Living on Karst
A Reference Guide for Landowners in Limestone Regions
Produced by the Cave Conservancy of the Virginias, June 1997
The Forest Landowner and Water Quality
As stewards of the nation's forest lands and the waters flowing from them, forest landowners have a special responsibility to protect our natural resources.
The Federal Clean Water Act of 1987 requires that proper steps be taken to prevent pollution. Pollution resulting from soil erosion can be controlled by using Best Management Practices (BMPs).
Best Management Practices,
(BMPs) are any practical, and usually inexpensive, measures used to reduce water pollution.
Water originating from undisturbed forest land is virtually unpolluted. Land disturbing activities during harvesting and other forestry practices can cause pollution if BMPs are not used. Most states do not regulate timber harvests on private land; therefore, it is up to the landowner to ensure that BMPs are properly installed and maintained.
BMPs and pre-harvest planning are especially important in karst terrains. For specific information on constructing and maintaining BMPs, refer to the LOGGERS BMP HANDBOOK available from your state forestry departments.
BMPs for Timber Harvesting
- Pre-Harvesting Planning should be done to determine which BMPs are needed. Proper location and construction of roads, skid trails, and log landings will prevent most erosion problems. Consult a qualified professional who understands karst. The forestry consultant should prepare a Forest Management Plan in detail before work begins, which will describe any recommended BMPs.
- Roads, Skid Trails, and Landings should be located away from streams, springs, and karst drainage ways. Water should be diverted off roads by turn-out ditches, broad-base dips, culvert pipes, or other accepted practices.
- Stream Crossings should be made with temporary bridges or culvert pipes. Fords are sometimes acceptable if the stream bottom is rock and the banks are stable.
- Stream Side or Spring Management Zone (SMZ) is an unharvested area a minimum of 50 feet wide on each side of any stream channel or spring. Across the rest of the site, timber should be selectively harvested in a way that will leave the forest floor undisturbed. The SMZ will filter out most sediment and nutrient runoff from disturbed areas and protect stream or spring quality. The buffer zone also will prevent soil compaction by heavy equipment which can reduce infiltration and groundwater recharge.
- Wildlife Benefits. Stream side or spring management zones protect water quality and temperature important to fish and aquatic life. The buffers also preserve travel lanes and habitat diversity important to all wildlife. Roads and trails can be seeded with native plant species which provide wildlife food and cover.
- Stabilizing Disturbed Areas immediately after the cutting is complete will reduce erosion which could continue for several years. Any bare soil with a slope greater than 5 percent or which is subject to erosion should be limed, fertilized, seeded, and covered to prevent soil from washing away. Native plants that also enhance wildlife habitat should be selected.
- Horse Logging is becoming more popular with landowners as a low-impact method of selectively harvesting timber on steep or sensitive terrains. Small horse logging businesses exist in many rural areas. Call your local Department of Forestry or small business development center for more information.
Maintaining Best Management Practices
- Best Management Practices can easily be destroyed if they are not protected and maintained until the disturbed land has healed. After loggers have left the site, the landowner is usually responsible for maintaining BMPs. Cost-share programs are available to help pay a portion of the cost of most reforestation and restoration work.
- Traffic should be restricted in the logged area, especially during wet weather. Old haul roads should be blocked to prevent unauthorized access by 4-wheelers, but maintained so that water can drain from the road surface. The drainage ditches and culverts should be kept open. Berms, silt fences, ponds, and other structures to slow water flow should be checked and repaired regularly.
- Waste wood debris, or slash, left on the site will also catch sediment and slow runoff velocity. Slash should not be deposited or dumped into cave entrances or sinkholes; however, as this can damage habitat, recreational values, water quality, and normal karst drainage processes.
For further information, contact your state Department of Forestry.