Best Management Practices for Silvicultural Activities in Forest Wetlands

This handbook is designed as a practical reference for woodland owners and natural resource professionals regarding the management of forested wetlands.
Best Management Practices for Silvicultural Activities in Forest Wetlands - Articles


The Forest Issues Working Group

The Forest Issues Working Group (FIWG) provides a forum where a diverse group of professional natural resource managers, forest landowners, scientists, environmentalists, and other citizens concerned about Pennsylvania's forests can exchange views, concerns and information with the objective of promoting better understanding and cooperation on key forestry issues. It was formed in 1991 as a joint effort of the Penn State School of Forest Resources, the Pennsylvania Hardwoods Development Council and Maurice Forrester of SEDACOG.

This project grew out of discussions held at a 1991 meeting of the FIWG during which the group identified the protection of forested wetlands as an important issue and agreed that a broadly representative task force should be created to draft and seek consensus on a set of best management practices. This publication is the result of that process.

Members of the FIWG have made significant contributions, some serving on the task force, others reviewing drafts of this publication. Consistent with its approach to other issues, however, the FIWG as a body has not taken a position on the details of this publication, and continued support for these BMPs and any subsequent revisions will depend on the actions of individual members.

Forest Issues Working Group Members

  • Ronald Anderson, PA. Dept. of Commerce
  • Michael Batcher, The Nature Conservancy
  • Mike Collins, Kane Hardwoods
  • Peter Duncan, PA Game Commission
  • Dale Dunshie, USDA Forest Service
  • James C. Finley, Penn State University
  • Maurice Forrester, SEDA-COG
  • Kent Fox, Invesco
  • James Grace, PA DER Office of Parks and Forestry
  • Leonard A. Green, PA Federation of Sportsmen
  • Sam Hays, Concerned Citizen
  • Brian Hill, PA Environmental Council
  • Robert Hoyt, Chesapeake Bay Foundation
  • Stephen B. Jones, Penn State University
  • Eleanor Maass, Butternut Tree Farm
  • Robert McColly, Forest Land Service, Inc.
  • James Nelson, PA DER Bureau of Forestry
  • Robert H. Rumpf, The Glatfelter Pulp Wood Company
  • Susan Stout, USFS, Forestry Sciences Lab
  • Alfred D. Sullivan, Penn State University
  • Bruce Sundquist, Allegheny Group, Sierra Club
  • Steven G. Thorne, Penn State University
  • Richard Thorpe, Retired PA State Forester
  • Richard G. Wallace, Wallace - Fleming Inc.
  • Richard Woodruff, International Paper Company

Forested Wetlands Task Force Members

  • Yuriy Bihun, Penn State University
  • Robert P. Brooks, Penn State University
  • Mark Cleveland, Allegheny National Forest
  • Dave DeWalle, Penn State University
  • Dan Devlin, PA DER Bureau of Forestry
  • Jim Finley, Penn State University
  • Wally Haulik, PA DER Bureau of Forestry
  • Brian Hill, PA Environmental Council
  • Eleanor Maass, Butternut Tree Farm
  • Rob Miller, Penn State University
  • Reisinger, PA DER Bureau of Dams, Waterways and Wetlands
  • Sam Rhody, Concerned Citizen
  • William Shaffer, PA Game Commission
  • Steven G. Thorne, Penn State University
  • Jonathan Wirth, Willamette Industries
  • Wilbur Wolfe, Jr., The Glatfelter Pulp Wood Company

The regulation of wetlands is a rapidly changing issue. This document will be periodically reviewed and updated as necessary to reflect any legislative or regulatory changes. It represents current knowledge about BMPs for forested wetlands at the time of publication.

Wetlands are one of Pennsylvania's most valuable resources. Although they cover a relatively small percent of the state, their functions and values extend far beyond their physical boundaries. Over the last two centuries, agricultural expansion and urban development have destroyed or degraded over half of our original wetlands. Protection of the remaining wetlands is critical to the ecological balance and economic development of the region. Increased awareness and support have given rise to strong federal and state laws and actions to protect wetlands.

Wetlands…Why are they important?

  • Store and slowly release floodwaters
  • Filter pollution
  • Trap sediments
  • Are habitat for rare, threatened and endangered species
  • Provide food, shelter, and habitat for fish and wildlife
  • Offer recreation such as hunting, fishing, trapping, birding, nature photography, hiking, and boating
  • Recharge and discharge groundwater
  • Stabilize shorelines
  • Are sometimes sources of valuable commercial timber

Best Management Practices (BMPs) provide flexible work guidelines designed to minimize the impact of forestry operations on wetlands and water quality. When BMPs are used, wetlands functions are protected and maintained, and many of the requirements of federal and state permit processes are met. The forestry community has an opportunity to play an important stewardship role in ensuring the continued flow of benefits from sound, functional wetlands.

I. What are Wetlands?

Legal Definition

In order to avoid confusion, the term wetlands has been given a specific legal definition in both federal and state law. Wetlands are defined under Section 404 of the Federal Clean Water Act and Chapter 105 regulations issued pursuant to Pennsylvania's Dam Safety and Encroachments Act as:

Areas that are inundated or saturated by surface water or groundwater at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions, including swamps, marshes, bogs and similar areas.

This means that a wetland is an area having sufficient water supply, during the growing season, to create soil conditions that lack oxygen, and to support plant life adapted to a wet environment.

