It is important to control erosion in forests
Best Management Practices During a Timber Harvest

Erosion control during adverse weather

This web article explains how loggers, foresters, and landowners can work around and avoid the weather conditions that would encourage soil erosion during a timber harvest.


The protection of forests and streams during timber harvesting is weather dependent. There are several weather conditions that tend to cause the greatest amount of soil erosion around a logging job:

Consistent rain - A steady rain, lasting a whole day or several days, can begin erosion in a timber harvest area. Rainfall of one inch in one day will saturate many forest soils. Additional rain will suspend sediments, particularly where the soil is compacted, or has been stripped of vegetation. Sediment from impervious roadways washes into and pollutes nearby streams.

Intense rain - Thunderstorms in New York are capable of drenching an area with more than 3 inches of water in a few minutes. These can occur several times in a season and can be expected every five years or so.

Winter thaw - Normally frozen soil softens at the surface, often accompanied by rain. These conditions combine to create a lot of surface flow. Soil particles are washed off timber harvesting areas, especially where equipment has tracked through dry washes and small streams.

Spring thaw - With warm days, cold nights, and intermittent rain and melting snow, logging areas are usually reduced to muddy networks of erosion-prone trails.

Spring conditions - Anytime the soil is damp or soft, it is unsuitable for heavy equipment. On some days, a forest can have winter conditions in the morning, and spring conditions by mid-day.

If a landowner and logging crew have agreed to maintain best management practices described here, erosion during adverse weather will always be reduced.

Best management practices during adverse weather

Recognize and anticipate changes in weather conditions.
Logging crews and landowners should monitor weather conditions closely before, during, and after the harvest. A period of dry weather will set the stage for reduced erosion. If consistent or intense rain is predicted, plan to shut down timbering work on poorly drained or sloping sites. Erosion control due to weather changes can be made a provision of the timber harvest contract.

Allow water to run its course.
Do not pile excess soil in the path of water running off during a thaw. Frequently, this water is not running in its normal channel because the soil is too frozen to allow infiltration. A bulldozed dam will almost certainly fail to have its planned effect, as the water will wash under or around the pile.

Do not drive over soils that are saturated.
Shut down log skidding and hauling when the soil is saturated and unable to support the equipment. In a good logging job, skidders and bulldozers should be supported by soil, not slogging through it. Logging crews throughout New York lose thousands of hours of work time trying to pull out stuck equipment and repairing deep ruts. In some cases, logging crews have been barred from future work in forests due to poor judgment regarding forest road conditions. A few deep ruts in a forest are usually enough to cloud a forest owner's impression of the quality of a logging crew.

Shift operations in soggy weather.
Focus efforts on felling, rather than skidding or forwarding. Perform routine maintenance, sharpen or replace worn parts, and obtain materials for other logging jobs, such as matting, culverts, and timbers. This is often a good time to meet with the forester or landowner overseeing the job. Work on the habit of communicating regularly with each other. It is easier for timber industry personnel to develop a positive relationship when communicating and teaching landowners about their forests. If appropriate, invite community leaders to the logging site, especially if they are contemplating restrictions or regulations on logging in that area. Consider spring conditions as a well-earned opportunity for a few days off.

Clearly mark sensitive areas before snow covers the site.
Identify stream crossings and culvert locations with bright flagging on poles or adjacent trees. It does not take much snow to obscure the location of water control devices you already placed in the forest.

Make sure normal water courses are maintained.
Water, especially in large volumes, will always find its own course through a timber harvest site. Make sure stream crossings, diversions, and other water control features are clear, especially after winter work.

Chainsaw photo by Gary Goff
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Please cite source: Cornell Cooperative Extension, 2004
Written by James Ochterski, CCE - Schuyler County