Gravel trail into the woods with table rock water bars to direct water flow

Something in the Water

The spring melt is on, and every hike lately means wet feet. We live along the Wisconsin River, so I’ve been thinking about where all that spring runoff goes. In Wisconsin, we have what are called “Best Management Practices for Water Quality”. These are voluntary practices for forestry that help us protect our riparian areas, or the interface between our land and water. The intent of these recommendations is to prevent polluted runoff (soil, chemicals, and nutrients) from getting in to lakes and streams, and also to prevent temperatures from rising too much in the water. Those of you that like to fish and boat in this state will especially appreciate these efforts. That said, there are some recommended practices that can help you in your own woodland management, such as securing your roads and trails for the long-term.

As I mentioned earlier, these practices are considered voluntary. They are suggested guidelines for a variety of forestry work. However, if you work with a DNR forester or a Cooperating forester, they are required to follow these practices. There are some other times these may be required as well, such as if you are in the American Tree Farm system. The BMPs apply when you are working within 35 feet of a small stream or 100 feet of a lake or river. If you are doing road/trail work, water crossings, timber sales, tree planting, or prescribed burns, there is a best management practice for you.

Most of the practices around roads/trails are generally intended for temporary logging roads or permanent forest roads. However, if you do trail work on your property, I would recommend taking a look at some of the recommended practices. There are some nice design elements that can make your trails last longer and be more resilient to long-term use with less maintenance. For example, they walk you through whether you will want your trail vegetated or graveled depending on type of use and traffic. You’ll also find ways to deal with drainage from your trail so you aren’t battling wash-outs or pooling water.

There are two things to consider when you undertake a planting project in a riparian area: exposing bare soil and use of chemicals. Preparation for planting and planting itself is usually most effective when space is cleared for young trees to flourish. This can be a problem if your site is susceptible to runoff. The recommendations here include waiting to plant until conditions are drier and running any equipment on the contour. In addition to protecting water quality, you are also protecting your investment in those trees from washing away during a heavy rain event. If you are using chemicals (herbicides or fertilizers), the number one recommendation is to follow the directions on rates. Take it a step further by using only chemicals that are labeled for use near lakes and streams.

If you are working with a contractor, forester, logger or other resource professional, you have a water body on your property, and you want to protect your woods, check out the other chapters in the Best Management Practices field guide. We have the field guide along with several other Forestry Facts for BMPs on our website: One more thing, you can use these recommendations around vernal pools too (which will be popping up soon), and you can learn more about why vernal pools are so cool, in a previous blog post: Vernal Pools are Springing Up