Three Basic Characteristics

Although "wetlands" is a collective term that includes a diverse group of wet natural environments, wetlands share three basic characteristics that make them unique components of the environment:

  • the presence of water (hydrology) at or near the surface for a portion of the year,
  • plants that are adapted to wet conditions (hydrophytic vegetation) and
  • soils that result from wet conditions (hydric soils).

These three attributes are interrelated, and, while normally found together, the presence of one or more of these is usually sufficient to identify a wetland for management purposes. Of the three, the presence of water is the driving force that creates and maintains wetlands, and the types of plants and soils reflect that presence.

Wetland Indicators

Standing water is the most obvious sign of a wetland, but many wetland types are dry at the surface during periods of the year. When water is not present or signs of water are not obvious, the examination of either the vegetation or soils or a combination of both can generally provide a good indication of whether a site is a wetland.

Plant and soil characteristics can be used to indicate a wetland site.

First look closely at the types of plants growing in the immediate area of interest Are there wetland-associated species? A plant community dominated by these species is a wetland.

Common Wetland Indicator plants*


  • willows
  • silver maple
  • box elder
  • black or green ash
  • sycamore


  • high-bush blueberry
  • bush-type dogwoods
  • alders
  • button bush
  • spicebush


  • cattails
  • sedges
  • iris
  • arrowheads
  • joe pyeweed
  • jewelweed
  • sensitive fern
  • skunk cabbage

*see Appendix B for a more comprehensive list

If wetland plants are not present, examine the soil characteristics. Soils high in organic matter, soils classified as poorly drained, and soils that are streaked or mottled within 18 inches of the surface reflect long-term wetness at or near the surface.

The boundary of a wetland can be established approximately at the point at which none of these plant and soil indicators are found.

Wetland Soil Indicators

On the surface:

  • dark brown layer of organic matter over 2 inches thick
  • sphagnum moss covering the site
  • composed primarily of peat

Below the surface (at 6-18 inches in depth)

  • gray, gray-blue, or gray-green appearance
  • spots, streaks, or lines (mottles) of a different color
  • presence of water
  • a smell of rotten eggs (indicating sulfur)

Other Clues to Watch For:

  • swales, springs, or seeps, permanent or temporary drainage channels
  • depressions where water lies in pools for more than a week or two during the growing season
  • soggy or spongy ground underfoot at any time during the growing season
  • areas where vehicles and equipment may become stuck
  • plant stems that have roots growing from above the soil line
  • tree trunks with expanded or swollen bases
  • high water marks or debris lines on the vegetation.

Caution: Any questions about application of these indicators to a specific location should be referred to a trained wetland delineator.

Buffer Zones

Water bodies, such as wetlands, streams, lakes and ponds, should be protected from adjacent land-use activities because of the potential impacts they may have on water quality. Buffer zones are land areas adjacent to both flowing and non-flowing water bodies where specific management strategies should be applied. Buffer zones protect wetlands by helping to:

  • protect water quality by filtering sediments and other pollutants from surface runoff
  • maintain proper water temperatures and degree of shading for both aquatic plant and animal life
  • help retain sources of food and cover for wildlife species that use forested wetlands.

The preferred width of the zone is variable depending on the soil type, slope, vegetative cover, stream character and worst case storm flows (See table below for suggested buffer widths).

A buffer zone that is too narrow can be as ineffective as no buffer zone at all. Using adequate buffer zones will help protect water resources and forest productivity, and maintain a variety of wildlife habitats.

Pre-harvest Evaluation

Wetland and potential wetland sites should be identified prior to the start-up of all silvicultural operations. This requires both office and field work. The following maps of the area should be reviewed to determine if any wetlands are known to exist on the property.

A U.S. Geological Survey topographic map (Scale: 1:24,000) should be examined for obvious wetlands as indicated by wetland symbols or nearby streams.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Wetlands Inventory Project (NWI) produces maps, based on U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) topographic maps, that indicate the locations of designated wetlands. NWI maps are used as a screening tool for wetlands identification but should not be used as the only basis for their identification since they identify only wetlands that are 2-3 m and larger. NWI maps can be found at town and county planning offices or can be ordered by calling 1-800-USA-MAPS.

Soil survey maps are another useful resource in identifying wetlands. The Soil Conservation Service (SCS) publishes county soil surveys for areas where soil mapping is completed. Soil surveys, which show approximate locations of hydric soils, can be obtained from the local SCS or Agricultural Extension Service offices. The soil surveys must be combined with lists of hydric soils available from each SCS county office.

Field Inspection

An on-site inspection should follow the map review.

  • Sites should be field-checked whether or not wetlands are indicated on the maps since some may not be inc1uded.
  • Using plant, soil and water indicators, note the boundaries of both mapped and unmapped wetlands.
  • For more difficult determinations, contact a trained wetlands specialist to make a site assessment. Specialists can be located in the business pages of telephone directories under environmental consultants.

Wetlands in Pennsylvania's Forests

Forested wetlands are the most abundant wetland type in Pennsylvania. They occur in a variety of locations, including mountain tops, floodplains, and even steep slopes. Forested wetlands are wet habitats that support species such as silver maple, river birch, American elm, and green ash. In Pennsylvania, conifers such as hemlock, black and red spruce, and even white pine can grow in wetlands.

Common forest wetland types associated with Pennsylvania's forests include

  • temporary ponds, sometimes called "vernal" or "autumnal" ponds,
  • spring seeps,
  • streamside wetlands, and
  • beaver ponds

Some of these types are less obvious due to their seasonal nature or small size, but are important wetlands nevertheless. Avoidance of these areas is the best policy to minimize both environmental impacts and involvement in the regulatory process.

