Water Quality

BMPs implemented during harvest

It is estimated that more than 50 percent of the nation’s drinking water originates from forested landscapes. The health, well-being and management of forests have profound effects on water quality and quantity.  As a result state forestry agencies play a lead role in providing the United States ample supplies of clean water. 

The most important issue concerning forests and their impact on water is keeping forests as forests.  It is projected that up to 34 percent of the nation’s forests could be threatened with development by the year 2060.  Therefore programs such as the Forest Stewardship Program that provide assistance and encouragement for landowners to retain and invest in forest land are critical. 

State foresters fulfill a responsibility to protect water quality through the development and implementation of forestry Best Management Practices (BMPs) that are designed to protect water quality and maintain water quantity. State forestry BMP programs are highly diverse to reflect the wide range of forested landscapes and unique state characteristics found throughout the country.  They are also highly successful.  Visit the NASF BMPs map to find your state.

Reflecting the success of these programs normal silvicultural activities have been exempt from permitting requirements under the federal Clean Water Act’s (CWA) Section 404, related to dredge and fill activities, and Section 402, covering the discharge of pollutants, since the 1970’s.  The Agricultural Act of 2014 codified the Section 402 exemptions and clarified that silvicultural activities, including the use of logging roads, do not require a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.

In order to provide a national-level evaluation of the effectiveness of BMPs, NASF conducts periodic surveys of all state programs. In 2015, NASF released a report which aims to provide justification for increased investments of public funding and resources in these state-led programs. 
State forestry agencies developed BMPs starting in the 1970s. BMPs are effective, affordable, and practical measures implemented to protect water quality when undertaking silvicultural activities. Forestry BMPs have been evaluated, tested, revised, and adapted over time by each state. Forestry BMPs are inherently linked to water quality. The CWA recognizes BMPs as the most viable pathway to address nonpoint source pollution that originates from various land management activities.

Each state implements BMP programs according to the nature of its forest industry, landowner characteristics, ecological conditions and accepted socio-political approaches. The overall success of a forestry BMP program depends on having a proactive approach. The aim of state forestry agencies and our partners is to prevent water quality problems before they arise, rather than rely solely on correcting problems once they occur. This approach has resulted in high BMP implementation rates throughout the United States.

NASF's latest project was conducted by a team of researchers from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech). The Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation team was led by Dr. W. Mike Aust and included Dr. Chad Bolding, Dr. Scott Barrett and graduate student Richie Cristan. A comprehensive survey was developed in consultation with NASF and completed by all 50 states.

Download "Protecting Water Quality through State Forestry Best Management Practices" below.