Voluntary Water Quality Regulation Of Private Forests Threatened By Lower Court Ruling Headed To Supreme Court

ALBANY, GA., October 2011 — A 35-year-old system of voluntary regulation of water run-off from roads on private woodlands could be replaced by EPA permit requirements under a federal court ruling now headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Marshall Thomas, president of F&W Forestry Services, Inc., based in Albany, Ga., said a Court of Appeals ruling in Oregon could have a far-reaching impact on the management of privately-owned forest land throughout the United States.

The Oregon decision overturned a long-standing system of erosion and water control on private forest lands through state-developed and enforced Best Management Practices (BMPs) that treat forest roads as “non-point” sources of pollution—a position embraced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for more than three decades.

“The ruling is unfortunate in many ways,” Thomas writes in the fall edition of his firm’s publication, The F&W Forestry Report.  “Perhaps of most concern is the fact that the forestry community has done an outstanding job of self-regulating water quality practices, working on a voluntary basis with state and federal agencies and environmental groups.”

If the Oregon decision is upheld by the Supreme Court and is not undone through legislation by Congress, the voluntary BMP requirements on building or maintaining forest roads will be replaced by costly and time-consuming permit requirements on landowners and loggers under the Environmental Protection Agency or EPA-supervised state agencies.

“These voluntary efforts have been extremely effective,” Thomas writes.  “According to EPA’s own data, forest operations account for only three percent of the total sediment contribution to streams and ranks 11th among all contributing sources. To put the forestry contribution in perspective, natural sources alone contribute about 11 percent of stream sediment loads—and there is no credit given to forestry for the sediment it removes from other land uses.

“Adherence to BMPs is a part of the ethical code of the forestry community—we helped set the standards and we know they are effective in protecting water quality,” he said. “In addition, there are laws in place that are enforced to punish the few bad actors.”

“Forestry, by definition, is an isolated activity that is best self-regulated,” Thomas wrote. “Right now, adherence to BMPs is a matter of pride and responsibility— regulating the same thing through a federal permitting process will only drive costs up and reduce the ‘pride’ component.  It is unlikely there will be a corresponding increase in water quality.”

About F&W:

F&W Forestry Services, Inc., of Albany, Ga., is one of the nation’s oldest and largest forest consulting and management firms.  Established in 1962, F&W operates 19 offices in 12 states comprising the Southern pine belt, the Central and Appalachia region, Upstate New York, and Oregon in the Pacific Northwest. It also manages private forestlands in South America with offices in Uruguay and Brazil.