Several other types of wetlands may be encountered in forest settings, such as marshes, wet meadows and shrub wetlands, and although it is unlikely that harvesting would be conducted in these areas, road crossings may be necessary.

Temporary Ponds

Temporary ponds, as their name implies, are temporary bodies of freshwater that form in shallow cup-shaped depressions which flood with 2 to 3 feet of water for several months in the spring or fall. They usually dry up in the summer. Most are located in wooded areas, but the ponds themselves are often free of vegetation. Though typically small, they can support rich communities of amphibians and invertebrates and constitute a unique and increasingly vulnerable type of wetland. Temporary ponds are difficult to identify and may not have all three wetland criteria present.

Spring Seeps

Spring seeps are common in Pennsylvania and throughout the mountainous northeastern United States. Seeps exist where water percolates through the soil and emerges from the ground on lower slopes. Groundwater that surfaces in the winter creates snow-free areas that may be critical for wildlife feeding areas during severe winters. Look for skunk cabbage, sedges or sensitive fern as plant indicators of seeps.

Streamside Wetlands

Streamside wetlands are forested wetlands located along streams and other watercourses. They are formed because the water table is close to the surface, or by the dynamics of spring flooding, when high water overflows the banks, creating temporary pools in the adjacent floodplain. Typical trees associated with this wetland type include silver maple, red maple, sycamore, river birch and black willow. However, many of these wetlands are so narrow that only the shrub and herbaceous vegetation are wetland indicators. Many of Pennsylvania's forested wetlands are located along streamsides, although wetlands do not always occur along streams.

Beaver Ponds

Forested wetlands with a permanent source of water provide ideal conditions for beavers. Beaver dams and ponds dramatically change the character of a forested wetland by altering seasonal fluctuations in water level. Higher water levels can kill trees that cannot tolerate prolonged flooding. This, combined with the beaver's foraging activities, can convert the wetland from forest to marsh. Once the food supply is depleted, the beavers will abandon the site, allowing a gradual return of woody vegetation and reestablishment as a forested site. Taking or removal of beaver is regulated by law and requires a permit from the Pennsylvania Game Commission. A possible solution to flooding caused by beaver activity is to install a "beaver pipe" through the dam to maintain water level at a set depth. If properly constructed and installed, this device can prevent excessive flooding of timber and roads.

II. How are Wetlands Regulated?

Pennsylvania's wetlands are regulated at the Federal, State and, in some cases, municipal levels. The following laws are key in regulating forestry operations in wetland areas in the state:

Federal Law

Section 404 of the 1972 Clean Water Act creates a permit program to control the discharge of dredged and fill material into the waters of the U.S., which includes wetlands. The program is administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with oversight by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Key provisions of Section 404 that pertain to forestry operations are included in Appendix C.

Federal Law
The Permitting Process of Section 404 Clean Water Act

  • DOES NOT prohibit or regulate normal silvicultural activities such as seeding, cultivating, minor drainage*, and harvesting in wetlands
  • DOES regulate forest road construction and maintenance through use of best management practices.
    *refer to glossary for complete definition

Pennsylvania State Law

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regulates activities within watercourses, floodways, bodies of water and wetlands under the authority of the Dam Safety and Encroachments Act of 1978. Section 6 of the Act requires permits for construction, operation, maintenance, modification, enlargement or abandonment of any dam, water obstruction or encroachment. Administration of the program is found at Title 25 PA Code Chapter 105 Dam Safety and Waterway Management Rules and Regulations.

5-Tiered Approach

Chapter 105 provides a 5-tiered approach to the administration and regulation of wetlands within the boundaries of the Commonwealth. These tiers are:

  1. activities which are not regulated by Chapter 105 regulations (see below).
  2. activities which are waived from permit requirements.
  3. activities which are authorized through the use of general permits.
  4. projects which are eligible for small project permits.
  5. all the remaining activities which are authorized through an individual permit application process.

What activities in wetlands are regulated by Chapter 105 Dam Safety and Encroachment Act

  • DOES NOT require permits to cut timber and other vegetation.
  • DOES NOT require permits for the placement of support mats, corduroy and other temporary fabricated roads for use as skid trails provided they are removed at the end of operation.
  • DOES require permits for deposition of solid fill, gravel, soil, slate, and other such material for the construction of temporary and permanent roads.
  • DOES require permits for construction, operation, maintenance and modification, enlargement or abandonment of any dam, water obstruction or encroachments (e.g., culverts, fills, ditching).
  • DOES require permits to clear and grub, dig ditches and conduct other similar activities which are considered encroachments.
  • DOES require permits for constructing roads over streams.
  • DOES require permits to deposit fill for skid trails over streams, water courses, and wetlands.


There are 16 waivers contained in Chapter 105. The waiver which would most often apply to forestry practices is found at 105.12(2). Permits are waived for water obstructions in streams and floodways with drainage areas of less than 100 acres. This waiver does not apply to wetlands which are located in floodways adjacent to streams.

General Permits

The DEP has developed a list of general permits to cover certain types of activities that present no danger to public health and safety and do not pose serious threat to the environment. Each contains special conditions (size of structures, drainage areas, trout waters, species of special concern, etc.) that must be followed by the applicant. Updated versions of the general permits can be obtained through DEP offices (See Appendix D, Contact Directory, for addresses of DEP field offices).

