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Timber harvesting operations conducted within Pennsylvania are regulated to minimize their impacts on soil and water resources and must be undertaken in accordance with all state and federal regulations, including Chapters 93, 102 and 105 of Pennsylvania's Title 25 Environmental Protection code (under the authority of the Clean Streams Law and enforced by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection) and the Federal Clean Water Act (enforced under the joint authority of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers).

Furthermore, harvesting operations that involve stream and wetland crossings or other impacts may be required to obtain permits from the Pennsylvania DEP or the Army Corps of Engineers. This section outlines these regulations and permit requirements and provides resources for complying.


Pennsylvania has 66 county conservation districts, one in every PA county except Philadelphia. Each Conservation District is led by a Board of Directors made up of local people from all walks of life. Conservation districts implement a variety of programs, and provide assistance for a range of issues unique to their county. Conservation district staff can help Pennsylvania's Professional Timber Harvesters comply with the state's erosion and sedimentation regulations as well as stream crossing permitting requirements. They are also very knowledgeable on Best Management Practices (BMPs). Contact your local conservation district whenever you have a question or need assistance.

About Pennsylvania's Conservation Districts [Video]

Contact your local Conservation District

Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts

Summary of Conservation District Delegated Authority [What does this mean?]

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This DEP publication (3850-BK-DEP5577) summarizes Erosion and Sedimentation (E&S) Best Management Practices (BMPs) and the laws related to their planning, use, maintenance, and retirement, as well as identifying permitting requirements related to stream crossings and encroachments. It provides guidance to foresters, loggers, land managers, woodland owners, and natural resource professionals in preparing and implementing soil erosion and sediment control plans, and to work around streams and wetlands. [REVISED JULY 2023]

PA SFI Timber Harvesting Assessment Form

DEP Fact Sheet: Minimizing Accelerated Soil Erosion and Sediment Pollution

DEP Regional Offices

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Chapter 102 requires persons proposing or conducting earth disturbance activities to develop, implement, and maintain Best Management Practices (BMPs) to minimize the potential for accelerated erosion and sedimentation in order to protect the water resources of the Commonwealth. Generally, timber harvesting does not have a major impact on soil or water resources; however, the construction of access roads, log landings, and skid trails can cause temporary soil disturbance in the harvested area and is considered an earth disturbance activity.

As a result, implementation and maintenance of forestry Best Management Practices (BMPs) in Pennsylvania is required by law [PA Code Title 25 § 102.4(a)(1)].

DEP is responsible for enforcing these regulations; however, County Conservation Districts may have delegated authority to enforce these regulations.

Pennsylvania Code: Chapter 102. Erosion and Sediment Control

What Chapter 102 Regulations Apply to My Operation?

Project Screening Form

Timber harvesting operations that will disturb 5,000 square feet or more of earth (~0.11 acres - which encompasses most harvesting operations), or that occur in special protection watersheds (streams classified as High Quality - HQ, or Exceptional Value - EV under Chapter 93 of PA Code) are required to develop a written Erosion and Sedimentation Control Plan (E&S Plan) that outlines the nature of the operation, the BMPs that will be used to prevent erosion and sedimentation, and a plan for how those BMPs will be maintained. The plan is required to be on site at all times during the operation.

Timber harvesting or road maintenance operations involving 25 acres or more of earth disturbance are required to obtain an erosion and sediment control permit (NOTE: 25 PA Code § 102.5(b) does NOT specify "over the life of the project" so larger timber harvesting operations can be broken up into smaller blocks to avoid this permit requirement). Earth disturbance for timber harvesting activities include the construction of skid trails, logging roads, landing areas and other similar logging or silvicultural practices. Road maintenance activities include earth disturbance activities within the existing road cross section, such as grading and repairing existing unpaved road surfaces, cutting road banks, and clearing and clearing drainage ditches and other similar activities. Timber harvesting operations seldom need these permits as they are either broken into smaller blocks, or have planned/actual earth disturbances below the 25 acre threshold.

Erosion and Sediment Control Permit Forms [See FORMS for additional details]

[Rare] Timber harvesting projects that require a Chapter 102 Erosion and Sediment Control Permit (ESCP) and occur within a special protection watershed or EV wetland (25 PA Code § 93.3) will be required to implement nondischarge alternatives and antidegradation best available combination of technologies (ABACT) BMPs. Refer to Chapter 17 of the DEP Erosion and Sediment Pollution Control Program Manual (363-2134-008, March 2012) for more information.


