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Best Management Practices

An important component of Pennsylvania's forest management guidelines is the use of forestry Best Management Practices (BMPs). BMPs are science based conservation practices that help protect soil and water resources - two key elements necessary for growing a healthy, sustainable, and productive forest. They are designed to provide an economical means of preventing or reducing sediments and other nonpoint source pollutants on managed forest lands from impacting Pennsylvania's water resources. BMPs are an integral part of all forestry operations.

Federal Definitions

[40 CFR § 130.2(m)] Best Management Practice (BMP). Methods, measures or practices selected by an agency to meet its nonpoint source control needs. BMPs include but are not limited to structural and nonstructural controls and operation and maintenance procedures. BMPs can be applied before, during and after pollution-producing activities to reduce or eliminate the introduction of pollutants into receiving waters.

[40 CFR § 122.2] Best management practices (‘‘BMPs’’) means schedules of activities, prohibitions of practices, maintenance procedures, and other management practices to prevent or reduce the pollution of ‘‘waters of the United States.’’ BMPs also include treatment requirements, operating procedures, and practices to control plant site runoff, spillage or leaks, sludge or waste disposal, or drainage from raw material storage. BMPs means ‘‘best management practices.’’

[Forest Service Handbook 2509.22] Best Management Practice (BMP). A practice or combination of practices, that is determined by a State (or designated area-wide planning agency) after problem assessment, examination of alternative practices, and appropriate public participation to be the most effective, practical (including technological, economic, and institutional considerations) means of preventing or reducing the amount of pollution generated by nonpoint sources to a level compatible with water quality goals (USFS 1988)

Pennsylvania Definition

[25 PA Code § 102.1] BMPs - Best management practices - Activities, facilities, measures, planning or procedures used to minimize accelerated erosion and sedimentation and manage stormwater to protect, maintain, reclaim, and restore the quality of waters and the existing and designated uses of waters within this Commonwealth before, during, and after earth disturbance activities.

Why do we need Forestry BMPs?

Pennsylvania is home to more than one million private water wells, an estimated 86,000 miles of streams and rivers, 403,924 freshwater wetlands, and thousands of ponds, lakes and reservoirs. Timber harvesting operations and other forest management activities have the potential to create situations where various forms of pollution could be carried off into local water resources during rainfall or snow melting events. For example, dirt and gravel roads provide essential and reliable access to forests so that they can be properly managed; however, these roads represent large areas of exposed sediments that can erode and wash into nearby streams, ponds, rivers, wetlands and other water bodies when poorly planned, constructed, and maintained. These sediments are harmful to aquatic resources and impair the quality of the waters. Additionally, heavy sediment loads can travel for miles resulting in far-reaching impacts to downstream users. From a landowner's perspective, erosion robs the land of nutrient rich topsoil and its ability to grow trees.

Pollution that comes from broad, diffuse areas such as forest roads is referred to as nonpoint source (NPS) pollution. The name does not mean the source of the pollution is unknown, rather, that it is difficult to determine exactly where and how the pollution is getting into the water. Forestry BMPs are designed to control and minimize the risks of forest management activities causing NPS pollution. Sediment is the primary form of NPS pollution generated during forestry operations, however other sources could include trash, equipment fuels and lubricants, pesticides and herbicides, and organic matter (slash and other logging debris left in or against stream channels, or other water bodies).

Water quality monitoring and reporting conducted by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has repeatedly demonstrated the benefit and effectiveness of forestry BMPs. The most recent DEP water quality report (available under the publications section of this website) states that Less than 0.03% (three one-hundreds of a percent) of Pennsylvania's impaired stream miles are attributed to forestry activities. This very limited impact is a direct result of Pennsylvania's forest landowners and timber harvesters ensuring the proper use of reccomended BMPs during managment activities. The Pennsylvania SFI Implementation Committee has proudly educated thousands of timber harvesting administrators across the state on proper BMP use for more than 25 years.


Are forestry BMPs voluntary or mandatory in Pennsylvania?

Because the water resources of our Commonwealth are so critically important to all living things in Pennsylvania, implementation and maintenance of forestry BMPs in PA is required by law [PA Code Title 25 § 102.4(b)(1)]. Additionally, operations that will disturb 5,000 square feet or more of earth (~0.11 acres - which encompasses most harvesting operations) are required to develop a written Erosion and Sedimentation Control Plan (E&S Plan) that oulines 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. Timber harvesting operations that disturb 25 or more acres (total area of haul roads, landings, and skid trails) are required to obtain an erosion and sediment control permit from DEP or their County Conservation District (Find your local Conservation District).

It is important that landowners are familiar with Pennsylvania’s Chapter 102 Erosion and Sediment Control regulations. You will also need to be familiar with Chapter 105 Dam Safety and Waterway Management regulations that govern the crossing of streams (subchapter K), construction of culverts, fords and bridges (subchapter C), and other impacts to water courses and wetlands that occur during man-made activities. As the landowner, you are responsible for compliance with all federal, state, and local requirements.


The Timber Harvest Operations Field Guide for Waterway’s Wetlands and Erosion Control does an excellent job of outlining E&S BMPs and the laws related to their planning, use, maintenance, and retirement, as well as identifying permitting requirements. It provides guidence to foresters, loggers, land managers, woodland owners, and natural resource professionals in preparing and implementing soil erosion and sediment control plans, and working around forested wetlands. [NOTE THIS PUBLICATION WAS DISCONTINUED BY DEP IN MAY OF 2017. SOME REFERENCES MAY BE OUT OF DATE WITH CURRENT REGULATORY REQUIREMENTS.]


Conservation Districts - each county, except Philadelphia, has a local conservation district office that provides assistance on erosion and sedimentation pollution control as well as forest management.

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

Additional Resources:

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