General Permits for Forestry Operations

  • GP7 - Minor Road Crossings
    Key conditions: single impacts to wetlands and small streams may not exceed 0.1 acres; total wetlands impacts for all minor road crossings on an individual property may not cumulatively exceed 0.25 acres; roads are limited to 100 ft. in length; wetland replacement is required.
  • GP8 - Temporary Road Crossings
    Key conditions: Can be used when wetland impact is less than 200 feet in length; valid 12 months from date of acknowledgement; can be extended by DEP at the request of the permit user; wetland replacement is not required, but restoration of the site including wetlands is required after use.

Small Project Permits

Small project permit applications are available for activities in small watercourses and floodways which do not impact wetlands. Typically, small project permit applications are processed for the removal, installation, maintenance or abandonment of bridges, culverts and other minor types of crossings and activities in streams and floodways.

Joint Permit Application

Joint permits are used for all other regulated activities which are not authorized by waivers, general permits and small projects permit applications. It is called a joint permit application because one application is submitted for both federal and state permits. It is important to remember that federal and state regulatory programs do not always regulate wetlands in the same manner. Although only one permit application is submitted, permit applications are reviewed and permits issued by the federal and state agencies independently, so both permits must be secured before any activity begins.

The Chapter 105 program is not designed to address all environmental concerns which may be encountered on a given site. A 105 permit, including general permits, are issued with the provision that adequate erosion and sedimentation (E&S) control measures will be implemented by the permittee. It is imperative that operators always implement and maintain adequate erosion and sedimentation control for all facilities to comply with Chapter 102 of DEP's regulations.

III. Recommended Best Management Practices

Appropriate silvicultural practices are a compatible use of forested wetlands. Access systems, however, which include haul roads, skid trails and landing areas, have the potential to affect water quality and hydrology. Extra care must be taken when carrying out forestry operations in wetlands because of their vulnerability to soil compaction and erosion, reduced site productivity, habitat destruction and disturbance of their water systems. Harvesting should be done with regard to season, soil type, soil moisture, and type of equipment used. Good planning and supervision will protect site integrity and enhance regeneration. Careful implementation of Best Management Practices (BMPs) will protect and enhance important wetland functions while allowing cost-effective timber harvesting.

How BMP can Work for you

Use of these BMPs will not only protect wetlands but also directly and indirectly benefit loggers and landowners. The BMPs should be applied with judgment depending upon each individual situation. By using the right machinery, careful job layout, and BMPs in wetlands, a substantial increase in production can occur with less labor and thus greater financial return.


Limits wear and tear on machinery and equipment

  • Cleaner wood; less chain sharpening and easier product preparation
  • Less down-time because of poorly designed, muddy roads and impassable skid trails

More efficient utilization of equipment and manpower

  • Less idling of the skidder - the most expensive piece of machinery
  • Faster skid turn-around times
  • Fewer skid trails
  • Less time constructing stream crossings using portable or re-usable bridges
  • Dry upland areas of the sale reserved to work in wet seasons
  • Effectively distributed and smaller landings
  • Less time required for post-harvest cleanup

Minimizes impact of timber harvesting on the environment

  • Less soil disturbance and compaction
  • Reduces erosion and sedimentation (as required by Chapter 102)
  • Cleaner water
  • Improved fisheries and wildlife habitat

Maintains forest productivity

  • Helps ensure regeneration
  • Protection of valuable growing stock for future use
  • Protects biological diversity of forested areas

Adherence to higher environmental standards

  • Competitive advantage from higher quality
  • Improved landowner relationship
  • Better acceptance of the industry by the general public
  • More interest from potential clients: state foresters, industrial forest product companies and Pennsylvania's half-million private, non-industrial woodland owners

Relationship to Erosion and Sedimentation (E&S) Guidelines

Guidelines for protecting water quality can be found in Pennsylvania's handbook, "Controlling Erosion and Sedimentation From Timber Harvesting Operations," which provides specifications for properly designing and implementing an effective E & S control plan on a timber harvesting site. These guidelines are appropriate for use in wetlands as well as non-wetland areas and should be used in conjunction with this manual when conducting forestry operations in wetlands.

Relationship of BMPs to Wetlands Regulations

The recommended forest practices that follow are consistent with the existing silvicultural exemptions contained in Section 404 (f) of the Clean Water Act. In addition, by following these BMPs timber harvesting operators should meet many of the requirements of DEP's general permits for road crossings in wetlands. (See below for a list of key conditions associated with DEP general permits.)

List of Recommended BMPs

1. Haul Roads

When properly located, constructed and maintained, roads will have limited impact on water quality, hydrology, erosion, and wildlife and fish habitat. Particular care should be exercised in avoiding permanent changes in water levels and drainage patterns.

1.1 Avoid wetlands and stream crossings through known rare, threatened and endangered species habitat, and through headwaters of public water supplies.

1.2 Avoid road construction through wild trout streams during spawning season.

1.3 Avoid road construction during wet periods.

1.4 Minimize rutting through the proper construction and frequent maintenance of roads. This should include road crowning, insloping or outsloping as necessary and avoidance of road use during spring thaw or wet periods.

1.5 Minimize road width to the size necessary to carry traffic, typically 12 feet wide.

1.6 Consider use of fabric mats or pads under fill to minimize disturbance and facilitate removal of temporary roads.

General Permits 7 and 8 under special conditions (size of structures, drainage areas, trout waters, species of concern, etc.) have specific requirements that must be followed by the applicant. Complete listings of conditions and updated versions of general permits can be obtained through DEP offices (See Contact Directory for addresses of DEP field offices).