Sunken tracks and grooves in the ground made by the passage of equipment tires and tracks or trees and logs being drug to the landing is known as rutting. When excessive, rutting and the soil compaction it causes can reduce the productivity of a site, disrupt surface drainage and infiltration, and contribute to sediment movement from erosion. Rutting occurs when soil strength is not sufficient to support the applied load from equipment traffic on the forest floor, and unpaved forest roads, and trails. A well planned and laid out access system (roads, trails, and landings), utilizing appropriate BMPs concentrates site disturbance, soil compaction, and rutting to these limited corridors while protecting water quality and overall site productivity of the general harvest area.

DEP guidelines address rutting, but do not define excessive rutting. For guidance, please refer to the DCNR Bureau of Forestry rutting guidelines below.

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To minimize any impact on water flow or quality, stream crossings are allowed only under certain circumstances. Timber harvesting activities associated with streams or wetlands are governed by DEP's Chapter 105 Dam Safety and Waterway Management Regulations. Chapter 105 regulations govern the crossing of streams; construction of culverts, fords, and bridges, and other impacts to water courses and wetlands that occur during man-made activities.

Pennsylvania Code: Chapter 105. Dam Safety and Waterway Management

DEP is responsible for the enforcement of Chapter 105 regulations. County Conservation Districts may have delegated authority and may provide consultation for stream crossing options. In most cases, a permit is required before starting any activity which changes, expands or diminishes the course, current or cross-section of a stream, floodway or body of water. This means that most types of excavation in, along, or across a stream, even if the excavated material is put back after the work, will usually require some kind of Chapter 105 permit or authorization.

What Chapter 105 Permits Apply to My Operation?

Project Screening Form

Forest management operations are also subject to the Federal Clean Water Act (CWA) when operating in a federally jurisdictional wetland, or crossing any “waters of the US” including streams, sloughs, marshes or bogs. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) jointly regulate wetlands. Although in most cases tree harvesting can occur in wetland areas, Chapter 105 prohibits the “encroachment” (for example, a road crossing) of any wetland without a permit from DEP. The erosion and sedimentation control plan described above must accompany the permit application along with a letter from the local County Conservation District stating that it has reviewed the plan and found it satisfactory. DEP and the Corps have a consolidated joint permit application process. The permit issued by DEP will usually satisfy federal application requirements, utilizing a Federal State Programmatic General Permit (PASPGP); in special cases, the Corps issues a separate permit. Enforcement of Chapter 105 as it relates to watercourses such as wetlands is the responsibility of the DEP regional offices.

Click here for a useful guide on Clean Water Act permit requirements.

Ford crossings have complex permitting options. If an existing ford will need to be maintained with the placement of stone or the approaches will need graded, it is likely the operation will need a permit to complete that activity. Skidding through ford crossings is prohibited.

Permitting Options & Considerations for Ford Crossings on Timber Harvesting Operations

Additional Resources for Completing General Permits:

An online GIS-based method for determining upstream drainage area is available through the USGS StreamStats Interactive Map. Navigate to the location of your operation, Use the "Watershed Delineation from a Point" tool (button with black dot and crosshairs at top of the screen), and click on the location of your stream crossing (note: you must be zoomed out to at least 1:24000). Once the basin is delineated click on the "basin Characteristics" icon and select "Compute Parameters" from popup window. Area will be given in square miles - Divide by 640 to determine the basin size in acres.

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Timber harvesting operations are also subject to the following regulations enforced by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's waterways conservation officers (under Title 30 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes). These provisions not only protect game fish, but also include fish bait, bait fish, amphibians, reptiles and aquatic organisms (any plant or animal that grows or lives in or upon water). The most relevant statutes include:

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The Pennsylvania Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report [Integrated Report - 305(b) and 303(d)] is a biennial report prepared by Pennsylvania DEP that assesses the quality of waters in Pennsylvania and identifies waters throughout the state that are impaired for various reasons. The integrated report demonstrates the effectiveness of state forestry Best Management Practices (BMPs) taught by the PA SFI Professional Timber Harvester Training Program and the overall negligible negative impact that timber harvesting (Silviculture Activities) has on water quality.

Only a small fraction of a percentage of the state's impaired stream miles are attributed to forestry activities. Of the contributing sources tracked by DEP, silviculture ranks in the bottom five. Compare this to agriculture and mine drainage which top the list and contribute over half of the total impaired miles across the state. Even “Natural Sources” are listed as the cause of impairment for more miles than silviculture.

BMPs are working to protect Pennsylvania’s water resources, and it is a testament to the vigilant efforts of timber harvesting professionals, foresters, and landowners across Pennsylvania that are implementing these practices.

PA DEP Integrated Water Quality Report

PA SFI Summary of the 2008 through 2022 reports

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The material and resource links provided on this site are for informational use only and should not be construed as legal advice. Use this information at your own risk, and always be sure to consult with a expert before making legal decisions.

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Links verified: Jan. 2023
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