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Forestry Best Management Practices for Water Quality

Wisconsin's forestry best management practices (BMPs) for water quality are intended to provide simple and cost-effective methods for protecting water quality in lakes, streams and wetlands from nonpoint source pollution and soil disturbance before, during and after forest management activities. The primary pollutant associated with forestry activities is sediment, especially at stream crossings for forest roads and skid trails. Soil compaction and rutting are the two biggest concerns, caused by forestry equipment, which can be mitigated by appropriately applying BMPs.

View Wisconsin's Forestry Best Management Practices for Water Quality Field Manual [PDF].

History of Forestry BMPs for Water Quality

The Federal Clean Water Act of 1972 is the root cause for the development of Wisconsin’s Forestry BMPs. Wisconsin's Forestry Best Management Practices for Water Quality 1995–2005 [PDF] tells how the program was developed, education and training efforts, BMP monitoring, program accomplishments and areas for future focus.

BMP Advisory Committee

The Purpose of the BMP Advisory Committee (AC) is to aid the DNR in on water quality protection and forestry related matters. The AC has helped heavily revise the BMP Manual in 2010 and continues to provide insight on a variety of topics such as permitting and harvesting practices. The AC is a diverse group of forestry stakeholders with members coming from forest industry, county forests, U.S. Forest Service, consulting foresters, landowners, conservation groups, DNR, and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Members volunteer to meet two to four times a year.

View all BMP AC Members [PDF].

BMP Monitoring

In order to gather information on how BMPs were being applied to timber harvests across Wisconsin’s forests, BMP monitoring was established. BMP monitoring consists of volunteers, usually resource professionals, to look at sites that had recently been harvested and see which BMPs were applied and if the BMPs were effective at protecting water quality. This information is then made available to the public through the publication of the BMP monitoring reports.

Monitoring reports


Forestry best management practices workshops are a crucial component in the forestry BMP program, helping to protect water quality in Wisconsin. The workshops serve to clarify how, where and when to appropriately apply forestry BMPs.

If you are interested in attending a BMP workshop, you will find additional information (such as workshop descriptions, schedules and registration) at FISTA's website [exit DNR].

Soil Disturbance

Soil disturbance can be one of the biggest concerns from forestry practices because of the large equipment used during timber harvesting. While soil disturbance is observed during BMP monitoring, it is not measured to the same degree as in the study done in 2016. This study, focused on active timber sales to see if newly established rules for soil disturbance was having a positive effect on public land (County and State) timber sales.

Stream Crossings

Stream crossings for timber sales are, unsurprisingly, one of the primary focuses of Wisconsin’s forestry BMPs for water quality. However, they are not the only guidance for landowners, foresters, and loggers to follow. Some BMPs overlap with laws written into Wisconsin State Statutes, which is true with some stream crossings and wetland crossings.

To find more information about regulations on streams and wetlands, visit our Waterways Crossings Permitting and Wetland Permitting Process pages.

Forest Management Practices: Managing Water Series

The Managing Water Series [PDF], University of Minnesota Extension Service Publications #1 - 13 1998, provides guidance on the planning, construction and maintenance of forest roads, trails, landing and stream and wetland crossing. The goals of this series are to limit erosion, help meet landowner objectives, improve safety and reduce costs.

  1. Project Planning: Locating Roads, Landings, Skid Trails and Crossings [PDF]
  2. Managing Water on Roads, Skid Trails and Landings [PDF]
  3. Earth-Berm Water Bars [PDF]
  4. Using Logging Debris or Logs to Build Water Bars [PDF]
  5. Conveyor Belt Water Bars [PDF]
  6. Broad-based Dips [PDF]
  7. Open-Top Culverts [PDF]
  8. Shaping Roads and Trails [PDF]
  9. Roadside and Diversion Ditches [PDF]
  10. Cross-Drainage Culverts [PDF]
  11. Project Closure [PDF]
  12. Making and Using Measurement Tools - Basal Area [PDF]
  13. Making and Using Measurement Tools - Slope [PDF]

Forest Management Practices: Crossing Options Series

Timber harvesting and hauling equipment can damage water quality by stirring up sediment, harming fish and other aquatic organisms, if stream crossings are not properly designed, installed and maintained. The Crossing Options Series [PDF], University of Minnesota Extension Service Publications #1 - 16 1998, provides guidance on special stream crossing options that can minimize the impact to water quality and fish habitat. Many of these options are temporary and can be reused at another crossing.

  1. Temporary Stream Crossing Options [PDF]
  2. Fords [PDF]
  3. Culverts [PDF]
  4. Ice Bridges [PDF]
  5. Timber Bridges [PDF]
  6. Railroad Car, Steel and Prestressed Concrete Bridges [PDF]
  7. PVC or HDPE Pipe Bundle Crossings [PDF]
  8. Temporary Wetland Crossing Options [PDF]
  9. Wood Mats [PDF]
  10. Wood Panels and Pallets [PDF]
  11. Expanded Metal Grating [PDF]
  12. PVC or HDPE Pipe Mats and Plastic Roads [PDF]
  13. Bridge Decks, Tire Mats and Pole Rails [PDF]
  14. Corduroy Crossings [PDF]
  15. Low-Ground-Pressure Equipment [PDF]
  16. Equipment with Central Tire Inflation [PDF]