These BMPs are Key Conditions of DEP GP-7
Minor Road Crossings

  • Avoid crossing of wetlands if an alternate location is possible. If the crossing cannot be avoided, locate the crossing at the minimum point of disturbance, usually at the narrowest practicable point of the wetland, and do not allow the crossing to exceed 100 feet in length and 0.1 acre of disturbance.
  • The total wetland impact for all minor road crossings on any ownership should not exceed 0.25 acres.
  • Wetlands impacted through use of a minor road crossing permit must be replaced. The replacement should be adjacent to or in the immediate proximity of the minor road crossing and at a ratio of 1:1 for function, value, and acreage.

General Permits 7 and 8 under special conditions (size of structures, drainage areas, trout waters, species of concern, etc.) have specific requirements that must be followed by the applicant. Complete listings of conditions and updated versions of general permits can be obtained through DEP offices (See Contact Directory for addresses of DEP field offices).

These BMPs are Key Conditions of DEP GP-8
Temporary Road Crossings

  • Roads should cross all watercourses at a right angle to the stream or wetland.
  • If the streambed at the site of a ford does not have a rock bottom, provide a layer of clean rock, taking care not to obstruct the stream flow. (Note: fords cannot be used for skidding.)
  • Maintain all stream approaches in a firm and stable condition. Stream crossing approaches should not exceed 10% slope within 50 feet of the crossing.
  • Culverts should provide a waterway area sufficient to adequately discharge the normal flow of the watercourse or stream, and should be of sufficient length to extend beyond the toe of the clean rock fill. Refer to Pennsylvania's E&S handbook for recommended culvert sizes and placement.
  • Stabilize the site of a wetlands crossing by any appropriate means, including but not limited to using removable, temporary mats, pads or other similar devices to insure minimization of impact on the wetland's ecology.
  • Crossings of wetlands should be avoided if an alternate location is possible. If this cannot be avoided, the crossing is permissible if it is located at the narrowest practicable point of the wetland and the length of the crossing within the wetland is less than 200 feet.
  • Restoration of the site including wetlands is required after use.

2. Felling

Proper precautions should be taken when logging near a wetland or stream. Slash left in these areas uses oxygen needed by fish and other aquatic animals. Slash can also limit access for certain species to wetlands. Felling trees into water bodies can cause habitat damage and disturb breeding and spawning areas of aquatic species such as amphibians.

2.1 Avoid felling into standing water.

2.2 Keep slash out of streams and wetlands with standing water.

2.3 Leave tops in the wetland if felling into standing water can't be avoided.

2.4 Avoid felling into temporary ponds.

2.5 Clearcutting in wetlands should be used with caution because it may raise the water table and inhibit regeneration.

3. Skidding

Soil disturbance, which leads to erosion, can be minimized by well designed and located skid trails.

3.1 Avoid equipment entry into small wetlands.

3.2 Skidding should be confined to a few primary trails regardless of season to minimize the area affected.

3.3 In large wetlands requiring entry by skidding equipment, schedule the harvest during the drier seasons of the year or during time when the ground is frozen. Skidding should cease when excessive rutting occurs.

3.4 Concentrate skidding in defined corridors and use cable skidding when possible. Minimize skid trails by maximizing winch and choker cable lengths.

3.5 Avoid grapple skidders unless the material is gathered by a swinging head feller-buncher located outside of the wetland.

3.6 Use low ground pressure equipment when possible, and in wettest areas consider using

tracked vehicles. Use conventional tires on skidders only when the ground is dry or frozen.

3.7 Use brush or corduroy to minimize soil compaction and rutting when skidding in wet areas.

3.8 Do not skid through temporary ponds, spring seeps, or stream channels.

3.9 Reduce skid volumes when skidding through wetland areas.

4. Landings

Proper water control measures, location, and size of landings will limit soil erosion and compaction that can occur from concentrated heavy equipment use.

4.1 Avoid locating landings in wetlands.

4.2 If no other locations are practical, place landings on the highest ground possible within the wetland.

  1. Use landings in the dry season only.
  2. Keep landings to a minimum size and number.
  3. Use proper erosion and sedimentation control standards.
  4. Avoid spills of oil and other hazardous material and store operating supplies of such materials away from wetlands.
  5. Consider use of fabric mats and pads at landing sites to minimize soil erosion and compaction.
  6. Place landings as far from stream and wetlands as possible (within 50 ft. of stream requires permitting action by DEP).
  7. Remove temporary fill or pads used for landings located in wetlands upon completion or the operation.

5. Special Management Considerations: Buffer Zones

Buffer zones help protect the water quality and wildlife value of wetlands and watercourses from the impacts of nearby activities. Special management practices should be applied when operating in buffer zones.

Temporary Ponds and Spring Seeps

5.1 Buffer zone width should be at least 50 ft.

5.2 Fell trees away from ponds or seeps.

5.3 Leave tops in the wetland if felling into standing water can't be avoided.

5.4 Do not remove trees within 10 ft. of seep or pond banks.

5.5 Maintain at least 50% crown cover in the rest of the buffer as a residual stand to prevent an increase in water and ground surface temperature.

5.6 Do not skid through ponds or seeps.

5.7 Avoid disturbing the soil around these areas to minimize sedimentation and disturbance of leaf litter.

5.8 Avoid making ruts deeper than 6 in. within 200 ft. of a vernal pond. Harvesting under frozen or snowy conditions is advisable to minimize rutting and disturbance of leaf litter.

5.9 Where property boundaries permit, locate haul roads at least 150 ft. downstream from the head of a seep, and avoid road building within 150 ft. uphill from seeps.

