A 10-year logging impacts study by University of Kentucky forestry researchers rates management practices used in the state’s prolific hardwood forests effective and advises only minor changes to better protect more than 90,000 streams and rivers.
The study advises doubling the minimum distance between waterways and logging roads or skid trails. Current practice is a minimum of 25 feet, or 55 feet in steeper grounds.
The combination of thriving forest industries and access to an abundance of large and small waterways makes protecting the commonwealth’s water a priority. The UK Department of Forestry has been a partner in the development of best management practices (BMPs) in woodlands since the Kentucky legislature created the Agriculture Water Quality Authority in 1994. The authority’s mission is to alleviate pollution to surface and groundwater resources from agriculture and forestry activities.
UK forestry professors, Jeff Stringer, silviculture, and Chris Barton, forest hydrology and watershed management, oversaw more than a dozen graduate students and a number of undergraduate interns from 2004 to 2014 who examined logging impacts on forest resources in eight watersheds located in Robinson Forest, the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment’s research and education forest in southeastern Kentucky. Loggers harvested two watersheds using the current standard for best management practices. They logged four other watersheds using two different BMP treatments that the researchers theorized would provide more protection. Two additional watersheds were left unharvested as controls.
“At the end of the day, what we saw was that our current recommended BMPs do a pretty good job of protecting our water resources,” Barton said. “With that said, we also found that the best management practice changes we made in the other watersheds actually provided some additional protection. Our BMP treatment that provided the most protection was not statistically different than the unharvested control for nearly all of the parameters examined.”
One change resulting from the study was to increase the distance between streams and skid trails and logger roads. The process of mechanically moving trees can create erosion, which ends up in streams.