Texas A&M Forest Service offers Forestry Best Management Practices for Water Quality, a brochure that provides a summary of the NPS problem and outlines the BMP's in non-technical terms. Both publications are available through any office of the Texas A&M Forest Service.