5.10 Winch logs out of buffer zones rather than enter the buffer with equipment.


5.11 Buffer zone width along streams should be as specified in the preceding table for road and landing construction and at least 50 feet for other silvicultural activities such as timber harvesting,

5.12 Forest floor disturbance with equipment should be kept to a minimum.

5.13 Roads and trails should be located outside of the buffer zone except where stream crossing is necessary.

5.14 Concentrate skidding on defined corridors and use cable skidders when possible. Minimize skid trails by maximizing cable lengths to reduce erosion and sedimentation.

5.15 Fell trees away from streams.

5.16 Maintain at least 50% crown cover as a residual stand to prevent an increase in water and ground surface temperature.

5.17 Remove tree tops and other slash from stream.

Table 1: Buffer Zone Widths by Slope of Land between Roads, Landings, and Perennial Streams

Slope of land between Road and stream (%)Minimum width of filter strip (feet)*

*Widths should be doubled when harvesting activity is located on municipal water supplies.
+Widths less than 50 feet require a water obstruction permit or written waiver from the Bureau of Dams, Waterways, or Wetlands.

Appendix A

Checklist for Wetlands Protection on Timber Harvesting sites

Refer to Topo Maps, NWI Maps and Soil Surveys

  • note any areas that indicate the presence of wetlands or hydric soils.

Conduct an on-site inspection

  • determine the boundaries of any wetlands indicated on the maps
  • look for additional wetlands - not all show up on the maps
  • determine the approximate boundaries of any additional wetlands; include stream locations
  • involve a wetland delineation specialist as necessary

Incorporate Wetlands into Harvesting Plan

  • follow Pennsylvania's erosion and sedimentation control guidelines
  • avoid crossing wetlands and stream channels
  • consult with a professional if wetland and stream crossings cannot be avoided

Develop a Working Knowledge of Federal and State Regulations

  • know regulations prior to start-up of operations
  • understand the permitting process to determine if any permits are required
  • avoid wetlands and streams to minimize regulatory actions

Use Best Management Practices

  • to maintain forest productivity
  • to protect valuable wetlands
  • to ensure compliance with state and federal regulation
  • to improve public acceptance of forest management and harvesting

Appendix B

Common Pennsylvania Wetland Plants

Common Name, Scientific Name

Trees and Shrubs

  • alder, speckled, Alnus rugosa
  • arrowwood, northern, Viburnum recognitum
  • ash, green, Fraxinus pennsylvanica
  • birch, river, Betula nigra
  • blueberry, highbush, Vaccinium corymbosum
  • dogwood, red-osier, Cornus stolonifera
  • dogwood, silky, Cornus amomum
  • elderberry, common, Sambucus canadensis
  • elm, American, Ulmus americana
  • leatherleaf, Chamedaphne calyculata
  • maple, silver, Acer saccharinum
  • maple, box elder, Acer negundo
  • meadowsweet, broad-leaved, Spirea latifolia
  • meadowsweet, narrow-leaved, Spirea alba
  • oak, pin, Quercus palustris
  • oak, swamp white, Quercus bicolor
  • spicebush, northern, Lindera benzoin
  • steeple-bush, Spirea tornentosa
  • sumac, poison, Toxicodendron vernix
  • sycamore, Platanus occidentalis
  • willow, black, Salix nigra
  • willow, silky, Salix sericea

Herbaceous Species

  • arrow arum, Peltundra virginica
  • arrowhead, broad-leaved, Sagittaria latifolia
  • blue vervain, Verbena hastata
  • boneset, common, Eupatorium perfoliatum
  • bulrush, green, Scirpus atrovirens
  • button bush, Cephalanthus occidentalis
  • bur-reed, eastern, Sparganium americanum
  • cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis
  • cattail, broad-leaved, Typha latifolia
  • common reed, Phragmites australis
  • fern, sensitive, Onoclea sensibilis
  • grass, bluejoint, Calarnagrostis canadensis
  • grass, manna, Glyceria canadensis
  • grass, reed canary, Phalaris arundinacea
  • grass, rice cut, Leersia oryzoides
  • grass, wool, Scilpus cyperinus
  • iris, blue flag, Iris versicolor
  • jack-in-the-pulpit, Ariaema triphyllum
  • jewelweed, spotted, Impatiens capensis
  • Joe-Pye-weed, spotted, Eupatorium maculatus
  • lily, yellow pond, Nuphar luteum
  • lily, white water, Nymphaea odorata
  • marsh marigold, Caltha palustris
  • nettle, false, Boehmeria cylindrica
  • pickerelweed, Pontederia cordata
  • pitcher plant, northern, Sarracenia purpurea
  • pondweeds, Potamogeton spp.
  • rush, soft, Juncus effusus
  • sedge, three-way, Dulichium arundinaceum
  • sedge, tussock, Carex stricta
  • skunk cabbage, Symplocalpus foetidus
  • smartweed, arrow-leaved tearthumb, Polygonum sagittatum
  • smartweed, mild water pepper, Polygonum hydropiperoides
  • sphagnum moss, Sphagnum spp.
  • spikerush, blunt, Eleocharis obtusa
  • sundews, Drosera spp.
  • Sweetflag, Acorn calamus
  • water shield, Brasenia schreberi
  • water calla, Calla palustris
  • wild rice, Zizania aquatica

Appendix C

Clean Water Act

Key Provisions Under Section 404 Regulations

Subsection 323.4 Silvicultural operations are exempt from the permit process if there is no discharge of dredged or fill material which contains toxic pollutants and no conversion of a wetland to a non-wetland.

