Skip Navigation


NCFS-Home >> Water Quality >> Beginning Steps: Timber Harvesting

Timber Harvesting

Timber harvests may not always be the primary objective for a forest owner. However, evidence over time has shown that financial rewards obtained from growing and harvesting a renewable source of timber are the most efficient and effective way for an owner to afford to pay for non-timber-related goals on his or her forestland, while still maintaining all ownership rights of the property.

Even if your goals do not include intensive timber production, it is strongly encouraged that all timber harvests be executed with a written contract, in accordance with applicable environmental regulations and use Best Management Practices (BMPs).

Timber harvests typically involve three actions, all of which should take precautions to protect water quality and soil productivity. The North Carolina forestry BMP manual outlines recommendations that may apply to all phases of timber harvesting: felling, skidding and decking.

On flat or rolling terrain, most felling is done with specially designed machines, often called feller-bunchers. Chainsaw operators still manually fell timber on very steep terrain or in sensitive areas where machines cannot operate. It is important to mark-off the limits of the harvest area, to make it highly visible. This way, the logger can easily identify the designated area. In all cases, timber should not be felled into creeks, streams, or ponds/lakes.

Skidders are logging tractors built for dragging ("skidding") logs or trees. Skidders can clear away and travel along skid trails on a harvest job. Skid trails are temporary pathways used to shuttle logs and trees out of the woods to a decking area. Skid trails can be a source of sediment pollution on a harvest if not properly laid out, maintained and stabilized afterwards. While it may not seem obvious, the best skid trail to protect water quality may not always be the shortest distance between the woods and the logging deck. This is often the case in order to go around streams, steep slopes or wet-natured soils.

Chapter 5 - Part 5 of the North Carolina forestry BMP manual explains skid trails in more detail.

Logging decks have a variety of names including ramps, landings, or set-outs. No matter what they´re called, these areas on a logging job are used to collect harvested trees, logs or other forestry raw materials and stage them for transport out of the woods to a processing mill or holding yard. Because harvesting requires frequent maneuvers with heavy equipment and logs, a logging deck often has large patches of bare soil that, if left untreated, can become sources of sediment runoff and other "non-point source" (NPS) pollution. Log decks should be situated on flat terrain and well away from streams or creeks. The soil surface on log decks should be stabilized with material to help prevent sediment runoff, excessive soil compaction and to keep mud from being dragged onto nearby public roads. Materials such as gravel, wooden mats or packed tree limbs can serve this purpose.

Chapter 5 - Part 6 of the North Carolina forestry BMP manual explains log decks in more detail.

Streamside Management Zone

Streamside Management Zones
SMZs are areas of residual vegetation left in place along certain streams and waterbodies. In North Carolina, Streamside Management Zones (SMZs) are required to be established alongside any intermittent stream, perennial stream and perennial body of water, as defined by the statewide regulations called the Forest Practices Guidelines Related to Water Quality, or "FPGs". Forestry work, including timber harvesting and site preparation, must take special precautions to protect water quality.

SMZs are important for many reasons:

  • Trees, shrubs, ground vegetation, and the forest ground debris all help capture and filter out mud, sediment, and nutrients before reaching the water.
  • SMZs provide shade to maintain water temperatures for fish and other aquatic life that may live in the water, or along the streambank itself.
  • SMZs can supply naturally occurring debris such as leaves and decaying logs, which are a source of nutrients and habitat for aquatic organisms and insects. These insects are a critical food source for fish and other wildlife.

Chapter 4 of the North Carolina forestry BMP manual discusses SMZs in detail.

Preventing Soil Contamination
Because timber harvesting and many other types of forestry work require heavy equipment and machines, there is a chance that petroleum or other chemical fluids may leak or be spilled. It is vitally important to prevent spills or fluid losses as part of the normal day-to-day activity. Leaks should not be considered as an acceptable or a normal part of business.

Even if the fluid gets into the soil well away from a stream, there is still an opportunity for the fluid to leach downwards into the groundwater. Some common tools to keep handy for controlling fluid spills include: locking pliers, clamps, hose plugs, absorbent pads or rolls, sawdust, shovels and plastic bags. Chapter 8 of the North Carolina forestry BMP manual discusses fluid control in detail.

Don´t cut it too close
Seek the advice and experience of a Registered Forester when considering a timber harvest. Timber harvests can truly be a "once in a lifetime" experience, so you’ll want to be sure that you are prepared!

This page updated: Friday, March 3, 2017 13:37

Back to top