Subsection 323.4(a)li: Normal silvicultural activities such as seeding, cultivating, minor drainage and harvesting of fiber and forest products are not prohibited or otherwise subject to regulation in wetlands.

Subsection 323.4(a)6: Construction or maintenance of forest roads must be constructed in accordance with best management practices (BMPs) to assure that the flow and circulation patterns and chemical and biological characteristics of waters of the United States are not impaired, that the reach of waters of the United States is not reduced, and that any adverse effect on the aquatic environment will be otherwise minimized. These BMPs which must be applied to satisfy this provision shall include the following baseline provisions:

  1. Permanent roads (for farming or forestry activities), temporary access roads (for mining, forestry, or farm purposes) and skid trails (for logging) in waters of the U.S. shall be held to the minimum feasible number, width, and total length consistent with the purpose of specific farming, silvicultural or mining operations, and local topographic and climatic conditions;
  2. All roads, temporary or permanent, shall be located sufficiently far from streams or other water bodies (except for portions of such roads which must cross water bodies) to minimize discharges of dredged or fill material into waters
  3. The road fill shall be bridged, culverted, or otherwise designed to prevent the restriction of expected flood flows;
  4. The fill shall be properly stabilized and maintained during and following construction to prevent erosion;
  5. Discharges of dredged or fill material into waters of the U.S. to construct a road fill shall be made in a manner that minimizes the encroachment of trucks, tractors, bulldozers, or other heavy equipment within waters of the U.S. (including adjacent wetlands) that lie outside the lateral boundaries of the fill itself;
  6. In designing, constructing, and maintaining roads, vegetative disturbance in the waters of the U.S. shall be kept to a minimum;
  7. The design, construction and maintenance of the road crossing shall not disrupt the migration or other movement of those species of aquatic life inhabiting the water body;
  8. Borrow material shall be taken from upland sources whenever feasible;
  9. The discharge shall not take or jeopardize the continued existence of threatened or endangered species as defined under the Endangered Species Act, or adversely modify or destroy the critical habitat of such species;
  10. Discharges into breeding and nesting areas for migratory waterfowl, spawning areas, and wetlands shall be avoided if practical alternatives exist;
  11. The discharge shall not be located in the proximity of a public water supply intake;
  12. The discharge shall not occur in areas of concentrated shellfish production;
  13. The discharge shall not occur in a component of the National Wild and Scenic River System;
  14. The discharge of material shall consist of suitable material free from toxic pollutants in toxic amounts; and
  15. All temporary fills shall be removed in their entirety and the area restored to its original elevation.

Appendix D

Contact Directory


US Fish and Wildlife Service, Ecological Services
315 S. Allen Street
State College, PA 16801

Action/Location: reviews Sect. 404 permits

US Environmental Protection Agency, Headquarters
Washington, DC 20460

Action/Location: oversees Sect. 404 permit program

US Environmental Protection Agency, Region 3
1650 Arch Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103-2029

US Army Corps of Engineers
Baltimore District (PA, MD)
Corps of Engineers
PO Box 1715
Baltimore, MD 21203

Pittsburgh District (PA, NY, OH, MD, WV)
Federal Bldg., 1000 Liberty
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Philadelphia District (PA, NY, NJ)
Custom House
2nd and Chestnut streets
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Buffalo District (NY, PA, OH)
176 Niagara Street
Buffalo, NY 14207

Action/Location: administers Sect.404 program

USDA NRCS, State Office
One Credit Union Pl., Suite 340
Harrisburg, PA 17110

Action/Location: hydric soils lists available at NRCS field offices; soil survey reports are developed by NRCS for distribution at the county level.


PA Department of Environmental Protection
Bureau of Watershed Management
Waterways, Floodways, and Wetlands
Central Office
400 Market Street
Harrisburg, PA 17101
Regional Offices of Department of Environmental Protection: process all permits, register
general permits, and handle enforcement

Regional Offices of Department of Environmental Protection
Northcentral Regional Office
208 West Third Street, Suite 101
Williamsport, PA 17701
Counties: Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Union, Bradford, Cameron, Centre, Clinton, Clearfield, Columbia, Lycoming, Montour, Northumberland, Potter

Northeast Regional Office
2 Public Square
Wilkes-Barre, PA 18711-0790
Counties: Carbon, Lackawanna, Lehigh, Luzerne, Monroe, Northampton, Pike, Schuylkill, Susquehanna, Wayne, Wyoming

Northwest Regional Office
230 Chestnut Street
Meadville, PA 16335
Counties: Butler, Clarion, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, McKean, Mercer, Venango, Warren

Southcentral Area Office
901 Elmerton Avenue
Harrisburg, PA 17110
Counties: Lancaster, Lebanon, Mifflin, Perry, Adams, Bedford, Berks, Blair, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Fulton, Huntingdon, Juniata, York

Southeast Regional Office
Suite 6010, Lee Park
555 North Lane
Conshohocken, PA 19428
Counties: Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Philadelphia

Southwest Regional Office
400 Waterfront Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Counties: Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Westmoreland, Somerset, Washington

Additional Bureaus and Agencies of State Government
Bureau of Forestry*
PA Natural Diversity Inventory Program
PO Box 8552
Harrisburg, PA 17105-8552
*administers PA natural diversity inventory

PA Game Commission*
2001 Elmerton Ave.
Harrisburg, PA 17110-9797
*regulates the harvest and control of wild animal species and manages their habitat, comments on major permit applications

PA Fish and Boat Commission*
PO Box 67000
Harrisburg, PA 17106-7000
*enforces Clean Stream Law, conducts waterways conservation, comments on major permit

Local and Other

County Conservation Districts*
*distributes county soil survey reports; offices generally located in the county seat; consult the local telephone directory

Appendix E


Controlling Erosion and Sedimentation from Timber Harvesting Operations. Pennsylvania
Dept. of Environmental Resources, Office of Resource Management, Bureau of Soil and Water Conservation and the Pennsylvania State University, College of Agriculture, Extension Service. 1988. 27pp.

Federal Manual for Identifying and Delineating Jurisdictional Wetlands. US Army Corps of
Engineers, US Environmental Protection Agency, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and USDA Soil
Conservation Service. Washington, DC. 1989. 76pp plus appendices.

Corps of Engineers Wetland Delineation Manual. Environmental Laboratory Technical Report
Y -87-1, US Army Corps of Engineers Waterways Experiment Station, Vicksburg, MS. 1987.

Pennsylvania Code, Title 25. Environmental Resources. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Dept, of Environmental Resources, Chapter 105. Dam Safety and Waterway management. Amended October 1991. 261 pp.

Appendix F


  • best management practices-flexible work guidelines designed to minimize the impact of timber harvesting on wetlands water quality
  • buffer zone-an area of vegetation adjacent to both sides of a stream or surrounding wetland which protects water quality from the impacts of nearby land use activities by slowing and spreading surface water flow, trapping and filtering out suspended sediment and providing shade and wildlife habitat (also referred to as a streamside management zone or a filter strip).
  • body of water-a natural or artificial lake, pond, reservoir, swamp, marsh, or wetland
  • delineation-the process of determining a wetland's physical boundaries
  • encroachment-any structure or activity that changes, expands, or diminishes the wetlands.
  • endangered species-any species in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range
  • erosion-the process by which soil particles are detached, entrained and transported by water, wind, and gravity to some downslope or downstream point
  • felling-the process of cutting down standing trees
  • harvesting-the felling, skidding, loading, and transporting of timber products
  • hydric soils-soils that are characterized by the presence of water
  • hydrology-the degree of flooding or soil saturation
  • hydrophytic vegetation-plant life that is adapted to living in wet conditions
  • inundation-a condition in which water from any source temporarily or permanently covers a land surface
  • jurisdictional-falling under the authority of a given law landing (or deck)-a place where logs or tree-length materials are assembled for loading and transport
  • litter layer-the layer of fallen leaves, twigs, and decaying woody material that provides a sponge-like mat covering forest soils
  • minor drainage -
    1) the discharge of dredged or fill material incidental to connecting upland drainage facilities to waters of the US, adequate to effect the removal of excess moisture from upland croplands;
    2) is limited to drainage within areas that are part of an established farming or silvicultural operation, and does not include drainage associated with the immediate or gradual conversion of a wetland to a non-wetland, or conversion from one wetland use to another;
    3) does not include the obstruction of any ditch, canal, dike or other waterway obstruction which drains or otherwise significantly modifies a stream, lake, swamp, bog, or any other wetland;
    4) any discharge of dredged or fill material into the waters of the US incidental to the construction of any such structure or waterway requires a permit
  • mottles-spots or blotches of different color or shades of color interspersed within the dominant matrix color in a soil layer
  • organic soils-mucks and peats that have organic soil materials in more than half of the upper 32 inches or that are of any thickness if overlying rock; also referred to as histosols.
  • regulated waters of this Commonwealth-watercourse, streams, or bodies of water and their floodways wholly or partly within or forming part of the boundary of this commonwealth
  • skidding- moving of logs or felled trees along the surface of the ground from the stump to the point of loading
  • skid trail-a temporary, frequently used pathway to drag felled trees or logs to a log deck
  • slash-unusable woody material such as large limbs, tops, cull logs, and stumps that remain after timber harvesting
  • watercourse-a channel or conveyance of surface water having defined banks, whether natural or artificial, with perennial or intermittent flow (a stream)
  • water obstruction-a dike, bridge, culvert, wall, wingwall, fill, pier, wharf, embankment, abutment, or other structure located in, along, across, or projecting into a watercourse, floodway, or body of water
  • waters of the United States-
    1) all waters which are currently used, or were used in the past, or may be susceptible to use in interstate or foreign commerce, including all waters which are subject to the ebb and flow of tide;
    2) All interstate waters including interstate wetlands;
    3) All other waters such as intrastate lakes, rivers, streams, (including intermittent), mud flats, sand flats, wetlands, sloughs, prairie potholes, wet meadows, playa lakes, or natural ponds, the use, degradation, or destruction of which could affect interstate or foreign commerce including any such waters:
    (i) Which are or could be used by interstate or foreign travelers for recreational purposes; or
    (ii) From which fish or shellfish are or could be taken and sold in interstate or foreign commerce; or
    (iii) Which are used or could be used for industrial purpose by industries in interstate commerce;
    4) All impoundments of waters otherwise defined as Waters of the United States under the definition;
    5) Tributaries of waters identified in Paragraphs (a)(l-4) of this section;
    6) The territorial seas;
    7) Wetlands adjacent to waters (other than waters that are themselves wetlands) identified in Paragraph (a)(l-6) of this section.

Forested Wetlands Task Force under the auspices of the Forest Issues Working Group
compiled by Darlene B. Brown with the support of the College of Agricultural Sciences, Pennsylvania State University and the Pennsylvania Hardwoods Development Council
May 1993